Digital Learning in Modern Education: 5 Key Areas Shifting Our Work

Daniel Downs, Ed.D.

The lives of our children will be drastically different than our own in part to technology. We know this, because in our own lifetime we have seen computers go from taking up an entire room to fitting on our wrist or in our pocket. As parents we are challenged with adapting to our own challenges of keeping up with technology to best be able to explain to our children that we confidently have an understanding of what will happen next in regards to modern technology.

I have outlined a few of the topics which I always try to keep in my purview when thinking about technology and education. This article serves to provide a brief overview of the context of topics as well as our next step questions and evidence for pursuing the value of these trends.

Design Thinking

The minds of our future leaders are being developed in our schools each day. Amazing teachers are working hand in hand with their students to learn conceptual Design Thinking concepts such as “Empathize”, “Define, “Prototype” and “Test” (Stanford, 2018).  These ideas are modeled and presented using digital tools and creative expressions each day and led by teachers who value this process in regards to student learning. For an overview of Design Thinking I recommend the Stanford Design Thinking website https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/a-virtual-crash-course-in-design-thinking. Now, more than ever we are asking students to think and respond to problems in new ways that work in concert with modern technology.

Design Thinking processes help prepare our students to address new kinds of questions that activate their process of analysis:

·   How do you design for sustainability?

·   How do we create something new to solve an existing problems?

·   What skills do we need to know to solve the problem?

·   Why are the skills of troubleshooting and adaptability valuable?

Personalized Learning

We are living in a rebirth of education in which instruction has been transformed by digital tools empowering teachers with the ability to assess understanding in real time, deliver continually more personalized instruction and scale learning. Teachers have the ability to better manage the time, classroom resources, method of content delivery and increase time engaged on learning. It is often said “The proof is in the pudding”, and with technology and education it is no different. These tools are the current means and future of learning.

Personalized approaches in education provides several new outlets for educators to support student learning:

· Teachers can quickly assign, monitor and comment upon student progress with digital resources.

· Teachers can research and share resources quickly and in multiple media formats (video, websites, applications, digital assessments).

· The concept of the classroom has moved beyond the traditional walls and resources and engagement are more self-directed by students within the context of learning.

Adaptive Instruction with Digital Tools & Media

The cycle of review in which a teacher practices and the iteration of the student learning cycle has been transformed. Teachers are also able to support their process and professional learning community through their digital network of resources. Students can reflect and learn to refine presentations, writing and literacy with adaptive tools and strategies for instruction.

The evidence of student learning with all of these new resources, strategies and tools is the continually evolving classroom which is adapting to the way we instruct and share our practice. A teacher can share the student products (videos, presentations, digital content) understandings, processes of student learning to the world in a heartbeat through a variety of apps and tools which capture student reflection and learning.

Student assessment is more than an online exam or multiple choice question; it can be an expression of creativity, a story or well edited student video. Actively educators are adopting this mindset to fully empower a range of student skill sets. A few examples include:

· Students create videos to explain their learning and process.

· Students write code and produce digital outputs (posters, programs, graphics and documents).

· Students are storytellers. Explaining their learning and identifying their understanding of concepts.

Digital Literacy & Student Advocacy

Context is key. Providing a Chromebook to a student or allowing a student time to work on digital media project in a computer lab is incredibly important. Understanding the value of connecting students with technology and supporting their digital literacies to continue to refine creative collaborations and advocacy made possible through technology is incredibly important.

Students need time, reflection and rigor with digital tools to properly share their content knowledge safely, effectively and as with most things a lot of practice. Repetition and familiarity with digital tools is the barrier of understanding in the next level of learning. I think we can all remember a time in which we needed to adapt our learning and understanding to meet expectations. Technology has built this scaffold into the challenges of generational learning with digital resources.

How the tools are used and the design of outcomes tied to rigorous learning with technology allows us to ask new questions. Each year as technology continues to speed up production of our world we continue to identify key starting points and views of the values associated with it.

· How does your online presence and digital identity impact your professional interests?

· How well do you communicate with digital tools and resources? How do you share your knowledge?

· How are digital assets or products designed and manufactured effectively and efficiently?

College & Career Readiness Skills

The habits of mind which support the kind of adaptable thinking is fostered in our schools ability to define and shift to address the next level of learning often modeled within the innovations of our current workforce such as robotics, 3D design and production, user interface design and the flexibility and familiarity of computer programming as a multi-tiered language to express creativity. What we see in the workforce in regards to innovation today will be multiplied 3 times over by the times our elementary students reach college. We need to be developing a mindset to support “Future Acting Employees” (Dr. John Sullivan, 2018) to envision and drive innovation at scale.

Education is not a field in which it easy to survive unless you are continually making modifications to instruction with all students. Kids are continually developing and refining their learning skills.  Students need to learn a variety of new soft and hard skills to help them modify their learning based on current world trends. Critical thinking and the ability to decipher the world trends for actionable learning moments with technology will best prepare students to meet the needs of a global workforce.

Does it make sense to provide students with the tools which will help them succeed in the 21st century? I think it does. It is my passion to assist educators to support the transition to a more digitally enhanced classroom.  I am inspired as I walk into each and every school and see how technology supports entirely new learning experiences.

References

Dr. John Sullivan. (2018, March 13). Implementing Innovations Requires a Future-Acting Workforce. Retrieved June 3, 2019, from ERE website: https://www.ere.net/implementing-innovations-requires-a-future-acting-workforce/

Stanford University. (2018, February 5). Stanford d.school. Retrieved June 3, 2019, from Stanford d.school website: https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/a-virtual-crash-course-in-design-thinking