ALCG Journal by Andrew Lehman 

Entries in technology (1)


Technology is a Means, Not an End

I recently read an article in The New York Times ( about technology in education. The gist of the article was that despite all the hope and hype and money that has been pored into technology for education, there is no clear evidence that the application of technology in itself leads to increased test scores. School districts that have spent millions on technology cannot point to improved test scores as evidence that the expenditure is has paid off. And while some point to benefits the students are reaping that are not reflected in test scores (like increased familiarity with technologies that are in widespread use in business) this begs the question - did we spend millions on laptops and smart boards so my daughter can learn to use Powerpoint?

Upon brief reflection, one realizes that this isn't surprising. Technologies are, after all, only tools. Simply having or using a tool does not automatically bestow upon the user some automatic benefit. Having a chisel does not make one a cabinetmaker. Though a chisel can enable a skilled cabinetmaker to do beautiful work.

The point is that technology is a means, not an end. You still, first and foremost, need good teachers and good teaching. Like many tools, the tool will only server to amplify the skill, or lack thereof, of the user. In fact, this is something the schools example bears out. Without thoughtful and skilled application, the technology will actually prove more of a distraction than a benefit. This is particularly tragic when you note that the school district in question was decreasing spending on teachers and enrichment programs while increasing spending on technology. Good teachers and enrichment programs are the things that can help children to learn to do the creative and lateral thinking that are what we really need to be teaching and encouraging in order for us to regain our competitive edge in the world. Powerpoint and Facebook will not do that for us. Don't get me wrong, I'm a BIG advocate for the innovative use of technology as a catalyst and a necessity for global competitiveness. But, we must engender innovation in our children. We have to teach them to make the mental leaps. We do not need to teach our children to use technology, though we may thoughtfully use technology to help us to teach. We may need to help them to see technology merely a means to reaching their goals. There is so much more to making beautiful furniture than simply using a chisel. Likewise, providing technology is not the same as making good use of technology to enrich, accelerate and empower the learning process.

A good example of an innovative use to technology as a means to empower and accelerate education is Salman Kahn's approach at The Kahn Academy ( He didn't layer it in to an existing system, but used it as a means to achieve his vision (which schools are adopting.)

The same hold's true in business. Countless millions have been spent implementing the latest trends in technology without having thoughtfully worked through the use cases and benefits of those technologies, or the impact on and necessary changes to an organization in order to realize the benefits of a new technology. Technology enabled Kahn to deliver education in a fundamentally different way, in many ways turning traditional education on it's head. As Stephen Covey says, you must "begin with the end in mind" ( You need to go in to any implementation knowing as closely as possible what you expect to get out of it. This will enable you to mange expectations and risks, determine costs and benefits. In order to measure success, you must first determine your goals, and likewise, carefully crafted goals engender success. In the headlong rush for progress, when this step gets skipped, and things don't turn out well, people often end up looking back and either asking themselves "What happened?" or "What we were thinking?" Sometimes, technology is the shiny ball that causes us to take our eyes off the road ahead. Sometimes we have to ensure we keep the focus on fundamentals. "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." We need to be careful we are empowering teachers, not replacing them. We need to use technology to enrich education, not simply digitize it. Likewise, rather than having a goal to update our technology, we need to ensure we are using technology to reach our goals.