If Everything Will Eventually Be Obsolete, Should We Bother Learning Anything At All?
from the miseducation dept
For many years, Jakob Nielsen has been seen by some folks as the authority on web usability -- particularly people in the media, who find it really hard to write articles about the topic without quoting him. Still, plenty of people don't really agree with his ideas, even though web usability and user-interface design remains an important topic. He's ventured a little bit outside of that with the latest self-published column on his web site, saying that teachers and schools are screwing up (via Guardian Unlimited) by teaching kids how to use specific computer applications instead of "life-long computer skills". He also offers a bunch of such skills kids should be taught. Some of them are just silly, like "workplace ergonomics" and, unsurprisingly, "user testing and other basic usability guidelines", while others seem rather spurious or vague, like skills to deal with information overload and "writing for online readers". But the problem with the others -- like "search strategies" and "computerized presentation skills" -- is that it would make little sense to teach these general topics without using something like Google or PowerPoint to illustrate them. Nielsen doesn't seem to realize, or perhaps he's just unwilling to accept, that training people in certain applications or the skills to use them isn't a mutually exclusive idea that precludes learning deeper concepts. Quite often, the best way to learn these "life-long skills" he's so fond of is by, you know, actually using the tools and applications that are available today. Plenty of people got their start in computers not by being taught anything in a formal setting, but by just starting to mess around with them, and in time, many of these deeper concepts were absorbed unconsciously or simply learned -- despite Nielsen's contention that students are unlikely to learn them on their own. Nielsen is saying that students shouldn't be taught anything concrete about computers because the programs in use today will eventually be upgraded or replaced, but that's pretty pointless. Such a claim would seem to undermine Nielsen's entire point, since after all, it seems unlikely that the "life-long" skills he's pointed out will stand up to the test of time, either.