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.
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?
- Chaudron, S (2015) Young Children (0-8) and Digital TechnologyLuxembourg, European Commission JRC and Policy Reports 2015 –http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC93239
- 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 (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 and Broadie, R (2018) ‘Being Digital’ Linkedin – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/being-digital-mal-lee/?published=t
- Rideout, V. (2017). The Common Sense census: Media use by kids age zero to eight. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media – https://www.commonsenseme- dia.org/research/the-common-sense-census-media-use-by-tweens-and-teens