Category Archives: Digital normalisation

Is Core System Wide School Change Possible, and Sustainable?

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The short answer is yes, on both counts.

But it is extremely rare, far rarer than most governments, politicians, the media and educational leaders would have you believe.

Historically one will struggle to find an education authority, local, provincial or national, anywhere in the world that has achieved core system wide school change, and then sustained that change for more than a few decades.

Virtually all the system wide innovation made globally in the 60s and 70’s has largely disappeared, with the schools returning, some might say regressing, to the traditional mode.

One will moreover struggle to find a major change that has not only been sustained, but built upon in a significant way.

And yet daily academics, the media, politicians and educational administrators glibly envision markedly different schools of the future. 

Most schools in 2040 will, on current trends likely be the same as today, the same as they were fifty years ago, the same as they were a century ago, only they will be more dated relative to the rest of society.

The current indicators strongly suggest many could be more regressive than the schools of the 1970s.

Most will likely still be paper based constructs, site based, linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, using Industrial Age processes, micro-managed by governments and bureaucrats to the nth degree.

New technologies in Industrial Age classrooms doesn’t change the nature of schooling. They never have, and never will.

There will be notable exceptions globally led by governments that recognise the imperative of providing an apt contemporary education for all, that understand the immensity of the constraints to be overcome and what is required for successful sustained digital evolution and transformation, conscious of the time and effort needed to make the paradigm shift, but they will be few. 

The rarity of sustained system change has not been for any want of desire, effort of investment.  The last century plus has seen all manner of thoughtfully conceived, well-funded initiatives, the likes of model schools, the Dewey based progressive school’s movement, the many ‘schools of the future’ and lighthouse schools, open plan schooling, vast national initiatives like the UK’s ‘Harnessing the Technology’ and more recently the various national ‘digital revolutions’. Some of those initiatives made a difference, at least for a time, but importantly few got anywhere near 100% school uptake, and have been sustained over time. 

We’d like to table for discussion the seemingly outrageous proposition that core system-wide school change might in most situations be impossible, particularly over a sustained period.

We’re most assuredly not making this observation as cynical old pessimists, but rather in the quest to assist principals, education authorities and politicians, wanting to move from a paper to digitally based construct to understand the magnitude of the task ahead, and the reality they’ll have to address. 

History says that while change has been possible at the individual school level sustained core change across a total system, be it parochial, provincial or national level, has been much rarer.

That rarity should set off the warning bells.

Political challenges.

Sustained, core system change is only possible if both the political and logistical elements are successfully addressed from the outset, and then on an-going basis.  While for convenience we’ve separated the political from the logistical challenges the two are invariably intertwined.

Within the democracies of the world using the Westminster system of government, or a variant thereof core system change in government schools can only happen when led and supported by the leader of the government and his/her minister/superintendent. It is a given, without which there is no chance of sustained success. 

History reveals much, likely most system wide innovation did not pay due regard to the politics of the change. Invariably the focus has been on the mechanics of the change with scant thought was given to the reality of political churn, the continual change of governments, the seemingly endless cycle of progressive and conservative governments and electoral acceptance. History is festooned with educational innovation that died with the change of government, and even change of minister. Invariably new governments, new ministers of education, school superintendents like to quickly display their credentials, happy to throw out millions of dollars of achievement to demonstrate their way is best. 

Core system change is very unlikely to be sustained unless it is accepted, and in time normalised by the electorate. Experience suggests all too often well-intentioned educators have mapped out major change without giving a thought to the political context, implications or long term community acceptance. One will struggle find mention in the educational change literature the imperative of factoring into the change implementation the electorates likely acceptance of the innovation.

Logistical

Logistically the many challenges facing change at the individual school level, that we identified in ‘The Challenge of Creating a Digital School’ are amplified many fold at the system level, and to those many considerable constraints are added those at the system level. 

These are but some of the hurdles to be overcome.

The challenge of simply running an education system in a time of accelerating change is immense.

Running that system while also implementing core system wide change takes the challenge to another, for many possibly unattainable, level. In analysing the history of one of those rarities that has sustained the system change forty plus years ago while the challenge of making the change in the 1970s was immense the system was, in relative terms working with largely known constants. Paper as the technology core to the construct was largely unchanging. That was a world where it was accepted that one had around a week to respond to an important letter, a ‘leisurely’ turnaround that continued until the early 1990’s.

Fifty plus years after the identification of Moore’s Law (Wikipedia, 2019) the rate of digital evolution continues to accelerate largely as projected, with few organisations, let alone school systems, able to stay abreast of the rate of technological change (Friedman, 2016), (Deloitte, 2017). To the already considerable challenge of conducting a complex human organisation is added the pace of continual social, political, economic, environmental and technological change, including uncertainty, disruption, digital convergence, evolutionary chaos, and continual unintended and unplanned global change. 

An allied challenge, all education authorities will eventually have to a face, is that they are operating – whether desired or not –in a world of chaotic change (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). They’ll need to grasp that within that world their long-held belief that development can only occur when rationally, logically planned and implemented must be tempered by the reality that increasingly much development will occur as a natural flow on of digital evolution; unplanned, unintended and remarkably similar worldwide.

Governments, education authorities and schools have ultimately to accommodate both planned and unplanned change, and be aware of, and be ready to optimise the unintended benefits, and the new normal that emerges out of the seeming chaos. Near all the major global changes in the learning and education of the world’s young in the last twenty-five years have flown naturally and unplanned from the Digital Revolution. No planned national or international educational change comes close to having anything near the global impact of unintended, unplanned change (Lee and Broadie, 2018). 

Business from the mid 1990’s recognised in their planning they had to accommodate the intended and the unintended change (Thorpe, 1998).

The digital masters in schooling also appreciated this new imperative (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The history of schooling since the world went online in 1993 with Mosaic reveals most schools, and education authorities didn’t (Lee and Broadie, 2018), but recent conversations suggest some are, and in so doing are aware they will need to bring the teachers and community with them in that realisation.

Natural evolutionary change is invariably inefficient (Pascale, Millemann and Gioja, 2000). It needs to be shaped to advantage by astute leaders aware of the world megatrends.

Core system change must thus still be planned astutely, with due regard given the many interconnected parts but that planning and the outcomes desired should be more open and flexible, able to accommodate the naturally emerging unintended benefits, and to address the undesired disbenefits.

A telling feature of the successful system change analysed was the integrated totality of the change design and implementation (Lee, in press). It was built on core, timeless educational principles that underpinned every facet of the change. Forty plus years on that was still apparent.

All too often efforts at core school change are piecemeal, delivered by discrete cells within the central office, without regard to the desired totality or electoral acceptance, that soon wither with the change in government, and funding priorities.

The immensity and complexity of the challenges to sustained core system change demand leaders in Government, the central administration and every school capable and astute enough to normalise the desired change.  It necessitates systems continually having educational leaders able to sit in the helicopter and understand the evolving macro scene, the interrelatedness of the many parts, able to ensure evolving, increasingly integrated and complex digitally based school ecosystems sustain and grow the desired change.

The challenge of growing and appointing school leaders able to play that role, and to do so over the decades might be a step too far for most education systems, struggling as most are to find principals simply able to manage the status quo.

To normalise, sustain, and in time grow the core change over the decades the system requires leadership identification, growth and appointment processes that will go a long way to providing the desired personnel.

Most systems, where the focus is very much on appointing heads to manage the status quo, are years away from the desired, with the question having to be asked if the desired can ever be achieved.

A related ‘leadership’ challenge facing near all systems is that the implementation of the change is invariably entrusted to a mature, invariably highly segmented bureaucracy. They use staff, structures and processes employed to maintain the status – quo. That group likely not only lacks the understanding, mindset, drive to implement significant organisational change but also the structural agility to do so. 

It is a recipe for failure, that can be obviated, but from the track record is rarely done. 

Successful sustained core system requires the designers to accept school change must be done from within the school, and increasingly the school community, and done eventually by every school in the system.

The designers can’t wave a magic wand, or simply issue a media release and assume the change will happen.  It won’t.

Allied is the imperative of recognising that every school is unique, with each requiring its own change strategy.

It is appreciated this runs counter to the prevailing views of many bureaucrats and likely governments, but every school has a unique context, history, community, culture, mix of staff, challenges, and sits at different points along the school evolutionary continuum.  Moreover, each has a head with his/her own desires, capabilities, leadership style and facility to orchestrate major organisational change.

While Government and the system leadership must provide direction and support history affirms that leadership must be willing to trust and empower its professionals and communities if it wishes them to normalise, sustain and in time grow the core change.

The willingness to distribute that power is something historically few systems have been prepared to contemplate, but until they do, and cease micro managing and distrusting their professionals the chance of sustained core change will remain remote. 

A telling but largely unacknowledged factor in achieving core system change, that stood out in the analysis of the successful change, (Lee, in press) is the timing of the change.  Achieving the initial momentum and acceptance is the hard part. Normalising and sustaining the change is that much easier if the ball is rolling. It was likely somewhat easier to innovate in the socially progressive world of the late 60s and 70’s than immediately post 9/11. Similarly, it is often easier to introduce major change after a resounding electoral success than at the end of a tired government.

It bids Governments and system administrators to think carefully about context and the timing of a change they want sustained for decades to come. 

Conclusion

Yes, core system change is possible, and sustainable, but it is easy to see why the track record globally is so poor, and likely to remain so.

If, and it is a big ‘if’, governments want to provide an apt contemporary education for all its students and to make changes that will be sustained governments, policy makers, educational administrators, and indeed teachers, the media and society in general must appreciate the immense difficulty of the move, and the real chance of failure.

They need also understand in a world of ever accelerating technological and social change the challenge is growing daily.

It is time to cease being glib about core school change, to appreciate the magnitude of the constraints, to approach the change with the eyes wide open to both the political and logistical challenges and to laud those systems that have made and sustained core change over the decades.

Bibliography

  • Friedman, T (2016) Thank you for Being LateNew York Farrer, Straus Giroux
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Lee, M (in press).Creating, Sustaining and Revitalising the ACT Secondary College Model.
  • Pascale, R.T, Millemann, M, Gioja, L (2000) Surfing at the Edge of ChaosNY Three Rivers Press
  • Wikipedia (2019) ‘Moore’s Law’, 2 July 2019 at – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law

Is Sustained Core School Change Possible?

I

An alert for those wanting to lead a digital school.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The historic, universal, unwritten assumptions are that fundamental school change is not only possible, but is desired by those in authority and can be readily sustained.

Underpinning virtually every education plan and staff development program in the last century has likely been the desire to change and enhance schooling. Myriads of books have been published, studies conducted, reports written and likely millions of conferences conducted globally detailing how. 

Daily politicians continue to espouse the changes they are initiating, giving the impression that the governments of the world actively want significant educational innovation and change.

We’d suggest the time has come to seriously question all three assumptions. 

We accept that merely questioning the assumptions is akin to killing Bambi, but if schooling is to educate the young for a rapidly evolving world the validity of these first order premises should be examined, and the reality addressed.

COSN recently released an excellent study on the hurdles constraining Driving K-12 Innovation (COSN, 2019). The problem was that barriers identified were second order and assumed governments and schools wanted to innovate, could do so, and could sustain the changes made.

It is suggested that

  • For most it might be impossible to fundamentally change the traditional mode of schooling in a sustained way. It can in exceptional circumstances happen with individual schools, at least for a time, but as we explore in later posts historically it has been near impossible to sustain across a total system.
  • it is extremely unlikely most schools will evolve as digitally mature organisations (Kane, et al, 2016) being digital (Negroponte, 1995) in the foreseeable future.
  • most governments and educators have no real desire to significantly change the nature of schooling. They want constancy, continuity, sameness and control, free of electoral risk.

School leaders should better understand what is possible to change and is sustainable, be aware of the myriad of constraints to significant school change, and appreciate where transformation is possible, and likely impossible. 

History reveals that sustaining the change is likely as difficult as making the initial change. It also suggests this key facet of organisational change hasn’t been given the attention due. 

It is time to mix vision with pragmatism, to adopt a more reasoned approach to change, to accept there are givens, and to stop tilting at windmills in areas when there is little or no likelihood of marked variation of the current practises. 

In talking about core school change one is addressing fundamental variations in the traditional mode of schooling. New buildings, technologies, curriculum or assessment procedures don’t in themselves mean core change, particularly when they are simply a variant of the old. One is looking at the likes of schools without walls, open plan schools and the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling that integrates the networked with the site based learning.

Heads must recognise from their appointment they will lead the school transformation process for a finite time, with very real likelihood that any significant changes they make to the traditional ways being reversed on their departure. Despite the best efforts of likely millions of very capable heads globally history is festooned with examples, particularly within systems, of the laudable efforts being dismantled or abandoned by less able replacements.

For centuries school planners have worked on the assumption they can, with calm rationale thought shape whatever kind of schools they want. They can’t.  There are immense, likely growing constraints and barriers inhibiting core change. 

It is time for all educational decision makers, but particularly principals to better understand, and work with that reality. We now know what can and likely can’t be changed, that which is immutable and that where enhancement is possible. For example, after two hundred plus years of governments in the northern hemisphere basing their school term dates on the agrarian year, and those dates impacting near every facet of life, the economy, and learning there is no way to markedly change the term times. There are like givens those wanting change must work with.

School leaders should also appreciate that most governments and education decision don’t want any significant change.  Most educational administrations are about control and being risk adverse, committed to ‘protecting and promoting the minister’, concerned not to alienate the electorate or media. While politicians and their educational administrators speak of change the difference between the rhetoric and the reality can be vast. Granted some governments have genuinely wanted enhancement, but history reveals most only want controlled change. Twenty-five years on from the world going digital, and the Digital Revolution transforming all manner of organisations worldwide most of the world’s schools have avoided or been sand bagged against any significant digital disruption (Lee and Broadie, 2018a). Most schools use of the digital the same way as they did a quarter of a century ago, albeit with access to the online.

Conclusion

In the coming weeks, we’ll explore through a series of short blogs the realities facing all school leaders, but particularly those wanting to lead a digital school.

If you would like to comment further do write Mal Lee at – mallee@mac.com

Bibliography

  • Kane, G.C, Palmer, D, Phillips, A.N, Kiron, D, Buckley, N (2016) Aligning the Organisation for its Digital Future. MIT Sloan Management Review, July 2016, Massachusetts MIT SMR/Deloitte University Press – http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/aligning-for-digital-future/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/–  
  • Negroponte, N (1995) Being DigitalSydney Hodder and Stoughton

The Importance of Students Using Their Own Digital Kit.

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

This seemingly mundane management issue, that most educators view as just that, challenges the very nature of schooling.

Are schools in democracies places where the state compels a compliant youth to learn what and how government believes is appropriate, or are they organisations that assist an increasingly digitally empowered young ready themselves for life, work and learning in a rapidly evolving, often uncertain, digitally based, connected and socially networked world?

Are they physical institutions that must unilaterally control every aspect of learning of an appropriately compliant, subservient youth within the school walls, or are they learning organisations that work with all the ‘teachers’ of the young in assisting provide an apt, balanced, holistic and largely individualised education?

The litmus test to these questions is whether the school believes it must unilaterally control the choice and use of the personal technology within the school walls, or whether it is willing to trust and empower its students, and give them the freedom and responsibility to use their own suite of digital technologies astutely in all facets of their learning, including that within the school.

Educators as a group don’t appear to have grasped how important it is for the world’s young to be digitally empowered, and to learn from naturally using that capability. It is akin to owning one’s first car, but much more. It is not simply having one’s own highly sophisticated, immensely powerful technologies. It is having the agency to use those technologies largely as one desires, and taking control of one’s use and learning with those technologies. And being able to do so very early in life, before they can read and write, and to do so 24/7/365 lifelong.

It is an agency enjoyed by near 70% of the world’s young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEFF, 2017) – albeit outside the school walls, with the trend line moving at pace to near universal digital connectivity.

UNICEF’s 2017 study rightly observed:

Digital technology has already changed the world – and as more and more children go online around the world,
it is increasingly changing childhood (UNICEF, 2017, p1).

Until schools and their governments appreciate that digitally empowered young are the new normal, and are willing to adjust their ways, to relax their control, to trust and empower those young people to use their ‘own’ kit astutely and creatively in class schools will never normalise the use of the digital, nor play any meaningful role in assisting the nation’s young grow being digital.

Schools will remain doing the digitalwithout ever being digital.

It is appreciated that won’t unduly worry many teachers and governments.

But it does means most schools developmentally will move into a state of evolutionary equilibrium, unable to evolve as digitally mature organisations which can continually transform their operations and accommodate the accelerating digital evolution. Daily they will lag ever further behind the young’s everyday learning with the digital outside the school; their teaching becoming increasingly dated and irrelevant.

The national implications are considerable, particularly when the research (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests 70% – 80% of the nation’s schools show no inclination to forgo their control. Most will thus do little or nothing to enhance the capability of the vast human resource digital economies have in their digitally connected young.

The moment schools decide they – and not the students – must choose the personal technology the young will use in the classroom they forgo any hope of assisting grow the nation’s young being digital, having the digital invisibly underpin all school learning, of moving the school from an analogue to digital operational mode, and having it join and assist grow a networked society.

The decision relegates the school to the digital backwater.

In announcing its unilateral control of the technology, the school is proclaiming that it intends to maintain its traditional ‘control over’ ways, and that any use of the digital must fit within those ways. It is saying to the students and their families that not only do we know best, but we distrust you, are not willing to empower you, and we don’t value or recognise the lead role you have played – and are playing – in learning with the digital.

It is saying being digital is unimportant, and that a digitally empowered young – working with their teachers – are incapable of using the digital astutely and creatively in enhancing their learning in all areas of the curriculum, at all stages of learning.

Schools and governments worldwide seemingly don’t appreciate the very powerful messages they send when they make seemingly innocuous management decisions about the control of the digital technology.

It is imperative as a school leader you understand, and are aware of the wider educational and national ramifications of the decision.

The critical conditions.

Five conditions are critical to the sustained natural growth in learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

Those five, closely related conditions go a long way to explaining why over two billion young (ITU, 2017), (UNICEF, 2017) are digitally connected, digitally empowered and have normalised their everyday use of the digital, and why so few schools have yet to do so.

If – and we appreciate it is a huge ‘if’ that pertains to the nature of schooling you wish to provide – your school wants to normalise the use of the technology, assist grow the students being digital, and vitally use the digital to enhance all their school learning it needs to understand why the digitally connected families – and the exceptional schools – have succeeded, and why most schools have failed.

Own’ kit and connectivity

Critical is that digitally empowered students can use their ‘own’ suite of digital technologies largely unfettered within the school walls, and have ready connectivity.

That carries with it the school’s and teacher’s appreciation of how best to build upon that ownership to grow the learners and their learning.  It entails a willingness to trust students to use in their everyday school learning the technologies they already use 24/7/365, the need to empower them, recognise, to value and build upon the students being digital, while understanding how they can take advantage of that capability in their teaching.

It obliges the school to understand this is a digitally empowered generation, with a digital mindset, ever rising expectations, who have long taken charge of their learning with the digital, who will do so lifelong, who have grown being digital by naturally using the apt technologies in near every facet of their lives and knowing how best to take advantage of that digital skillset.

The schools can, if they desire complement and add value to the students being digital, but only if they are prepared to support already empowered students use of their own kit in the ways they are accustomed.

Understand it is not about the technology per se.

It about how each of us in a digitally connected world, from around the age of three through to death, can control the use of, and learning with that suite of continually evolving technologies.

It is about being able to do largely what we want, when and how we want.

None who are digitally empowered tolerate ‘big brother’ telling them what they can and can’t do with their personal technology. That intolerance is amplified with a young that have only ever known a digital world, who have long taken charge of its everyday use everywhere except within the school, that have successfully individualised its application and which are likely to be more digitally proficient with the current technologies than most of their teachers.

While it might come as a surprise to many, educators need understand the world’s digitally connected young will only use the teacher directed, structured, linear approach to learning with the digital used by schools when compelled.

It is antithetical to the all-pervasive, highly integrated laissez faire approach they use every day.

  • Control over’ schools

History affirms (Lee and Broadie, 2018) that when the schools insist on tightly controlling the student’s choice and every use of the digital it will do little or nothing to enhance their being digital, their learning how to learn with the technology or crucially their learning in all areas of the curriculum.

All it does is reinforce the traditional analogue mode of schooling, its hierarchical operations, its unilateral control of teaching and largely closes the door for digitally empowered young to use their very considerable, digital capabilities and digital tool kit in their school learning.

Under the ‘control over’ model the ‘experts’ invariably decide on an ‘appropriate’ device, the operating system, software, apps, set up, storage, maintenance arrangements, upgrades and replacements. Their focus is the group, on all students using the same set up, with scant if any regard given to personalising the set up or individualised learning. It is the technology that matters not the learner. The ‘experts’ decide on the school’s ‘acceptable use policy’ (AUP). And how the technology will be deployed, used and monitored. Significantly they also decide – for the students and teachers – which digital technology will not be allowed; from the mid 1990’s banning most of the personal digital technologies and online services the students used 24/7/365 outside the school (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

In most schools, particularly at the secondary level, the technology will likely only be used within specific ‘computing’ or ‘ICT’ classes.

Net connectivity is tightly controlled and censored. Teacher permission is needed, and usually only allowed when the teacher thinks it is appropriate.

The focus is insular, on that happening within the school walls, within its operating hours, less than 20% of the young’s annual learning time.

Digitally empowered students and parents have no say in the technology used, the curriculum, the teaching or the assessment, they simply complying with the experts and teachers dictates.

  • Student choice schools

In letting the students use their own suite of digital technologies the school – perhaps unwittingly – takes a significant step towards adopting a more inclusive, networked mode of schooling, that seeks to genuinely collaborate with its students, families and community in providing an apt education for an ever evolving digitally connected world.

By distributing its control of the resourcing and teaching, and sharing it with the individual learners and their families the school is readying the move from an analogue to digital mode of schooling.

It positions the school and its teachers – at no cost – to continually work in class with students using the cutting-edge or near cutting-edge technology, and to largely overcome the growing technology lag evident in the ‘control over’ schools.

It allows the students to continue to direct much of their learning with the digital, to use the tools they know and use 24/7/365, that they have tailored for their learning style and to use those parts of their kit they – and not the experts – believe will best do the job at hand.

It provides teachers the freedom to work closely with their students, to take on their ideas, to be flexible and when is all is working well to step to the side and let the learners direct their learning.

In working with the student’s technologies, the teachers quickly recognise the individual learner’s interests and capabilities, able to tailor their teaching accordingly. Importantly it also provides the school with a bridge to the families, providing an insight into the capabilities and resources of each, making it that much easier to support and add value to the efforts of the families.

In exploring the work of those exceptional schools (Lee and Levins, 2016) that for some time have encouraged their students to use their own technologies the authors were struck by their willingness to genuinely collaborate with their families, to value and build on the out of school learning, to remove from the curriculum material already learned and to integrate the use of the digital in all areas of learning, and all school operations.

Everything appeared so natural. No one thought twice about ceasing to teach digital proficiency and simply building upon the student’s learning.

That said while the use of the digital was central to all operations, and Net access was appreciably greater than the ‘control over’ schools, connectivity was primarily through the school’s network, and as such appreciably more constrained than outside the school.

It was also evident – a reality confirmed by the case study follow up – all the schools studied were aware that at this point in the history their efforts to vary the mode of schooling were dependent on the current head, and that a change in the principalship or government could see the school revert to its traditional form, with years of effort wasted.

Conclusion

Within the developed nations of the world virtually all the young are digitally connected, and empowered, having only ever known a digital and socially networked society.

Their upbringing has been – and continues to be – within digitally connected families, with ready access to all manner of highly sophisticated personal digital technologies, and increasingly powerful, tightly integrated digital ecosystems.

From very early in life they have been provided their ‘own’ kit, connectivity and trusted, empowered and supported to use that technology largely unfettered.

By three most children born into digitally connected families will be digitally empowered, and have begun the lifelong journey of taking charge of their use and learning with the digital, understanding how to learn with it, and naturally and confidently growing their being digital.

They are never going to relinquish that power.

While ever schools refuse to attune their ways to the new reality the young, with the support of their digitally connected families, will continue grow their being digital outside the school walls, continually evolving their capability, and daily widening the gap between the in and out of school use of the technology.

Digitally empowered young are never going to going to embrace a highly structured ‘control over’ approach to learning with the digital where they are disempowered, devalued and subservient.

Rather as a vast, growing and evermore powerful cohort they will likely increasingly expect society and its schools to accommodate the changing world, and to attune their ways and adopt a mode of schooling where digitally empowered young normalise the use of their personal technologies.

As a school leader contemplating the way forward appreciate you are deciding on the desired nature of the schooling, and not simply a minor management issue.

Bibliography

 

 

  • ITU (2017) Measuring the Information Society Report 2017 Volume 1 Geneva International Telecommunications Union – https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/publications/mis2017.aspx
  • Johansen, S.L, Larsen, M.C and Ernst, M.J (2016) Young Children and Digital Technology– Aarhus University, Aalborg University, Danish Media Council for Children and Young People, February, 2016 – http://www.aau.dk/digitalAssets/201/201213_national-report_2015_denmark_proofread-2-.pdf
  • Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling Armidale Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (2018) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/
  • Lee, M, Broadie, R, and Twining, P (2018). Your Kids Being Digital. A Guide for Digitally Connected Families.Armidale Australia
  • Meeker. M (2018) Internet Trends 2018Kleiner Perkins May 30, 2018 – http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Digital: At Three. The Implications

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Children born into digitally connected families will likely by the age of three be displaying the key attributes of being digital: attributes they will evolve and naturally grow lifelong.

It matters not whether the families are in the developed, underdeveloped or developing world.

This development of the last decade, post the release of the iPhone and global uptake of the touchscreen technology goes a long way to explaining why near 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected (ITU, 2017) and two billion plus young people (UNICEF, 2017) have normalised the use of the digital and naturally grown being digital.

What we now know is that children born into a digitally connected family – a family that uses the digital technology invisibly in near ever every facet of its lives – will from the day of birth begin observing and mimicking the family’s ever use of the various technologies. By the latter part of the first year of life the children will likely try to operate mum’s smartphone. By the latter part of year two, but most assuredly by three the children will be digitally proficient (Chaudron, et.al, 2018), demonstrating the attributes critical to them taking charge of their learning with the digital, lifelong (Erikson, 2106), (Chaudron, et.al, 2018).

Significantly the children will have taken charge before they can read and write, they using what has been a largely latent inherent visual intelligence from birth to naturally grow their being digital.

Tellingly it appears the digitally connected families of the world have instinctively and naturally – and likely unwittingly – grown their children’s being digital in a remarkably similar manner, observing five key conditions (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018) – with no guidance or funding from government or its schools.

The educational implications of this historic global development are profound and game changing for parents, children, educators and governments worldwide – even if governments and their institutions choose to ignore the changes that have occurred. UNICEF in its Children in a Digital Worldstudy rightly concluded:

Digital technology has already changed the world – and as more and more children go online around the world,
it is increasingly changing childhood (UNICEF, 2017, p1).

Nature of the learning

By three most children in their use of and learning with the digital technologies have instinctively adopted the same laissez faire approach used by the young of the world – outside the school walls. It is a highly fluid, unstructured, non-linear approach where the children learn informally, invariably through play, just in time and mostly in context, generally astutely guided and supported by the family.  Driven by an innate curiosity it is usually discovery based, highly integrated, with the children using all the facilities available to learn what they want, when they want.

Theirs is a digital, largely visual and aural world, where video is dominant and where they instinctively first look to the touchscreen technology to access the desired entertainment, communications facilities and information.  The early indications are that the very young increasingly use the digital, and particularly the visual and aural facilities to assist grow their vocabulary, speech and ability to write, both with the keyboard and in time with a pen. This has been particularly evident since the introduction of the multi-modal communication facility on touchscreen technology that enables children, particularly in the undeveloped world, to by-pass the QWERTY keyboard.

By three the very young are showing clear signs of taking charge of their learning with the digital (Chaudron, et.al, 2018), deciding what they want to learn and how – ready to tell nanny ‘no I want to use my thumbs to navigate, not my fingers’. Very soon each child’s learning is individualised, with seemingly all unwittingly acquiring a common suite of capabilities (Lee, Broadie and Twining, in press) while also growing the skills that allow them to pursue their interests and passions.

By three it would appear the young worldwide have adopted the same approach to learning with the digital, that they will use 24/7/365 throughout life.

The capability is succinctly, if surprisingly, summed up in the Mark Billingham’s 2018 thriller The Killing Habit.

‘Got one!’ Without a clue what was going on, Thorne leaned down to watch, amazed as always, at how frighteningly adept the child was with the technology. At how kids could play games like this before they could read, could open apps, and navigate screens before they could manage joined up writing. He remembered Alfie, eighteen months younger than he was now, trying to swipe the picture of the TV and announcing loudly it was ‘rubbish’ (Billingham, 2018, p 349).

The nature of the learning – as you’ll appreciate – is antithetical to the traditional highly controlled, ‘one size fits all’, expert determined, teacher directed, structured linear teaching used in schools.

Two billion young plus affirm the world’s young have no desire to use the traditional approach, and that there is nothing government or schools can do outside the school walls to change that reality. They can if they wish support, complement and add value to the children’s out of school mode of learning. But they are never going to remove the agency and control the young now have over a key aspect of modern life – except within government controlled classrooms.

Core to the sustained natural learning with the digital, and digital normalisation – as we elaborate upon in Your Kid’s Being Digital (Lee, Broadie, and Twining, 2018) – are five conditions, that families globally appear to have instinctively observed.

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired.

Collectively the conditions have worked to naturally grow the children’s being digital.

Being digital

Being digital is far more than digital proficiency, and being able to use the evolving digital media 24/7/365 efficiently and effectively. It is about having a mindset, a mode of thinking, an expression of values, a set of ever rising expectations, an ability to draw on many connected elements, a way of learning and understanding how to learn, a taking charge of one’s own learning, being able to network, to accommodate accelerating change, to continually develop, lifelong (Lee and Broadie, 2018,a).

Proficiency wise, as Billingham observes, the children by three have demonstrated their ability to readily work the core functionality of the current personal and family digital technologies (Chaudron, 2015, Chaudron, et.al, 2018).

Well before they can read, write or begin school they have learned to use the visual, and increasingly the audio AI controls to navigate the networked world, and use the digital media to access the desired functions.

Moreover, they have learnt to use the various digital communications facilities, strongly favouring video.

With their strong digital mindset, their first step is to use the digital and the connectivity, with that propensity normalised before they start to read and write. The book to them is a second order technology

They are very much a digital, not a pen and paper generation.

In having the agency and capability to use the technology largely unfettered the children globally have shown they will – as they have for thousands of years – pursue their interests and passions, aided today with increasingly sophisticated and powerful digital tools (Ito, et.al, 2013). UK’s Ofcom for example has noted that in 2017 42% of 3-4 year olds used YouTube, up 10% on the year before (Ofcom, 2016, 2017).

While kids have always had this capacity in their informal learning the parent’s provision of the technology, connectivity and agency overnight removed the traditional adult gatekeepers of the information and gave children the freedom to access the resources of the networked world, the moment desired.

It moreover enabled them to decide the best approach to the learning. They – and not an adult – decide when to employ a discovery based, didactic or highly repetitive learning approach.

Similarly, each child chooses the digital tools they need for the task at hand.

Implications

The implications of the young being digital by three are profound and far reaching, for the young, their parents, families, schools and governments and society in general.

They are yet little appreciated, particularly by most educators, governments and the media – that appear to be more focussed on the dangers of the technology rather than the profound impact it has had, and will continue to have worldwide, both on the up and the down side.

It has, as the UNICEF study (2017) notes changed the nature of both youth, and youth education – albeit outside the school walls.

It is vital the young as they mature better understand the implications of taking charge of their learning with the digital, learning how to learn and becoming increasingly autonomous learners.

While 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected 30% are not. They are, educationally, socially and economically disadvantaged.

Connectivity can be a game changer for some of the world’s most marginalized children, helping them fulfil their potential and break intergenerational cycles of poverty (UNICEF, 2017. P1).

The parents of the young need to better appreciate the many implications of playing the lead role in growing their children being digital from birth, to understand the family’s educational strengths in this area far outweigh the schools (Lee and Broadie, 2108, b) and that they cannot rely on the schools to assist grow their children taking charge of their 24/7/365 learning with the digital.

Schools and governments need to grasp that they have no control over the world’s young growing their being digital, and never will while ever they continue with their insular, school focussed, structured, ‘control over’ approach to digital learning, and dismiss the learning occurring naturally in the families from birth.

Governments could better assist by investing a fraction of the millions spent on technology in schools by giving the monies directly to the families in need.

Conclusion

By the age of three the die is largely cast on the young’s adoption of their approach to learning with the digital. As the children mature and naturally grow and evolve their being digital so they will develop as largely autonomous learners and do so lifelong everywhere – other than the classroom.

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trust and Being Digital

 

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Trust is critical to the young growing ‘being digital’ (Lee and Broadie, 2018a).

Without trust the young will never normalise the use of the digital, and naturally enhance their use of and learning with the continually evolving digital technologies.

It is a new reality that most schools and governments don’t appear to have grasped. Rather globally we see them continuing to distrust and disempower the students, somehow imagining their unilateral control of the students every use of the technology will enable its normalisation, and enhance the nation’s young being digital.

Little is the wonder that near on two billion young (ITU, 2017) (UNICEF, 2017) have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital outside the school walls, but relatively few schools globally have been able to achieve that normalisation and have the digital underpin all learning.

We know now that five interconnected conditions are critical to the young’s sustained, natural learning with the digital (Lee, Broadie and Twining, 2018).

  1. Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technology
  2. Digital connectivity
  3. Support, empowerment and trust
  4. Largely unfettered use
  5. Self-directed learning, able to collaborate when desired.

In providing the children their ‘own’ suite of digital technologies, free to configure them as they wish the digitally connected families are communicating very strongly to the kids the family’s trust in them.

In schools insisting the students use the prescribed digital device and software, in monitoring its every use and in failing to recognise and value the student’s out of school learning with the digital schools are saying very strongly – intended or not – we not only distrust you, but we don’t trust anything you do out of our eyesight.

In enabling the children to connect to the digital technology and the networked world the moment desired, and to do so largely unfettered the family is affirming both its trust in the kids as well trust in the upbringing and education the family has provided.

One will struggle to find a school anywhere that allows, let alone encourages students to digitally connect the moment they believe it will assist their learning, free to access the desired sites and facilities. Rather access is tightly controlled, with the students invariably needing to get teacher permission, to operate within a mandated acceptable use policy, to do at specified times and to work through a tightly controlled, filtered and indeed censored network.

In addition to trusting their children to use the technology and connectivity largely unfettered the family trusts their young to take charge of their learning with the digital technology, they decide what they want to learn, when, how and with the help of whom. Moreover, they are trusted to do so from as young as three, and supported from that age onwards to become autonomous learners, charting their individual path.

Importantly the families – likely unwittingly – trust their children to adjudge their own capabilities and to decide when, and how they best enhance their learning.

In contrast governments and their schools allow the same empowered young no voice in the in-school learning with the digital, with the experts and teachers deciding what needs to be learned, controlling every aspect of the teaching and assessment, with most schools neither valuing or recognising the student’s individualised learning with the digital.  Tellingly not only are the children distrusted, so too are their parents.

Most schools remain strongly hierarchical organisations, tightly controlled by both government and the school executive, with not only the children and the parents distrusted but so too most teachers. Teachers globally are disempowered and micro-managed to the nth degree. Teachers, almost as much as the students are invariably obliged to use the school specified hardware and software, to use a tightly controlled network, and to follow the prescribed syllabus and assessment regime.

There are, as indicated, exceptional schools that have trusted and empowered their teachers, students and families, which have successfully built upon that trust in a BYOT program, normalised the whole school use of the digital, and vitally collaborated with the families in enhancing the children being digital (Lee and Levins, 2016).

But they remain the exception – their continued success strongly dependent on visionary often maverick heads, able to politic their way through the myriad of bureaucratic and government constraints.

Until governments and their senior education decision maker – be it a minister or superintendent – understand the centrality of trust, and openly promote school cultures that build on trust and empowerment schools will likely continue to have limited impact on the nation’s young being digital. Yes, there will always be exceptional heads, schools and classroom teachers that do make a difference. But there will continue to be, as there has been for near on forty years, great teachers burnt out by dated, stultifying organisational structures, and decision makers who refuse to let go of their control, and genuinely trust and empower the professionals, parents and students.

In advocating working from a position of trust the authors are not naively saying there is no need for astute control, for agreed operational parameters, for hierarchical structures and final decision makers.  We are also conscious of the profound impact of the digital in the last twenty plus years and that public policy makers invariably lag 10-15 years behind the technological developments (Deloitte, 2017).

We are simply commenting on the global reality that in the last twenty plus years outside the school walls when the young are trusted and supported to use and learn with the evolving digital technology they naturally grow and evolve their being digital. Moreover, they are on trend to do so lifelong.

When distrusted and disempowered they don’t.

In 2016, the authors wrote on ‘Trust and Digital Schooling’ (Lee and Broadie, 2016), noting then the inability to successfully create digital schools without trust. We observed:

Without trust schools can’t thrive in a socially networked society and sharing economy (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

Two years later, and having scrutinised the evolution and success of the digitally connected families and researched the digital education offered by schools worldwide between 1993 – 2016 (Lee and Broadie, 2018b) we more than ever stand by that observation, and add that without trust schools cannot grow the nation’s young being digital.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digitally Connected Families: And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016

 

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Three years ago, we embarked in researching the history of the digital education of the world’s young between 1993 and 2016, concerned the world’s schools were making little progress in going digital.

The journey took us into unchartered, and largely unseen and yet fascinating territory where the families of the young globally had for the past twenty plus years successfully readied the young worldwide to learn with the digital, from birth.

More than 60% of the world’s young are now digitally connected, and have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital – with no financial support from government.

We are delighted to be able to now share our insights into this historic educational development – with the release of Digitally Connected Families: And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016.

It is available at – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

At this stage, it is only available as an e-book.

It is – as far as we know – the first historical analysis of the young’s learning with the digital, in and out of schools, in the period 1993 – 2016, from the release of Mosaic and the world going online, through to roughly today.

The desire was to provide a research base upon which the authors’ and others could build.

The chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Digital Revolution and the Changed Nature of Youth, and Youth Education
  3. The Young, and the Evolution of the Personal Mobile Technologies
  4. Schools, Digital Education and Mobile Technologies
  5. The Evolution of the Digitally Connected Family
  6. The Two Models of Digital Education
  7. The Digital Learning Environments
  8. Learning with the Digital
  9. Pre-Primary Digital Education
  10. The Mobile Revolution
  11. On Reflection
  12. Conclusion

Digitally Connected and Proficient at Three

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

Children born into digitally connected families will likely be digitally connected and proficient by the age of three, be operating in the state of being digital, and have adopted the natural mode of learning with the digital they will use throughout life.

The implications of this quite recent global development are potentially profound, but still largely unseen.

The new reality became increasingly apparent in researching the authors’ Digitally Connected Families (Lee and Broadie, 2018a) and readying A Guide for Digitally Connected Families (in press). In examining the digital education of the world’s young since 1993, in and outside the school walls, and analysing the key developments in the period, particularly within the pre-primary years the following pattern emerged.

What we now know is that the children will likely learn with the digital from the day they are born – if not before –  and mum and dad post the first photos and videos of the newborn to their friends and social networks.

The parents – indeed the family’s – every use of the touchscreen technology will be observed, internalised and mimicked by the child from that day on. In the same way children have always learned.

By the latter part of the first year of life the child will be trying to swipe on the family smartphones and tablets. By the latter part of the second year, and most assuredly by the third most children will be readily using all the main functions of the smartphones and tablet, will have begun taking control of their learning with the digital and using the laissez faire mode of learning with the digital (Chaudron, 2015), (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

By three the signs and research (Chaudron, 2015) suggest most of the world’s children in digitally connected families will be largely directing their own learning with the digital.

Moreover, they will naturally, though unwittingly, be operating in the state of being digital (Lee and Broadie, 2018b), having adopted a strong digital mindset, and grown and be using the core capabilities they have acquired in their natural informal learning with the digital (Lee and Broadie, 2018a).

As with much learning in the formative years of life the die is seemingly largely cast very early, well before the children start school.

By three they will likely have adopted for life an approach to learning with the digital almost diametrically opposite to that used in most schools.  While more research is required, particularly into the likely inherent aspects of being digital, ten plus years use of the touchscreen technology by the pre-primary globally, and a recognition of the children’s use of their inherent visual intelligence already provides an important insight into the pattern of learning.

As indicated in ‘Being Digital’ (Lee and Broadie, 2018b) in many respects the learning timeframe with the digital mirrors the young’s learning how to speak, and the educational importance of speech.

Tellingly both capabilities are largely in place before most governments play any formal role in the children’s education.

Unwittingly from birth the parents – and likely the brothers and sisters, and possibly the grandparents –  become the child’s first and prime digital ‘teachers’.

None of the family have any say in the appointment. Their every move with the digital in the child’s presence, astute or ill-judged, will – like many other aspects of learning – be observed and mimicked. All parents will have seen their mannerisms in using their mobile replayed.

The lesson for all digitally connected families – and not simply the parents – is that if they want their children to use the digital astutely in growing an apt and balanced holistic education the family must model the desired digital usage, the values it wants to grow, and as family agree on the ground rules that will be ‘taught’.  If the parents immerse themselves in their own kit – if they immediately respond to every ping and call, even in the middle of a meal – those are the values the child will likely mimic and learn.

The bit of being digital that is set in stone from age three is the absolute awareness that being connected aids their learning, and that connectedness is highly visual and aural, as well as being textual, and includes connection with people as well as information. They have probably also internalised that they can interact creatively with the digital environment and everything in it, to aid their learning.

Hence the comparison with learning to speak, in that it is messy, diverse, involves a lot of trial and error and has concepts built and rebuilt from a multitude of influences.

The potential for learning of kids that are digital is appreciably greater than for those of us who grew up pre-digital, with only our parents and limited friends to ask, verbally not visually.

It is a new global reality all families – and indeed educators – need to understand and address.

The corollary of this development is that children born into families not digitally connected – by circumstances or parent choice – will not be operating digitally by the age of three. They will likely show few of the attributes of being digital, until they normalise the 24/7/365 use of the digital.

To what extent the lag will place them at odds with their peers, will set them apart from their friends, and the children without will be disadvantaged in a digitally connected world we don’t know at this stage.

We can however appreciate why nearly all the digitally connected families of the world have chosen to give their children access to the digital technology from birth, and why today across the developed world in the region of 80% plus of pre-primary children (Chaudron, 2015), Johannsen, 2016) (Rideout, 2017) either own or have ready access to a tablet.

We can also understand how a three year old girl in a digitally connected family in Nairobi has in a $US22 smartphone the facility, with the support of her family. to fundamentally change that girl’s education and life.

Conclusion

The first and most important step for all – parents, older siblings, carers, grandparents, early childhood educators and researchers and governments – is to recognise the new normal, its significance and to openly discuss the myriad of implications that flow from this global societal shift.

Not least of those implications is what needs to be done with those families in the developed, underdeveloped and undeveloped world unable to afford digital connectivity for the newborn, and from what age?

The Educational Implications of Natural Sustained Informal Learning with the Digital

Mal Lee

The article posted yesterday on the young’s out of school learning with the digital raises all manner of questions, and potentially has many profound implications for the education and schooling of the young.

It addresses a series of global developments that have thus far rarely been discussed or even considered by educators.

In this brief post, I’d like to flag but a few, and bid folk think about the implications.

  1. Probably the most significant is thenatural sustained and informal nature of the learning with the digital. – albeit outside the schools

What the history of the last twenty plus year’s reveals is that a billion plus digitally connected young worldwide have of their own volition, in a completely laissez faire environment, naturally learned a suite of common capabilities. All emerged unplanned, unintended from the seeming chaos of the Digital Revolution.

Most schools, teachers and governments have played no part in that learning, and the digital connectivity of near on 60% of the world’s young.

Of note is that by as early as 1998 the Tapscott research had noted the natural informal learning at play in the emergence of the universal mores the young of the world had adopted in their use of the Net.

In 2004, a very good Futurelab study by Sefton-Green succinctly flagged the growing importance of the informal out of school learning with the digital – at a point before the full impact of the mobile and particularly the smartphone technology had kicked in.

In readying the Digitally Connected Families Roger Broadie and I identified as mentioned 28 common capabilities.

Depending how on how one does the clarification there could be 26 – there could be 30.

What was clear was that out of the seeming chaos had come order.

That challenged the concept that all learning had to be planned, structured and sequential – and taught by school teachers.

  1. Focus on learning how to learn. Of note in yesterday’s paper is that only about a quarter of the common capabilities had to do with the digital proficiency.

The rest had to do with how an empowered young, directing their own learning with the digital learned how to learn – to take charge of all their learning with the technology, and to position themselves to do so lifelong.

And critically to do so in any area of learning they wish.

The great educational thinkers have long urged the development of this key capability but it is rarely tackled in schools.

The implications of this development alone are profound – particularly as the technology becomes more sophisticated.

  1. The third point relates to the sustained naturally evolving nature of the learningwith the digital.

In contrast to the schools there was in the learning no sense of a beginning or an ending, rather the sense that learning with the digital would be on-going, lifelong, naturally evolving and changing as the technology evolved.

Outside the school one is looking at a dynamic model – while that in the school is constant. Within the school seemingly there must always be a specified period for the learning – specified outcomes to be achieved and specified pass grade, after which one can say the learning has been done.

Telling with the out of school the only assessment is personal.

There is moreover an acceptance of the imperative of continually staying current lifelong.

  1. The fourth issue is the ability of schools to genuinely assist the learning with the digital.

The time has come to seriously ask can schools assist enhance the out of school learning with the digital – or might most hold it back?

Aside from the exceptional, most schools, even if they wanted to assist, would be unwilling to accept the five conditions critical to achieving digital normalization.

Schools that are of a mind to ban the kids gear will not be of a mind to assist the parents

And sadly, most schools as linear hierarchical Industrial Age organisations, tightly constrained by government lack the agility/the flexibility to remain abreast of the accelerating technological change – and to support kids operating at the cutting edge – even they were of a mind to do so!

 

As we move at pace to a totally digitally connected planet, with near every child from around age three normalizing the 24/7/365 use of the digital it is time to start discussing the likely implications – rather than opting to ban and totally abrogate the responsibility.

 

Natural Sustained Informal Learning with the Digital

 

Outside the School Walls

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The last twenty plus years reveal how successful the young of the world and their digitally connected families have been in learning with the digital informally in a naturally sustained manner – albeit outside the school walls (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

Sadly, that learning, like the success of the digitally connected families has been largely unseen.

It is time it is. and its global and historic significance is recognised, and the vital learning built upon.

Most when thinking about the young’s learning with the digital focus on the technological proficiency of the billion plus digitally connected young.

That proficiency with the current personal technologies is critical to the young’s all pervasive use and learning with the digital. However, in the total scheme of things far more important is the young, with the support of their families naturally taking charge of their learning with the technology, learning how to learn of their volition and with others, and being able to naturally sustain the learning in whatever domain/s they wish, lifelong.

Remarkably the billion plus digitally connected young have in a completely laissez faire, seemingly chaotic world in their use and learning with the digital naturally grown a suite of remarkably common capabilities. None of them have been planned, but are a natural unintended flow on from the Digital Revolution and the digital empowerment of the young. We’ve identified twenty-eight (Lee and Broadie, in press). Time and research might identify a few more, or few less.

What is important is that three quarters of the capabilities relate to the young’s learning how to learn, and only a quarter with the digital proficiency.

All are capabilities the young learn very early, well before school age and then grow throughout life.

With each child taking charge of his/her learning with the digital, and pursuing their interests and passions in addition to the common capabilities each will also have their own special capabilities, some being of a very high order.

A telling and fundamental difference between the young’s learning with the digital in and outside the school walls is that while of the school learning is constant that outside is dynamic, and naturally evolving, lifelong.

It is a significant difference, that few have noted.

In the school teaching the experts determine what is to be learned, how, by when and how it will be assessed and reported upon at the course conclusion. There is very much a beginning and an ending, and with the final assessment the sense that the learning – or at least a segment of – is completed.

In contrast the learning with the digital outside the school is decided upon and directed by the learner, learning what is desired, when and how, with there being no obvious beginning or end to the learning.  It begins at birth and will likely continue to death, as the digital continues its evolution. The control and nature of the learning will evolve in harmony with the technological change, going a long way to ensuring the young naturally accommodate exponential change.

Digital proficiency

The digital proficiency of the young is probably best expressed in the reality that near 60%, soon to be 70% of the world’s young are digitally connected (Ericsson, 2016), (Futuresource, 2017) and have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the current personal technologies in most every facet of their lives and learning.

The proficiency has to do with what the young at various stages of life want to do with the digital in their daily lives now, rather than what the ‘experts’ believe should be mastered for future application.

While the level of proficiency will vary with age, interest, expertise and support the bottom line for the first time in human history over half the world’s young are digitally connected, on trend in not many years for virtually all to be connected, able to instantly access and work largely unfettered the learning and resources of the networked world.

It a stark new reality, with immense implications that most governments, bureaucrats and schools have yet to seemingly grasp.

As is the reality that the young of the world have learnt – and will forever on learn – what they want, not simply what those in authority desire.

Moreover, twenty plus years reveals the digitally connected young will continue to grow the capabilities they desire outside the school walls – regardless of what governments or schools believe is important.

In their learning, they have demonstrated from around age three their ability to readily work the core functionality of the current personal and family digital technologies (Chaudron, 2015) – the smartphones, tablets remote controls, digital peripherals, games consoles, digital and video cameras, digital TVs, PVRs, home entertainment systems and the increasingly integrated family ecosystem.

Well before they can read, or start school they have learned to navigate the networked world and use the apt medium to access the desired functions.

Moreover, they have learnt to use the various digital communications facilities, largely toll free, strongly favouring the latest video communication technologies.

Over the last twenty plus years they have also learnt to use the new media creatively in the pursuit of their passions, unbounded by the traditional ways, and once again to do so from a very early age.  You’ve undoubtedly observed the many diverse and creative ways your own children or grandchildren have used the technology.

Contrary to the views expressed by many politicians and older members of society the research affirms (Lenhart, et.al, 2013). (Lee and Broadie, in press) teens have for many years been tech-savvy. Invariably they – operating as they are at the cutting edge – understand the dangers well before their elders and the policy makers.  That said the very young, with still forming minds require family guidance, and in general terms are not cognitively ready to use the Net unsupervised until around ten (Strom and Strom, 2010).

Learning how to learn

In examining the learning with the digital outside the school walls over the last twenty plus years what stands out is the young’s ability to take charge of their learning, to do so from the outset, to direct and individualise that learning and to learn how to learn (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

And as indicated to do so in a naturally sustained manner lifelong.

With their strong digital mindset, and rising expectations the digital technology underpins all their learning.  Their first step is to use the digital and the connectivity, unlike many older folk who default to the traditional ways.

Allied is their ability to teach other folk, particularly those older to use the new technology, and naturally contribute to the family’s learning.

They very quickly – well before formal schooling – become self-learners, with that vital educational ability to shape their learning with the digital, underpinning all they do.

In being empowered and trusted, and given the freedom to use the technology largely unfettered they soon learn what they want to learn, how and when, and vitally quickly identify when they need to improve that capability and how best to do so.  They very quickly, from the mid 90’s onwards, and from early life learned the art of improving the learning by themselves, with the aid of the technology or in collaboration with the family, peers and social network (Lee and Broadie, 2018). As the Pew research notes (Purcell, et.al, 2012) Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and the peers are called upon far more than any teacher.

And they don’t need to be tested!  Like all of us they reflect on their performance and when desired improved it.

In being free to use the digital as desired the young soon learn to use the technology and the Net to pursue their interests and passions, enhancing their learning in the area/s of interest, to an often very considerable extent (Ito, et.al, 2013). It matters not if it is pursuing an interest in contemporary music, astronomy, blogging, fashion design, apiary, drone piloting, professional gaming or coding apps. While kids have always had this freedom in their informal learning the parent’s provision of the technology overnight removed the traditional adult gatekeepers and allowed them to draw upon resources of the Net, the moment desired.

It moreover enabled them to decide the best approach to the learning. They – and not an adult – decide when to employ a discovery based, didactic or highly repetitive learning approach.

Similarly, each child chooses the digital tools they needed for the task at hand.

From the mid 90’s the adolescents and in time the very young – like all of us – soon learned the unwritten ways of the digital and online worlds, the parameters to work within, the universal mores to be observed and when they had crossed the boundaries.

Allied, in taking charge of the use of and learning with the digital the young from the 1990s have made extensive and increasing use of the connected world and human networking, it long being a natural, almost invisible part of their normalised use of the digital. Unwittingly, and initially unseen, the young increasingly build the number of contacts they can readily call upon for all manner of support when desired.

Very quickly the young abandoned the traditional academic boundaries used in the schools, and adopted a more integrated approach to learning, drawing on whatever areas of learning thought suitable (Lee and Broadie, in press).

Largely unseen the young also learned to make ever greater use of their visual intelligence in all they did.  This was particularly apparent in the two and three-year old children’s use of the touchscreen mobile technology (Chaubron, 2015), but it was – as you might have noted – apparent at all age levels and in the burgeoning use of video and images.

From the mid 2000’s the young increasingly grew the art of mobile learning, and using the resources in their hands, 24/7/365, just in time and in context. That preference for the mobile technologies is evidenced even when at home, where desktops in designated rooms gather dust. The young from very early in life don’t see the need to learn only in a physical place; unlike governments and schools that remain site fixated.

What should be stressed is that these are all vital educational capabilities in a rapidly evolving, uncertain and complex world, where it is essential to know how to learn with the digital, lifelong.

They might not feature in government education priorities but they are the vital generic capabilities the great educational thinkers have been arguing schools should develop for aeons.

Enhancing the learning

Over the last quarter of a century the young of the world have in historic terms learned to learn with the digital remarkably quickly and well, not only continually enhancing their digital proficiency but also their ability to take charge of their own learning with the technology.

However, the exponential digital evolution, with its increasingly powerful, sophisticated, integrated and complex technology and practises, and their global impact demands the world’s young continually enhance their capability.

Much will on current trends will continue to happen naturally. As the technology evolves so naturally will the requisite personal learning.

But there is the opportunity to lift the learning with the digital even higher, particularly now we better understand what has been learned and how.

The natural inclination is to look to schools to provide that enhancement.

Sadly, twenty plus years of history (Lee and Broadie, 2018) suggests aside from some exceptional schools that enhancement is not likely to come from them. Not only aren’t most of a mind to collaborate with the families, nor are culturally ready to embrace the five critical conditions required but all are still operating in linear, hierarchical Industrial Age organisations that lack the agility to accommodate accelerating change – even if governments allowed the schools to change.

Most lag so far behind where the young are at attitudinally and with the cutting-edge technologies all they would do is impede the young’s enhancement.

We accept that governments and most educators would not be of that view.

But the reality is that governments and schools that ban or markedly constrain the in-class use of the student’s mobile technologies and by default throw the responsibility to the family are not likely to provide any worthwhile assistance.

The enhancement most likely will come from the family building upon its better understanding the learning with the digital, its increasingly powerful digitally based ecosystem and it more deliberately growing the learning. It is its better understanding of how to learn, providing an increasingly sophisticated and powerful ecosystem, and as family more openly addressing the enhancement that will bring the improvement.

It will hopefully in time be the digitally connected families of the world shouting from the rooftops what they have achieved that will open society’s, government’s and school’s eyes to what has been achieved and what is possible.

Conclusion

The best learning practice with the digital has for years been evidenced in the digitally connected families of the world – and most assuredly not in its Industrial Age schools.

It is appreciated this view runs counter to the in-school and government thinking but it is time for educators and governments to look outside the school walls and recognise the natural sustained learning with the digital that has occurred, and is occurring daily, with most of the world’s young – outside the school.

With the digital it is imperative to examine what has happened, is happening and the major global trends, not simply at what governments want to happen.

In the natural, sustained learning with the digital most schools and governments have long been dealt out of the main game.

 

Five Conditions Critical for Sustained Learning with the Digital

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

The young and their digitally connected families globally have highlighted over the last twenty-five plus years five conditions critical to the young’s natural sustained learning with the digital (Lee and Broadie, in press) (Twining et.al, 2017).

Not the schools.

Those conditions are:

  • Ready access to personal, preferably mobile technologies
  • 24/7/365 digital connectivity
  • Empowerment and trust
  • Largely unfettered use of the digital
  • Self-directed learning, collaborating when desired.

All five of the conditions are closely linked.

Vital also are parents who believe the digital is very important to their children’s education and life chances, a learning environment, a culture that facilitates and supports those conditions and a digital mindset that shapes the expectations and the use and learning with the digital.

If you pause for a moment and reflect you’ll appreciate those five conditions have also allowed you and the 3.65 billion plus ** others digitally connected to sustain your natural lifelong learning with the digital – at no expense to government.

The five conditions

With the advantage of historical reflection (Lee and Broadie, in press) and a contemporary study by Twining and his team (Twining, et.al, 2017), the five conditions, plus the importance attached by the parents and the supportive learning environment have been evident since the launch of the Web in 1993.  While in the next twenty-five years society moved from an analogue to a digital world, the percentage of the young using the technology skyrocketed, the age of the users plummeted and the digital mindset strengthened the five critical remained as important as ever.

In retrospect, they go a long way towards explaining why more than half the world’s young are digitally connected, using the digital in every facet of their lives and learning and are able stay abreast of exponentially evolving technology – with no support from government or most of the world’s schools.

Ready access to the personal, preferably mobile technologies

Without the gear the young can’t use it in their learning.

Without their own kit, they can’t normalise its 24/7/365 use.

History underscores the importance of the young having ready, 24/7/365 use of ‘their own’ relatively current digital technologies.  They need to configure it as desired, to ready it for their immediate use, to select the software and peripherals that fit their learning style, to continually upgrade its functionality and to appreciate the ownership of the kit affirms the trust and responsibility accorded them.

From the early 2000’s – but particularly since the advent of the iPhone in 2007 – the young have shown a strong preference for mobile technologies that allow them to learn anywhere, just in time, in context, when wanted.

The App Revolution allowed the young of all ages to personalise their mobile tool kit, and to use that desired. Where previously the functionality was built into the device from the mid 2000s and the shift to smartphones increasingly software solutions replaced much of the old in-built, allowing each of us to choose the apps we wanted.

Compare the apps on your mobiles with your partners and the kids and you’ll quickly appreciate the extent to which all of us have personalised, indeed individualised, our digital tool kit.

In 2016, a study revealed 42% of Danish children under seven owned their own tablet, and 91% had ready usage (Johansen, et.al, 2016).  Comparable figures will be found in all developed nations. They point to a young that will forever on expect to have and use their own mobile technologies 24/7/365.

24/7/365 connectivity.

The same young will expect, as they do now, to use a device, an app or to connect to network the moment desired. They, like you and me, believe they have the right to do so, and will moreover expect the connection to be fast and reliable. It has been the norm for young of the world for near on twenty years, a norm that has been strengthened by the increasingly sophisticated and convergent technology. The young, again like us, will expect to immediately take a video of the whale breeching off the beach, to check the details on Wikipedia, and to edit the video and add a voiceover before posting to YouTube.

Moreover, they will expect to be able to video conference with friends free of charge about the happening, and to show it to the family on a large HD screen.

Without that connectivity, most of the learning can’t happen.

Empowered and trusted

Without the empowerment of, the trust in and the possession of the personal technology the young can’t normalise the use of the digital.

Nor can families or schools.

This has been evident globally – outside the school walls – since the advent of the Web twenty-five years ago when the first families empowered and trusted their children to use the digital astutely.

Since then millions upon millions globally have opted – seemingly naturally – to do the same.

While over the period the technology has become increasingly sophisticated, powerful and all pervasive, and changed all manner of practices the digitally connected families of the world have continued to empower and trust their children’s use and learning with the digital. The young have grasped the opportunity, fundamentally changing the nature of youth (Lee and Broadie, in press), exploring new worlds and pursuing their interests and passions, all comfortable using the latest technologies, with many becoming highly competent in their area/s of interest (Ito, et al 2013) (Twining et al, 2017).

Very early in the piece (Tapscott, 1998) the parents recognised that for the first time in history the young knew more about a domain of learning than their elders, and that there was much to be gained by supporting the children’s learning and the young assisting the family grow its learning.

Largely unfettered use

From the outset in the early 90’s the parents opted – of their own volition – not only to empower and trust their children but also gave them the freedom to use the digital largely unfettered.

It is appreciated that in the 90s there was a mystic around the online and that many of the parents had little understanding of computing but over time as their understanding grew and they came to appreciate they had to better ready their children for the digital and networked world and more closely monitor the use they still allowed even the very young considerable freedom – albeit within the bounds agreed by the family, and unwittingly by the networked society.

While little is written, it is intriguing to note how millions upon millions of young people globally for twenty plus years have observed the universal operational mores and etiquette.

While the degree of freedom varied with the developmental stages and the responsibility shown the young of the world have for many years had the freedom to go directly to the learning of the world online, and by-pass the traditional gatekeepers.

They have moreover had from the outset the freedom to use the digital to create what they like and to communicate with whom they wished – more and more free of any toll – everywhere except in the school (Twining, et.al 2017).

From the early 2000’s the young globally have embraced the emerging mobile technology making it very much their own, central to their lives and learning, doing largely as they wish, particularly from the upper primary years upwards.

It bears remembering that in 2009 around 25% of the world’s young were digitally connected, by 2016 the percentage had risen to around 50% and is on track to reach 70% by 2022 (Ericsson, 2016).

That connectedness coupled with the freedom accorded has and will continue to change lives regardless of any desires by those in authority.

Self-directed learning, collaborating when desired

The learning culture, the trust, empowerment, freedom and the technology all combine to allow the young to direct their learning with the digital lifelong.

It places them in charge of learning what they believe is apt, when and where, and with the support of whom.

They – and not some external party – decide when they need to improve their capability and how they will do so.

Tellingly history shows the young naturally taking control of their use of and learning with the digital from their initial use of the technology. If you’ve not already done so observe watch a two or three year using an iPad and you’ll soon find they want to take charge, to explore, to discover, to use if they want their thumbs rather than their index finger, disliking being told what to do, except when stuck.

Whether this is a natural trait time and research will tell.

Educationally from the outset of the young have acquired a core life skill they will use and enhance for the rest of life.

In placing the responsibility on the individual and supporting their efforts the families have grown the vital ability to naturally sustain the learning with the digital, that in a continually evolving world needs to be lifelong.

That core skill soon sees the young individualising their capability with the digital, and while many of the capabilities will be common, others, as with all of us will be distinct.

While taking charge the young are very ready to call upon others, particularly in the family or peer group the moment the need arises.

The school scenario

Few schools globally would in 2018 countenance these conditions in the student’s learning with the digital.

Reflect on your own.

Most schools still ban the in-class use of the young’s suite of mobile technologies. France for example in 2017 chose to ban smartphones in all its schools.

Digitally connectivity in virtually all schools is tightly controlled, with the teachers deciding when and if it permitted. Few would likely tolerate the idea of children instantly going online to find the information.

The school and its ICT experts know what is best. The children, the parents, and often most staff have no say, and are expected to comply with the school’s instructions.

The student use of the digital is tightly controlled and structured, very firmly based on distrust, with every student operation, often keystroke monitored.

Globally schools, at the behest of government, the curriculum authorities and the network managers, decide how – and how not – the children will learn with the digital, with no recognition given the out of school attainment or consideration given to the young learning how to take charge of their sustained lifelong learning with the digital.

Twining and his colleagues in the UK concluded

Schools seldom replicated how children’s digital practices develop outside school, especially with regard to providing opportunities for sustained and increasing participation with others who shared similar interests. Instead, children’s ICT use in schools tended to be short term and discrete (Twining, et.al, 2017. P.vii).

Not only don’t most schools support the five critical conditions but they don’t nurture in the young the ability and responsibility for naturally sustaining their learning with the digital lifelong. They are geared to a past world of constancy

Conclusion

Ask yourself what chance has my school, or that of my children, of meeting the five conditions critical to the natural sustained learning with the digital, that the young can draw upon and grow throughout life.

We suspect the answer will be none.

The next question is a huge one – what if anything is the school going to do?

The current very strong global trend is to do nothing.

And let the young will continue to develop their learning with the digital outside the school walls, continuing to deal the school out of the play.

 

 

** 3.65 billion is a conservative figure. The very real challenge with the figures is weeding out the multiple ownership and inactive subscriptions. The Ericsson Mobility Report of November 2017 (Ericsson, 2017) places a figure of 7.8 billion on the number of mobiles subscriptions, 5.8 billion on the number of broadband subscriptions and 4.4 billion smartphone subscriptions.

 

Bibliography

 

  • Ericsson (2016) Ericsson Mobility Report 2016 Ericsson November 2016 – https://www.ericsson.com/assets/local/mobility-report/documents/2016/ericsson-mobility-report-november-2016.pdf
  • Johansen, S. L, Larsen, M.C and Ernst, M.J (2016) Young Children and Digital Technology – Aarhus University, Aalborg University, Danish Media Council for Children and Young People, February, 2016 – http://www.aau.dk/digitalAssets/201/201213_national-report_2015_denmark_proofread-2-.pdf

 

  • Lee, M and Broadie, R (in press) Digitally Connected Families. And the Digital Education of the World’s Young, 1993 – 2016, Armidale, Australia, Douglas and Brown – http://douglasandbrown.com/publications/

 

  • Tapscott, D (1998), Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation, McGraw Hill, New York

 

  • Twining, P et al. (2017) NP3 – New Purposes, New Practices, New Pedagogy: Meta-analysis report. London: Society for Educational Studies.http://edfutures.net/NP3