Issues with EdTech

Unhealthy engagement

Parents want screen limits but EdTech wants screen engagement.

Setting limits. Parents everywhere are concerned about the myriad risks of harm posed by excessive screen time, many of which are detailed herein. In fact, two-thirds of parents say parenting is harder than it was 20 years ago, citing as the top reasons issues related to screen time. So most families make an intentional choice to limit their children’s total screen time and work hard to enforce those limits.  But those efforts are undermined by school policies and curricula that requires students to be online to complete their work.

Unhealthy engagement. EdTech companies exploit the access they gain through mandatory-use policies by including manipulative design techniques intended to keep kids “engaged” with their platform—the key to commercial success in the Big Data economy. Like social media companies, these include techniques such as intermittent variable rewards, gamification, moving goalposts, progress bars, social feedback, and push notifications. These techniques are constantly updated and tailored to ensure that kids keep using longer than is developmentally appropriate.

Doctors weigh in. These techniques have proven especially harmful to children, compromising their physical and mental health in myriad ways. Research has shown that problematic use is “highly prevalent” among young children. A recent study explains that many of these techniques exploit developmental vulnerabilities in young children. And the 2020 American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement explains that design elements intended to nudge users into specific behaviors, whether by constraining choices, highlighting preferred buttons to click, or providing rewards for preferred behavior, are now a common part of digital design. These reports warn that these design elements extend digital engagement in ways that increase exposure to advertising, which children and teenagers may not be able to identify or resist.