Time for my annual back-to-school column focused on kids, schools, and the role of learning technology.

Every time I think I know a lot about technology, some 12-year-old proves otherwise. Although I embrace the digital age and strongly advocate for using technology in education, I am, and will always be, what Mark Prensky calls a digital immigrant. I adapted to technology, but I wasn’t born into it.

Not so with today’s students. They are digital natives. They are better at it than most of their parents or their teachers. Outside their educational environment, they are using technology to learn, and to collaborate, communicate, and document their own lives. They have grown up with technology, and technology is part of them. What should we be doing inside the educational environment?

Is technology changing, or are the students changing?

We have been incorporating technology into schools for 60 years, from filmstrips to interactive video and, now, the web and social media. For sure, learning technology has changed the schools, but primarily by changing how content is stored and presented, not by significantly altering how learning takes place—at least not yet.

As the Internet and mobile technologies pervaded our lives, we didn’t quite understand how these changes would impact schooling. So we resisted. As a member of my local school board for six years, I could see that we didn’t really know what to do with the web. Sure, we got on the Internet bandwagon, but the need to protect kids from bad sites—porn, predators, identity thieves, unscrupulous sales pitches, criminal elements, etc.—was, at first, much more of a driver in our strategy (or lack thereof) than figuring out how to use the technology to benefit education, even though we talked about it, a lot.

We struggled with determining what was appropriate beyond the obvious. So we erred on the side of caution. Was Wikipedia a reliable source? Were different interpretations of history helpful to young learners? Were un-cited sources useful or detrimental? What about parental rights to determine what their children could see online? We debated and even stressed out a little over all of it. We also banned cell phones, assuming they would be a distraction to learning and an invitation to cheat on tests.

Lately, we have learned to chill a little. Many schools now provide mobile computers to all students, even allowing them to bring their own devices, including smartphones, to school. Computing skills are no longer optional. It’s not so much a resignation that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” than it is a realization that students in school today are fundamentally different when it comes to technology than the students of just a generation ago. For many of them, being cut off from technology is almost as bad as having your arm cut off (or so they tell me).

The new push in learning technology at the school level is not just using it to present content, but using is as a research, analytical, and communications tool. The use of technology is a given; what comes out of that usage—and what kids do with it—is what really matters.

Key considerations

So now the emphasis is to open up education to personal technology and enable students to use it wisely and productively. To do this requires five key considerations:

  1. Retraining faculty to employ technology as more than just an easy way to deliver PowerPoint presentations, and moving them to incorporate technology as an essential resource for changing how students learn.
  2. Rethinking the concept of the library, and the role of librarians, from a place where physical content is stored to a broad-based access point into the digital knowledge universe. Just as most of us learned to use the card catalog when we were in school, we must teach students to use web-based research tools in a similar way.
  3. Helping students become good content consumers. Their openness to tech makes it easy if we do it right. Don’t automatically assume tech-savvy kids are equally knowledge savvy. We must help them be smart, thoughtful consumers of Internet-based content, so they can tell good content from bad; and we must help them use the web, and each other, to learn faster and more comprehensively than ever before. Content curation becomes more important than ever.
  4. Helping students become good content contributors. It’s easier than ever for everyone to be both a content consumer and a content creator. How will we support students as they build their own content? This is more than good content design; it’s also the appropriate awareness of what to publish and what not to publish, and the impacts (positive and negative) the content will have on others who consume it.
  5. Parental education. While it’s certainly true that most kids can teach their parents a thing or two about technology, it is up to parents to embrace new models for how that technology is used in schools and support them at home. This is a challenge for the entire school ecosystem.

Our current generation of schoolkids understands the value of technology in their world. We need to show them the value of technology in learning. We can’t do this just by using technology to jazz up our courses in ways that make us comfortable. Rather, we have to restructure learning in ways that are becoming more comfortable for them.

And by the way, this current generation of tech-savvy students is your next generation of employees. Do you really think they will tolerate the preponderance of traditional learning strategies that pervade our corporate training programs today? What is now disrupting our schools will soon disrupt our training centers—if it hasn’t already. Count on it.

From the editor: Keeping up at DevLearn 2016

The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn Conference & Expo has always been about “what’s next” and this year is no different. If you enjoyed Marc’s article, here are three sessions you’d probably like to attend!

On Tuesday, November 15, Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman present pre-conference certificate program P24, “Implementing Ecosystem Solutions: A New Approach to What We Do.” In this one-day workshop, you will focus on methods for implementing learning and performance ecosystem solutions in your organization. You will explore strategy, analysis, design, technology, metrics, and organization change as you build a framework that helps redefine and restructure your work to meet the challenges ahead. If you’re interested in a new paradigm that unifies the thinking of a new and expanding role in learning and performance, this workshop is for you. If you’re looking to apply the ecosystem to an upcoming project, this workshop is also for you. Participants who would like to discuss their own ecosystem initiatives will have time to do so.

Marc Rosenberg will present “From Content Creation to Content Curation: An Emerging Critical Role,” on Wednesday, November 16. He will discuss ways to deal with the sheer size of the content now available and to efficiently search for the reliable information you need.

On Thursday, November 17 Anders Gronstedt will present “How Today’s Emerging Technologies Can Redefine Your Training”—how to develop a generation of learners who may have spent more time with video games than in school.

See the rest at the DevLearn Conference & Expo 2016 web site. Register by Friday, September 30 for the Early Registration Discount!