Digital learning or the wider scope of educational technology is a popular buzzword with schools embracing the digital demands of the 21st Century. Whereas it is taking shape in many pre-college schools around the world, it is receiving lukewarm adoption in other places. The pessimists are still looking for reasons to hold it off for a few more years.
But what is it?
Digital learning explains all instructional practices which make use of technology to enhance the learning process both inside and outside the classroom. The purpose is to ensure the learning environment and goals are relevant in the tech-driven world of the 21st Century.
In what is known as flipped learning/classroom, the teacher and learners are able to collaborate outdoors and explore the vast digital and non-digital resources individually and in groups. The classical teaching model may come in at the end of the day, or otherwise, to expound on the findings.
Both learners and teachers use technology in all its forms, inside and outside the classroom and integrate these with non-digital forms.
The following are strategies and tools used to enhance digital learning inside and outside the classroom:
- Mobile computers
- Classroom tech tools
- Interactive and smart learning tools
- Online & offline assessment
- Youtube Channels
- Online digital communities
- File sharing sites
- Online apps
- Virtual reality
- Augmented reality
- Blended learning
The schools adopting digital learning want to stay ahead of the game by embracing the full potential of digital technology. They concentrate on finding better instructional and collaboration practices to wrap education around the current digital native generations.
Below are just a few valid reasons why digital learning is a necessary component of education in the 21st Century:
1. The Ready Alpha Market
Alpha children, who form the bulk of digital natives do not have to go to school to learn the basics of computing. They acquire these skills at home from the day they are born through exposure to smartphones and tablets.
They start using the same devices a few months later and eventually weave their way around the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) devices in the house.
It is absurd if the young learners of the 21st Century enter classroom environments which do not embrace technology. They will be distracted and confused about the status quo.
Thus, parents and educators need to get ahead of themselves and maximize digital learning potential even before school years.
2. The Spirit of Engagement
By the time Alpha children and other digital natives start formal education their brains are extensively stimulated and wired towards digital acquisitions. This is due to preschool exposure to smartphones and tablets, starting from the day they are born. This exposure prepares them to study in similar settings. Anything to the contrary could destabilize their learning curve.
After playing computer games and learning to solve multiple interactive tasks with pleasure at home, they are left puzzled when learning at school is so much different.
The eager mind in them yearns for challenging assignments beyond what traditional education offers. It is boring when they just sit back and let the teacher talk endlessly or have to scribble notes routinely. They easily become withdrawn and lose interest in education.
To tap into this stimulated brain, parents and teachers need to re-evaluate and equip themselves with relevant digitalization know-how in order to flow with the needs of these kids.
3. Staying Ahead of the Game
Just like newspaper articles become outdated the minute or hours before they are printed out and hit the streets, so are textbooks used in the traditional educational setup. The internet is awash with old and new information which can be sourced easily. This is available as digital textbooks, audio references, and podcasts. This can be sourced by downloading as well as collaborating with those in the know.
While this may not always be feasible for those financially disadvantaged, it however does not count as a valid execuse. Educational technology is not waiting for anyone. Implementors and educators must pull up their socks to match the information explosion.
This then begs the question: Are textbooks dead? The answer to this is not definite, but the truth is that the Internet is fast becoming the most preferred source of immediate information for both learners, educators and society at large.
4. Online and Offline Collaboration
Learners and educators from one part of the globe can now engage with peers from other locations and share valuable content. Time, path, space and place do not limit this form of collaboration. This nature of educational technology encourages educators and learners to interact with those beyond the classroom. Content and ideas must be embraced from near and far.
The educators must explore the unknown to keep up with the explosive mind of the digital learners.
5. The New Possibilities
The evolutionary nature of digital trends today means that digital learners must prepare for new possibilities in the job sector in the coming years. Parents and educators must keep an open mind about what may or may not happen in the job industry by getting their children digitally prepared. If not, they ran the risk of producing redundant Alpha adults.
While many vocations will remain relevant in years to come, it is not entirely clear what kind of digital jobs will be available for digital natives in the next 20 years. Just to illustrate, it was hard to predict, 20 years ago, that career descriptions listed below would even appear in job listings:
- Mobile phone app developer
- Technical evangelists
- Social media influencers
- Digital prophets
- Data detectives
It is interesting to imagine how advancement in Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape the job market in the next few decades.
6. Embracing Higher-order-thinking Skills (HOTS)
Educators need to embrace higher order thinking skills (HOTS). HOTS is about empowering the learners to acquire knowledge for transfer purposes, unlike traditional rote learning which emphasizes learner ability to recall textbook notes. Learners then replicate these during assessment tests as proof of learning. This kind of information is now available online for anyone that cares to download.
The proliferation of internet and computing devices means that information is available freely for both educators and learners. This is easily accessible through mobile phones and desk-based computers anytime and anywhere. As a result, educators need to embrace practises that are more than just acquiring information and passing them on to learners.
Gone are the days when teachers owned information and passed this to learners at regulated time frames. Today, a smart learner can source for even better information than the traditional educator who is yet to embrace information dynamics.
According to Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) teaching based on knowledge transfer, empowers learners to internalize what they have learned and use it in real life. This is a concept centered approach aimed at fostering skill development, metacognition, critical thinking, and problem-solving strategies.
As far as technology goes, we do not use computing devices to only read and reproduce information. It is about understanding them and using them as target tools to better our lives in the 21st Century.