The 5 Biggest Problems with Digital Curriculum Blog Feature
Chris Zook

By: Chris Zook on June 11th, 2019

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The 5 Biggest Problems with Digital Curriculum

Digital Curriculum | Health Science

Digital curriculum is one of the most recent additions to teaching technology.

As a result, it comes with its pros and cons.

At AES, we talk about the pros a lot — and for good reason.

We develop digital curriculum to help teachers teach and students learn.

Still, there are always drawbacks to using different teaching resources.

We’re willing to admit that these five problems are present in digital curriculum:

  1. It requires modern technology
  2. It requires an Internet connection
  3. It adds to student screen time
  4. It reduces face-to-face time
  5. It can lead to distractions

Let's dig into the details of each problem, starting with the most common one!

1. It Requires a Computer, Tablet, or Smartphone


The biggest drawback to digital curriculum is the fact that it requires modern technology.

Digital curriculum exists entirely online, which means you’ll need a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone to access it.

That could be great if you’re constantly connected to technology — it means your curriculum is only a few clicks or taps away.

It also means you must use a computer that’s up-to-date and capable of accessing your curriculum.

But what if you’re old-school?

If you’re stuck using a 10-year-old computer, then that’s a problem!

The same goes for your students.

While many students have smartphones these days (we probably don’t have to tell you that), those aren’t quite the same as a computer.

Students can still complete their digital curriculum tasks from their phones — but it doesn’t quite carry the same effect as using a computer.

After all, when students are in their future careers, they’re most likely going to be typing on a keyboard instead of tapping on a smartphone.

With that in mind, digital curriculum can cause additional problems for classes that want to teach students about keyboarding, local area networks, and other computer-specific subjects. 

What’s the Solution?

Fortunately, most digital curriculum systems have more ways to use them than a computer and keyboard.

At AES, we give you loads of paper-based materials that you can print right from your computer.

The automatic grading and student tracking won’t help with these pen-and-paper resources, but you won’t have to get every student a computer to access the curriculum!

We also have lesson plans that include face-to-face activities for students, including group work, scenarios, and roleplaying.

Still, it’s important to note that you need more than a computer to access digital curriculum.

You need one that’s connected to the Internet!

2. It Requires an Internet Connection


Every device you use to access digital curriculum must be connected to the Internet.

You can choose whether to have a wired or wireless connection — but the connection has to be there.

That means your curriculum is always online instead of on your hard drive or your school’s file network.

Worst of all, there’ll be days when your connection goes out and you can’t access it at all!

These are all very real problems, and they happen in classrooms every day.

(Just think back to the last time some technology didn’t work — like last week or so.)

On top of that, Internet access isn’t as prevalent in rural communities as it is in urban areas. That means areas with a lot of land and low population — like North Dakota — will have a harder time accessing digital curriculum than, say, Philadelphia.

The load times will be slow, the connections will drop, and you might find yourself reaching for an old textbook if things get really frustrating.

Last, it’s important to remember that the Internet is still a luxury, even in developed countries like the United States.

It costs a lot of money to maintain an Internet connection, especially in poorer areas of the country.

If a student’s parents can’t afford it, then they can’t access your curriculum outside of school!

This is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome with digital curriculum because it’s entirely out of a teacher’s control.

Some students have Internet access. Others don’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact of life when you want to embrace new teaching technology.

What’s the Solution?

If you can’t get Internet access, AES still has all of the printable materials you need to help students learn.

Again, these won’t have the same convenient features of automatic grading, student activity reports, and other data — but they’ll work for you nevertheless!

It's also worth noting that some teachers, such as Kozy Hubbard, have after-school computer use opportunities for students who don't have home computers or Internet access. 

This may take a little bit more work to set up, but it works phenomenally well for any student age range. 

Regardless of how you address this issue, there’s still another problem lurking in digital curriculum that many teachers don’t realize until it’s too late.

It dramatically increases students’ screen time.

3. It Adds to Student Screen Time


According to Adrian F. Ward of the University of Colorado, screen time actually rewires the human brain — especially in young children and teens

It impacts transactive memory, gray brain matter growth, and even emotions like empathy.

In a nutshell, excessive screen time can have a big impact on developing minds.

The impediments of screen time are becoming more well-known as researchers study the use of smartphones, televisions, and computers.

In his paper Supernormal, Ward discusses how the presence of the Internet introduces a stimulus to the human brain that is so new and so powerful that it actually changes the way people think.

In some cases, the Internet can even take the place of transactive memory by preventing the creation of new memories.

Ward also mentions that this phenomenon comes with its own set of advantages — like always having a calculator or access to the world’s largest encyclopedia — but it presents some worrisome ideas in the way of memorization.

After all, if students rely on the Internet for part of their memory, will they remember the information they need when they’re working in a hospital?

What about in a job interview?

The implications are concerning, to say the least.

(If you’d like to form your own conclusions, you can read Ward’s paper for yourself on his personal website.)

What’s the Solution?

Get your students off of digital devices!

This may be a strange position for a digital curriculum company to take, but we care far more about your students’ health than we do about our bottom line.

Never forget that developing minds are stimulated in different ways. Some students may respond to digital curriculum on computers just fine.

Others may need some time to look away and blink.

Others might just need a 30-second brain-break!

You can do that in a varity of ways such as using groupwork activities that AES supplies, focusing on hands-on skills practice, and more.

The only instance where this doesn’t work is if you’re teaching computer applications.

Then, you’re kind of tied to a computer.

But that also makes sense for what you’re teaching, so maybe screen time isn’t such a bad thing in that case.

Still, dovetails with another major concern that educators have about digital curriculum.

When students spend more time in front of computers, they spend less time together.

4. It Reduces Face-to-Face Time


Face-to-face interactions are the bread and butter of the human social experience.

Verbal communication. Shaking hands. Hugging.

They’re all crucial to the continued development of a person, especially at a young age.

So when you have students working on digital curriculum, they’ll most likely be working on their own.


The biggest reason is that digital curriculum is made for one student to use it at a time.

After all, personal computers only allow one person to use them at a time. There’s one mouse, one keyboard, and usually one monitor.

Getting more than one person in that configuration is uncomfortable, to say the least.

Plus, that kind of environment isn’t always conducive to actual productivity, especially in younger students who get easily distracted.

What’s the Solution?

Students of any age are highly social. They want to talk during class. They want to text during tests. They’re on Instagram, Kik, WhatsApp, and more.  

You can satiate that craving for interactivity with the group work, scenarios, and roleplaying that AES suggests in its lessons.

In the event you teach computer applications courses, you can also have students discuss what they’ve learned or complete group projects.

Is it easy to get distracted during group work? Of course it is.

But that face time is still essential to developing students, and they simply won’t get it if they’re in front of a computer every class.

Speaking of distractions, it’s a known fact that the Internet is packed with distractions.

So when you digital curriculum — which exists solely on the Internet — teachers and administrators have one final concern.

5. It Can Lead to Distractions


Let’s be honest — distractions are everywhere.

You’ve probably seen your students daydreaming while you’ve lectured.

You’ve probably caught at least one student playing Fortnite on their phone.

As if students didn’t have enough distractions already (regardless of how old they are), plopping them in front of a screen is more likely going to make them feel like they’re about to relax or play video games, as opposed to learn.

It’s still possible for students to learn online, of course.

But it’s a scientific fact that you shouldn’t work in the same places (or with the same tools) you relax

These effects are observed most significantly in individuals who choose to pursue careers out of their homes, where they may be tempted to work from the couch or their bed.

But the science is clear — working in certain environments makes someone more productive than when the same environment is used for work and relaxation.

The same extends to computers, smartphones, and other devices.

After all, your students spend far more personal time on those devices than they spend school time.

What’s the Solution?

This really comes down to your teaching strategy.

This is the most obvious sentence you may ever read — students get distracted because they’re bored or other students are distracting them.

You can nip that problem in the bud with blended learning and differentiated instruction.  

Changing your teaching strategy to include different activities can do wonders for students’ attention.

So if you’ve ever had the suspicion that some students just can’t work from their smartphones or home computers — science says you’re right!

Fortunately, this isn’t an enormous problem since you can change how you present the information in your classroom!

Want to Learn More about Digital Curriculum?


With all of that said, we’ve arrived at a pretty harsh conclusion for digital curriculum.

After all, why would anyone buy it if it came with all of these disadvantages?

The answer is simple — there’s more to digital curriculum than just negative attributes.

It’s why more than 3,000 teachers use the AES digital curriculum nationwide.

It’s why more than 1,000,000 students have used AES digital curriculum to learn.

Digital curriculum has its good sides, too!

In fact, we think the benefits of digital curriculum far outweigh the drawbacks.

Now, you can decide for yourself: Click below to read the Ultimate Guide to Digital Curriculum!

Read Your Ultimate Guide to Digital Curriculum


About Chris Zook

Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.