In a nutshell: yes and no.
The impact of the Internet and Web on K-12
Presently, the Internet and Web have the least amount of impact on the education and learning that occurs in K-12. In my opinion, this is because this portion of our educational experience is foundational. Much of the information and activities available via the Internet and Web simply do not apply to the conceptual learning that occurs at this level. Many research articles indicate that computer time for students can be utilized as an incentive for students to complete required tasks or interactions. Doing photographic or video projects is certainly fun — yet doesn’t really replace the outcomes that can be obtained with basic face-to-face and hands-on arts, crafts, and drama classes. The personal attention and interaction that occurs between a teacher and a student is the most important thing. Someday artificial intelligence may advance to the point where it can compare to the value of tangible human interaction — but we are not there yet. So, for now, I would say that for the early part of K-12 the Internet and Web are as essential and valuable as television based instruction was found to be in the 1960s. Otherwise said — not essential at all.
Students who are further along in their K-12 education (e.g. middle and high school age) can gain skills in information literacy, research, mathematics and engineering that would effect their post-graduation employment opportunities. Though I would still consider literacy with technology to be only a small part of essential skills required for success in adult employment.
The impact of the Internet and Web on Higher Education
The Internet and Web have had an impact for the administration of a higher education institution. Distance education programs that were tape delayed, teleconferencing or video based have evolved into online courses. There is value to the student in this instructional medium: students can learn when they want to, they can interact with other students, they can complete activities without ever entering a classroom. I personally still favor face-to-face courses. The conveniences of an online course are not justified by what we miss in being part of a true learning community and face-to-face course where the instructor can more effectively gauge if we are ‘getting it’ or not.
From a research standpoint, the Internet and Web have been a huge plus for higher education students. Our library at WMU is the strongest example I can think of. We have electronic access to millions of journal publications and documents. We are able to quickly locate new materials by using sophisticated databases and meta data. I am extremely thankful for the Web and Internet because of how it supports my access to knowledge, perspectives, and collaborations that I would otherwise not have access to.
The impact of the Internet and Web on Adult Learning
So, once we have learned the basics in K-12, and advanced knowledge and learning abilities in higher education — as adult learners the web and internet are a wonderful thing. We already have basic understanding of a lot of different things — we are able to learn independently. Because of this, online learning modules, interactive applications, and electronic reference (which can be e-mailed, printed, bookmarked, and had notes added to it) are an ideal way for us to continue adding to our existing skills and knowledge. In addition to this, having support available through e-mail, instant messaging, and video chat (made possible by the Internet and Web) is best suited to our needs within the workplace and our adult lives.
There is a time and place for everything. Technology is not a solution that solves every problem. Being able to look at what is really needed, and considering if technology adds real value is important. Be open, try new things. But don’t force it. Everything in our educational experience does not have to be digital — and not everything has to be face-to-face. Balance instruction with value and convenience for the student.