Edu-Tech’s Brave New World – How Education Software is Being Designed to Hijack Children’s Brains

“Many parents intuitively understand that ubiquitous glowing screens are having a negative effect on kids. But it’s even worse than we think. Recent brain imaging research is showing that they affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does.

Technology is so hyper-arousing that it raises dopamine levels — the feel-good neurotransmitter most involved in the addiction dynamic — as much as sex. This addictive effect is why Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, calls screens “electronic cocaine” and Chinese researchers call them “digital heroin…”

~Nicholas Kardaras, M.D., August 27, 2016

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The Edu-tech Revolution has begun. At this very moment new computer games and education software are being developed to teach children academics one-to-one via computers. Following on the success of the hi-tech gaming industry, the goal is to use technology to transform schooling. See: Inspirational Robots to Begin Replacing Teachers Within 10 Years.

By merging education and entertainment technologies, advocates and investors of these products stress the potential for educating children faster, more effectively and less expensively than schools currently do. Unfortunately, there are a number of potential problems.

First, many of these new programs are being designed to collect data from children so as to maintain individual personal profiles, that investors and corporations can utilize to design future products and monitor individuals as they move from education into the workforce. TIME magazine shared an article on this in 2013. See: The Adaptive Learning Revolution.

Moreover, some investors hope to use this data to construct what they expect will become a trillion dollar education market (such as we had with housing) to bundle and sell school and software investments on Wall Street.

The success of Facebook, Google and Microsoft shows the potential for huge profit there. Google is already leading the way, their chromebooks now make up half of the classroom devices sold. This has raised concerns among many parents and educators, as student personal data is being collected by large corporations, with no safeguards or laws in place protecting their privacy.

Also VERY concerning, is that many Silicon Valley engineers are attempting to make edu-tech software as “pleasurable” as possible, using addictive video “gaming” strategies to design their education products.

apprenticeshipChildren are naturally curious and learning is naturally pleasurable. For tens of thousands of years, young people have enjoyed mastering new skills on their own and side-by-side with adults, mentors and peers in their local tribe or community. See: How Children Naturally Learn

Small releases of dopamine in the brain encourages a child to persevere with the long-term difficult practice needed to build skills naturally over time, such as with sports, arts, and music. See: Understanding How Our Brains Learn

What Silicon Valley is banking on, is to bypass human social interactions and community education experiences by hijacking children’s brains directly with more potent and powerful interactive technologies, where larger doses of dopamine are released, such as happens with drugs, video games and gambling.

Their goal is to make the education software as addictive as possible, and they are quite up-front about that.

Here below, in “Neuroscience Insights from Video Game & Drug Addiction – How the video games MODEL can boost children’s motivated learning” (Psychology Today, Oct 29, 2011) a specialist in neuroscience and brain research breaks bad, describing how knowledge of the addictive “cocaine-like” power of dopamine release in the brain can be used to design educational software.

“The same brain processes and neurochemicals that compel children to skip meals and sleep to play video games can be activated by parents and teachers to increase their brains’ motivation to be attentive class participants, do homework with focus, and even reverse school negativity to reignite the joy of learning…

This is a deep satisfaction, such as quenching a long thirst. This increased release of dopamine is the brain’s reward response to achievement of a challenge – intrinsic reinforcement. After making a prediction, choice, or action, and receiving feedback that it was correct, the reward from the release of dopamine prompts the brain want to repeat that action and receive more dopamine-pleasure.

During the play of computer games with progressing levels of challenge, the progressive achievement feedback, such as getting to a higher level of play, is the feedback to the brain that it succeeded in the challenge and made the correct response.

These bursts of pleasure drive the brain to seek the next burst, so gamers upon reaching the next level want to continue on playing, even through increasing challenge and frequent failure. Actually if the new level of play doesn’t pose new challenge, the gamer loses interest as the dopamine-reward response will not take place if there is no new task or skill to master.”

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In order to keep children’s attention, their brains can be re-wired to seek rewards in ways that mimic the approaches of gambling and video games. The article mentions specifically the relationship between dopamine & gambling, as well as cocaine addiction.

“Compulsive computer game playing, gambling, and risk taking can result from excessive craving of the dopamine pleasure, especially when people are depressed or do not have other sources of pleasurable experiences in their lives.

The addiction of cocaine is the direct result of dopamine increase. Cocaine would have essentially no euphoric effect if it were not for dopamine. Cocaine use is associated with a “high” because it increases the brain’s levels of its own dopamine.

Because cocaine elevates dopamine to very high levels, the euphoria can be intense, but when the dopamine plunges to below normal as the effects of the drug wear off, the response of an addict is to seek relief from that low by using more cocaine.

However, the dopamine takes time to be restored to the storage areas, so repeated use of the cocaine brings less and less of the desired response and to regain that initial high an addict will use the drug at more frequent intervals and/or greater amounts…”

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Aware of the addictive power of dopamine the author ignores the dangers, instead describing how to use this knowledge to design educational software…

“In addition to the challenge required for the dopamine reward pleasure response, the brain must be aware that it correctly solved a problem, such as figuring out a correct response in the video game, correctly answering a challenging question, or achieving the sequence of movements needed to play a song on the piano or swing a baseball bat to hit a home run.

This is why children are especially motivated to keep playing video games because they give frequent feedback about the accuracy of their choices – hitting targets, choosing the correct move in a maze, such as accumulating points and progression to higher game levels.

In a sequential, multilevel video game, feedback of progress is ongoing, such as accumulating points, visual tokens, or celebratory sound effects.

The dopamine-pleasure reward is in response to the player achieving a challenge, solution, sequence, etc. that allows him to progress to the next and more challenging game task.

When the brain receives the feedback that this progress has been made, it reinforces the memory networks that were used to predict the success. Through a feedback system, that neuronal circuit becomes stronger and more durable. In other words, memory of the mental or physical response used to achieve the dopamine reward is reinforced.

It may seem counter-intuitive to think that children would consider harder work a reward for a predicting a correct response on a homework problem, test, or physical maneuver. Yet, that is just what the video game playing brain seeks after experiencing the pleasure of reaching a higher level in the game.

A computer game doesn’t hand out cash, toys, or even hugs. The motivation to persevere and pursue greater challenge at the next level is the brain seeking another surge of dopamine — the fuel of intrinsic reinforcement…”

So, what to make of this, is “the brain seeking another surge of dopamine” really a natural form of intrinsic reinforcement?

No, in my view this is an attempt by programmers to re-wire children’s brains at an early age so they will seek pleasure from artificial technologies and virtual reality situations. It’s dangerous for children to play video games frequently and it is VERY dangerous now to introduce this kind of technology in schools, in my opinion.

Our human brains have evolved over millions of years, we are naturally wired to experience pleasure when we master new skills, learn things and have positive social experiences. But that pleasure is calming, the dopamine when naturally released comes in small doses.

Education technologies that are potentially addictive are dangerous. Like junk food that packs in extra sugar, fat and salt these products are being created with a profit motive in mind, purposefully designed by corporations and their investors to hijack children’s minds and bodies.

Parents and educators need to say no to this, we need to provide our children with healthy learning experiences. We are not the Borg from Star Trek, and resistance is not futile. It’s the only wise choice we have.

~Christopher​ Chase~

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About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
This entry was posted in age of ignorance, Creative Systems Thinking, education reform, Learner-centered education, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Edu-Tech’s Brave New World – How Education Software is Being Designed to Hijack Children’s Brains

  1. kurekong says:

    Great article. Yoroshiku

  2. Pingback: How Education Software is Being Designed to Hijack Children’s Brains | Learning Technologies

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