Mal Lee and Roger Broadie
It will likely come as a surprise to most teachers and governments but the new reality is that the digitally connected families of the developed world are far better positioned than schools to grow the children’s being digital from birth, and to lead their learning with the digital.
At first glance this might appear an outrageous observation. However unwittingly, and largely unseen, the digitally connected families have over the last twenty plus years naturally and largely unseen developed the many strengths that give them considerable advantage over even excellent teachers working within highly constrained linear, hierarchical Industrial Age schools.
While the strengths of the family are on trend to grow at pace so too are the constraints on teachers, pointing strongly to the schools in their teaching with the digital lagging increasingly behind their families.
The seemingly obvious solution – exemplified in the exceptional schools and classrooms – is for the school to genuinely collaborate with their families in growing the children’s 24/7/365 learning with the digital. But – and it is a very considerable ‘but’ – at this stage in history no government, national or provincial appears to want that collaboration. The authors can find none that have articulated the educational, social, economic and political advantages of doing so.
All appear to want to maintain their unilateral control of schooling, and its traditional form and ways, affording only limited importance to being digital.
That said as a professional educator working within a digital and socially networked society, striving to provide your students an apt education for the contemporary world it is important to appreciate why the digitally connected families are so well positioned, to understand their strengths and why the trend line is pointing to the schools and teachers being only able to complement and add value to the work of the family.
The insight should help explain how teachers can add important value, but also why
the digitally connected families have led, and will continue to lead in growing the young’s being digital, and why schools in a networked society should be pooling the resources and expertise of the families and the school – not trying to compete.
The strengths of the digitally connected family.
- The parents. They – not the school, nor government, nor the tech industry – have ultimate responsibility for how their children use and learn with the digital technology outside the school walls. In leading a small, highly agile self-regulating family unit, in total control of its operations and budget the parents have both the power and freedom to call the shots the moment desired.
- Laissez faire environment.The family unit operates within in a market driven, largely laissez faire economy, free of any government control, with the autonomy and agility to do what it wants, when it wants and to respond instantly to continual accelerating change.
- Learning culture.The digitally connected families have invariably created highly supportive learning cultures, where the digital is central, and the children are trusted and empowered to use the latest technologies largely unfettered, able to largely take charge of their learning with the digital 24/7/365. The contrast with the distrust, disempowerment, and the control exercised by schools over the children’s every action is stark.
- Natural evolution.The family is free to evolve its use of and learning with the digital naturally, able to shape the emerging global megatrends to advantage. As the unplanned, unintended developments occur they can optimise them.
The young and their families have in learning with the digital naturally, instinctively and unwittingly adopted a remarkably common approach worldwide, creating the same kind of supportive learning cultures, developing similar capabilities. Nationality, gender and the family’s finances don’t appear to vary the fundamental nature of the learning with the digital all that much (Chaudron, et.al, 2015).
Positive Digital Mindset
- Importance of the digital.Study after study from the early 90’s onwards has identified the importance most families worldwide attach to their children having the current digital devices (Lee and Broadie, 2018). That research is backed by their buying pattern, with it being the parents – not government – who have funded near two billion (UNICEF, 2017) young people’s technology and digital connectivity.
- Positive outlook.The young and most of their families from the 90’s have been highly positive with the digital and online, grabbing the opportunities opened, exploring all manner of possibilities, trying things, taking risks, with many continually pushing the envelope. Importantly that have addressed the pitfalls that come with marked change in a largely positive manner. In contrast, most schools and governments for twenty plus years have been reactive, often negative, preoccupied with the possible risks, doing what governments have done historically with all new technologies, focussing initially on the dangers.
- Digital and socially networked mindset. Over the last twenty plus years the young and their families have grown an increasingly stronger digital, and socially networked mindset. It is outward looking, continually seeking to take advantage of opportunities opened by the networks and the increasingly interconnected world. Most schools in contrast still employ an insular, inward looking, analogue mindset, and operate as artificial walled communities.
- Common sense and instinct.On reflection, since the 1990s the families have shown eminent common sense, shaped in large by their natural instincts. Their focus has been their kids.
- The young and their families have embraced and enjoyed using and learning with the digital. It is cool and a must have. The challenge has always been to limit the usage.
- Control from birth to being digital.The family is in control of the young’s learning with the digital from birth. Children born into digitally connected families will by three be well on their way to being digital, and will have adopted the mode of learning with the digital they will use lifelong. The die is cast before government or teachers come into the play.
- Digitally empowered. The very young enter school digitally empowered. It is a control they will exercise throughout life, relinquishing it reluctantly only when compelled.
- Focus on the individual learner. Educationally the family’s concern has always been the learning of each child, the individuals, understanding the importance of each taking charge, each developing their own set of capabilities. While schools have for years spoken of individualising the learning none have gone close to what the families have achieved. In fairness, it is appreciably easier to do so with a couple of kids than hundreds, but it is a strength of the family unit.
- 24/7/365, just in time, in context.In being digital and using the digital every day the young are free to learn anytime, anywhere they believe apt. They don’t have to wait until the teacher, curriculum and timetable allows.
- Self-directed.From the early in life the children take charge of their learning with the digital, deciding what they want to learn, how, when and with the support of whom and what resources. In having that agency, they, not the education authorities decide what is to be learned, the children quickly individualising their learning, putting them on the path they will follow lifelong.
- Informal, naturally sustained integrated learning– where the children, in taking control of their learning instinctively adopt a highly integrated, invariably non-linear approach, that naturally accommodates the changes brought by the evolving technology. They have no obligation, unlike teachers, to pursue a common, authority prescribed, linear instructional program that is only updated periodically.
- Digital normalisation. Children today born to digitally connected families have invariably normalised the use of the digital well before entering school. The digital is a natural, almost invisible part of their life. While the families globally have rightly chosen to support that normalisation, most schools have not opted to try.
- Learning in a continually evolving digital world. The digitally connected young have naturally developed not only their digital proficiency, but also the art of updating that proficiency in harmony with the evolving technology, full well understanding their learning must evolve lifelong. It is a capability that goes a long way to ensuring they use the current technology and technological practises, and take the opportunities opened by them.
- Natural adaptation. History (Lee and Broadie, 2018) reveals the ease with which the young have been able to adapt their use and learning with the digital, to do their own thing, to use it to assist their school studies, and when obliged to use it compliantly within the classroom. The superseded technologies, the iPods, the Nokia, the CDs, DVDs, the games consoles, the myriad of cables and chargers quietly disappear into the cupboard.
However, history also reveals most schools lack that adaptability, unwilling or unable to change their ways, beholden to the set curriculum, assessment procedures, insisting the young and their families do what the school/authority requires.
Blockage free learning
- No formal assessment, exams or reports.None of the very considerable constraints associated with student assessment that exist in the schools are found in the digitally connected families. They have never shown any desire or need for continual assessment, formal hand written exams, term reports and the associated stresses, loss of learning time, hassle and administrivia (Lee and Broadie, 2018).
- No sorting and sifting. The family, unlike most schools are not obliged to continually rank the children, to compare performance and to perpetuate the Industrial Age practise of sorting the future ‘managers’ from the ‘factory workers’.
- No accountability. Again, in contrast to the schools where virtually every operation must be justified and accounted for the digitally connected families are free to do what they want, never having to justify their approach – other than to themselves.
- Bureaucracy free. Learning with the digital within the digitally connected family could well be one of the few situations in modern society where government bureaucrats play no part. The family is free to do as it wants, when it wants without operational guidelines, budget committees and government buying and accounting procedures.
- Family set controls. The family, often as a unit, often unconsciously and sometimes with the parents calling the shots, sets the ‘rules’ and controls on the use of and learning with the digital. It can thus readily change the controls as the kids mature, respect the trust shown and the technology evolves.
- Trust and empowerment.While the families of the world have long been willing to trust, and empower their children to take charge of their learning, most schools have not.
- Freedom to learn. The same holds here. One of the great plusses of an informal education has always been the opportunity for the young to explore new worlds, to dream, to create, to pursue their interests and passions, and occasionally to break a limb. The digital adds a new dimension to that facility.
- Immediate digital use. The young, outside the school, have immediate use of the desired digital tools, physical and online, not constrained by the myriad of human and technological controls and blocks found in schools.
- Networked learning.One of the great strengths of the young today is that they value, from around the age of six (Chaudron, et.al, 2018) human networking, and naturally, and likely unwittingly use it in their everyday learning.
- Family learning. One of the largely unseen but very powerful features of the young’s learning is how much naturally occurs within the family setting, ranging from the very young mimicking their siblings and parents, the kids knowing more than their parents, the parents providing quiet guidance and the occasional strong nudge, and the nuclear and extended family going about their everyday networking, naturally, unwittingly growing their learning. All benefit.
- Personalised. The young in digitally connected families have ready access to their ‘own’ suite of continually evolving digital technologies, acquiring what they want, free to set them up as they desire to accommodate their learning style and interests. Johannsen (Johanssen, et.al, 2016) noted that 91% of Danish children 0-8 had ready access to tablets, with 42% having their own. In brief the young have agency over both their learning and the tools, in marked contrast to most schools where they have no agency.
- Connectivity. The same is so with the digital connectivity. Within the home and on the move, they are largely free – depending on age – to connect the moment desired. Within the school connectivity, as all will attest, is tightly controlled, and even when permitted is invariably is done through censored networks. Outside the school connectivity is a core part of learning, where within most schools it plays only a peripheral role.
- History highlights (Lee and Broadie, 2018) the continued early adoption and use of a wide array of the emerging personal technologies by the young, they quickly becoming proficient with the new. History also shows them using most of the technologies well before the school, often years before and in many instances using technologies never allowed in schools.
- Family ecosystem.All the out of school learning is – usually unwittingly and unseen – assisted by increasingly powerful family digital ecosystems, aided in turn by the family member’s networking with other ecosystems. Think back a decade and note how the family digital ecosystems have grown, become that much integrated and powerful, the number of devices now in sync and what the future scenario will likely be.
- Using all the desired technologies. One of the oft forgotten strengths is the families use of all manner of digital technologies, the games consoles, PVRs, smart TVs, high end digital cameras, Go Pros, smart watches, fit bits and all manner of mobiles, desktops and apps. In contrast, most schools opt to use only the one ‘appropriate’ device, the specified software and ban all other technologies.
- Willingness to use the technology that can be afforded.In contrast to the schools that seemingly have a thing about using only quality kit the young, particularly those in the less affluent situations are happy to use any that will do the job, be they hand me downs or the lower end Android technology. They are willing think laterally to get what they want. The key variable is the expertise of the user not the gear.
There are undoubtedly other strengths.
Notwithstanding the above are an impressive set of capabilities.
Collectively they go a long way to explaining why most digitally connected families are far better placed than their local school/s to lead the way in learning with the digital and to do so in the years ahead.
They also affirm why astute schools and teachers would do betters to complement and enhance the contribution of the families, and not like now, try and compete.
- 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
- Chaudron S., Di Gioia R. , Gemo M.; Young children (0-8) and digital technology, a qualitative study across Europe; EUR 29070; doi:10.2760/294383
- 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/–
- UNICEF (2017)Children in a Digital World. The State of the World’s Children 2017. UNICEF December 2017 – https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf