Category Archives: Being digital

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?

Being Digital

Mal Lee and Roger Broadie

 In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte wrote in his seminal work of ‘being digital’.

The book didn’t define what was meant by ‘being digital’, but simply exemplified what it was likely to mean.

Twenty plus years later, and the movement from an analogue to digital society and with more than half the world digitally connected we can go a long way to clarifying what is ‘being digital’, and to attest why the growth of this capability is critical to the life and education of world’s young, from birth onwards.

Over the last twenty plus years, but particularly the last ten society worldwide has largely unwittingly adapted it ways to accommodate the Digital Revolution and naturally evolved a mode of learning with the digital, from birth onwards (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

It is the state of being digital.

It is already core to the young’s learning worldwide outside the schools, on trend to grow in importance as the digital technologies evolve, becomes increasingly sophisticated and powerful, and digital ecosystems underpin virtually all areas of learning.

It is far more than digital proficiency. While dependent on that proficiency, it is 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 grow the capabilities and to use them 24/7/365, lifelong.

It is a suite of linked attributes that will naturally evolve in harmony with the evolving digital technologies, technological practises and changing social mores.

It is a suite that simultaneously draws upon and enhances the other areas of learning.

It is moreover a suite that while containing many common features is individualised, with each child in being digital having the capabilities needed to pursue their interests and passions.

It is most emphatically far more than a variant of handwriting or digital literacy.

It is a connected way of learning that is richer, higher order and more diverse, which can amplify all the non-digital learning interactions.

As the children within digitally connected families grow, mature, develop their cognitive, inter and intrapersonal abilities, become sexually aware, build relationships, socially network, operate at a higher order of thinking and continually attune their ways to the evolving technology so they will develop their own form of being digital – and will continue doing so, in subtly different ways, at the various stages of life.

Being digital as a low caste child in Mumbai, a Masai herder’s boy, a seven year old girl in Riyadh, a ten year old in outback Australia, an Inuit teen or a sixteen year old in Vancouver, Seoul, Sao Paulo or Edinburgh will in many ways be different. But that said all those young people will also have many common attributes, not least is being digitally connected and able to take charge of their learning with the digital lifelong – albeit in their respective cultures, outside the classroom.

The global variability, the continual evolution, and the individualised and highly integrated nature of being digital should quash any moves by education authorities to try and assess the capability, and particularly to try and compare student attainment nationally and internationally. But let us be clear and affirm that the billion plus digitally connected young have never had need for their being digital to be formally assessed (Lee and Broadie, 2018) and that it would be educationally invalid, inappropriate and unnecessary to do so.

Rather let’s recognise what being digital is, and appreciate that in many respects it mirrors the development, importance and the way schools handle children’s ability to speak.

They both grow naturally from birth onwards, if not earlier.

Both likely build on inherent capabilities. With speech those inherent capabilities have been obvious for thousands of years.  Being digital draws extensively, particularly with the very young, upon what has been for centuries a largely dormant visual intelligence (Strom and Strom, 2009) that was most obviously brought into play from 2007 and the release of the various touchscreen technologies. While employed increasingly from the 90’s the visuals controls of the iPhone were a game changer, allowing all the young, and not just the teens to readily use and learn with the technology (Lee and Broadie, 2018).

The visual cues on the touchscreen suddenly made it simple for those in the first year of life to mimic their parents and siblings use of the technology, and by the age of three to largely establish the approach to learning with the digital they would use lifelong. By three most children born into digitally connected families will have normalised the 24/7/365 use of the digital, to the extent its use is so natural as to be invisible.

Both are of critical educational importance in a digital economy, and need to underpin all learning.

Tellingly both have been naturally grown by the family, with government and its pre- schools and schools playing a limited or no part, except with children who have difficulties.

Tellingly – but invariably forgotten – in an era where the focus is on the basics and testing the young’s ability to speak has rarely been rarely formally assessed. The development has been left to the family.

The big difference between the two vital capabilities is that while the importance of speaking has been understood for literally thousands of years the educational centrality of being digital is a long way from being fully appreciated by most in authority.

Most governments and schools worldwide have over the last twenty to thirty years have tinkered with aspects of learning with the digital. They have focussed on some of the parts and never the totality of being digital. They have toyed with programming, web design, learning to use Office, cyber safety and more recently coding, but only ever within the school walls, always deciding which aspects of being digital are appropriate to be taught and assessed – and which should not.

It is difficult to find schools that have naturally grown Negroponte’s concept of being digital.

It is similarly difficult to find schools or education authorities who recognise being digital is a state of mind, with immediate access to an integrated suite of digitally based capabilities, coupled with the facility to use any of the capabilities and the understanding of how to learn when desired 24/7/365. They seem not to have grasped that the suite has evolved naturally, been individually shaped and can’t – like the facility to speak – be validly measured.

They most assuredly haven’t been formally recognised in their teaching, assessment or resourcing the young’s being digital outside the school walls, or the central role the digitally connected families of the world have played over the last twenty plus years (Lee and Broadie, 2018) in facilitating and supporting the growth of that development.

It is time this critical capability is seen, understood and accorded the kind of recognition given the ability to speak, and the educational, social, economic and logistical implications of being digital addressed as part of a wider contemporary education.

The latter we’ll tackle in a follow up article.

With the advantage of hindsight and historical analysis (Lee and Broadie, 2018) there might be value in pursuing the reading example further, accepting with being digital that the die will be largely cast by the age of three, that the young of the world will lifelong employ in their use of and learning with the digital the suite of attributes associated with being digital – regardless of what government of schools might desire – and leave the core digitally based education to the families.

It is a radical thought, with immense implications, but there is much to be said for formal education complementing and adding value to the work of the digitally connected families, and ceasing senselessly trying to compete with the families in growing the young’s ‘being digital’.

Conclusion

At this point in history ask any digitally aware parent or grandparent what they understand by ‘being digital’ and they’ll likely quickly grasp the concept, but initially only at a rudimentary level, and that it will likely be only when prompted will they appreciate the many linked universal elements and their significance.

The same folk will likely also pick up the reality that they – like the other 3.65 billion plus digitally connected of all ages are also ‘being digital’. While the strength will vary let’s remember there will be seventy year olds who have played a lead role in using and learning with the digital since the 1970’s who in their thinking and actions have long ‘being digital’.

The new but largely unrecognised reality is that in the twenty plus years since Negroponte postulated being digital the world’s digitally connected peoples have become so.

  • 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 Digital Sydney Hodder and Stoughton
  • Strom, P and Strom, R.D (2009) Adolescents in the Internet Age Charlotte, Information Age Publishing