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Will the Internet and Digital Materials Make Books Extraneous in Education?

Will the Internet and Digital Materials Make Books Extraneous in Education?


By Dr. David Lawson
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University

Education is still at the heart of opportunity, success, and enlightenment. Students flocked to the feet of Socrates, Plato and the other learned men of Greece and Rome. They wanted to learn from the great masters of their age and pass on that knowledge to future scholars.

That concept has not changed in 2,000 years; students still flock to universities to hear scholars expound their knowledge on any number of subjects. In addition to knowledge gained in lecture halls, scores of books, papers and other works by academics and professionals in library collections are readily accessible to all students.

Formerly, the art of education was an orderly process of listening weekly to lectures, reading the applicable literature and completing the required assignments and exams. The process would then start over the following week.

With the Advent of the Internet, Education Was Dramatically Disrupted

The educational process of the pre-2000s was a quality process, one that created opportunity through the available materials. Then, technology changed and education was dramatically disrupted when academic works and educational materials became available in easily accessible digital formats.

Academic Works Became Available in Digital Format

 In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Internet burst upon the educational environment. Scholars, authors and publishers began to make their works available to all digitally. It was no longer necessary to visit the library and wait for extended periods of time, only to receive what had become obsolete or dated material. In addition, the material sought might not be available at all, was available in limited numbers or espoused a singular viewpoint.

Now, we easily access reams of timely material via the Internet. The Internet has not displaced reading. Instead, the quality and range of the material available have greatly improved and the opportunity for a deeper and richer education has increased tenfold.

Digitally Produced Materials Add Significantly to Students’ Education

In the modern age of education, the quality materials provided in digital formats will add significantly to students’ overall education. Live lectures by professors are still a prime source for knowledge, but we need to rethink the value of traditional books.

Books were once the primary source for acquiring knowledge. With the dramatic impact of the Internet and the digital materials it makes available, the question is often asked, “Are books really needed in the classroom?” The surprising answer is yes, but as foundational material that presents an introduction to the subject.

Over time, books become outdated and often contain a biased view of the subject that leads to the misunderstanding or misuse of their content. With the addition of digital material, a well-balanced worldview of the subject will be offered by instructors.

With the combination of the foundational material of the book and varying, yet complementary, digital material, students gain a global perspective. The singular, often biased, view of the book is avoided.

Additionally, once selected for a course, books often remain in use for years. In some cases, they do not have periodic updates and lack thought-provoking content. With books, students and instructors are limited to a specific version without the benefit of timely revisions, corrections and the addition of new material.

Materials provided digitally, however, offer a current assessment of ideas, theories and content. These materials are sourced globally to provide a worldview application of the subject.

As a result, today’s educational benefits are greater and more profound. As leading authorities publish global materials, that information becomes readily available for consumption by the educational community.

Books provide a foundational understanding of the material. But digital material provides groundbreaking views and an extension of the material into the present era.

The New Art of Education in the Digital Age

This disruption in the educational process is still in its infancy and continues to evolve, so it has not yet been fully felt in academia. As digital material continues to increase in quantity and quality, the need for actual books will decline.

The established art of education has evolved from professor->book->student to professor->digital materials>book->student, often bypassing the book entirely.

As education becomes ever more technologically advanced, educational methods must evolve to provide the global community with a greater opportunity for learning.

About the Author

Dr. David Lawson is a futurist, strategist, economist, management consultant and organizational coach with more than 25 years of experience in business and academia. He holds a Ph.D. from Webster University in Strategy and Organizational Studies, an M.B.A. from Fontbonne University in Business Administration and a B.S. from Maryville University’s School of Business and Information Technology. He has worked with the Department of Defense, Fortune 50 organizations and many public, private and non-profit organizations.



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