It’s very likely that the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up is to look at your phone. Maybe to turn off your alarm at first, but then perhaps to check the weather forecast, read the news headlines, and even look at your calendar for the day ahead. During the course of these actions, you will probably receive message notifications from family and friends, reminders of what you were doing on this day 5 years ago, and even be treated to a picture of someone else’s smashed avocado breakfast (#delicious)!
There is no doubting it, the online revolution is in full swing and the digital age means that not only are more aspects of our lives being digitised each day, but that we are also becoming accustomed to going online for all the information we need. What this means for teachers whose aim is to educate in the digital elearning age, is that we have a lot of competition—more than we have ever had before.
A traditional education system vs. the digital learning age
In a traditional education system of the ‘old school’ bricks and mortar classroom, the primary competition for a student’s attention was the attractiveness or level of social connectedness with their neighbouring student—and perhaps the extent of how vivid their imagination could get.
Today, in the digital learning age, teachers need to compete with an endless array of other attention-grabbing ‘shiny objects’ from all around the world. These can include an extreme spectrum from breaking news stories of terrorist attacks, floods, political blunders to likes and smiles from potential suitor strangers and even the joy of seeing the most adorable panda in the world rolling so cutely down a hill. So, in order to win enough of a student’s valuable time and attention to facilitate a meaningful learning experience, we need to become smarter in our engagement strategies and educational practices.
Embrace new tools and techniques
At times, we may need to adopt the clever techniques of marketing gurus and social media giants to make our online learning content addictive and to change our focus from old to new power principles to optimise learning opportunities. This is in recognition of the desire of more and more people to not only be actively engaged but to take a seat high on the participation premium. (Heimans, Timms, 2018)
Luckily for us, the digital learning age has also brought about a whole range of new software designed to help online educators compete for our students’ attention. Some of my regular go-tos include:
- Kahoot! an online tool which makes it easy to create and play interactive learning games or trivia quizzes
- Lumen a tool which helps you summarise content and turn it into a video with matching images and music (like I have used to create a short promotional video for this blog)
- And the good old classic meme generator where you can turn your own household pet into a classroom hero
As online educators, first, we must be open to unpacking and mastering these new tools ourselves, even when they perhaps test our own levels of comfort and understanding in this age of digital technologies. This is absolutely essential, in particular for some of us who approach technology with caution, in order to then allow us to come up with creative and innovative approaches to how we can adopt them seamlessly into our teaching practices.
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What the digital age means for the future of online education
So once we have won the initial battle for an individual’s attention, the next challenge is to be able to keep that attention and effectively engage them longer term. It is important to understand what the online revolution is teaching us about the fundamental changes in the relationship between teachers and students.
Never before have we seen such a large scale mass rejection of traditional forms of authority in place of connecting with the everyday person. This means that the traditional concept of an academic, being respected as the holder of wisdom, is becoming more and more irrelevant. Rather than being online academics who simply ‘teach’ students something they don’t know by imparting knowledge on them, we need to be skilled facilitators, who actively engage individuals on a learning journey through digital resources. Digital learning can mean fostering curiosity, supporting the development of a growth mindset, and encouraging critique and analysis.
To successfully realise these digital learning goals, it is essential that we are our authentic selves. The online revolution and the rise in popularity of social media have taught us that people are seeking out authenticity and relatability in the online world. We need to be prepared to show our own vulnerability when we might not know something, our relatability as normal humans who also make mistakes, and, most importantly, we must demonstrate our passion for teaching our subject matter.
Education in the digital age is an exciting new space for teaching and learning, and it is growing and developing each day. As online educators, we must grow and develop along with it, taking advantage of the suite of new digital tools and resources available to us, but also understanding and respecting the fundamental changes in the relationship between a student and an educator. We must be prepared to share our humbled, authentic selves in response. If we can achieve all of these things, then we have set the best foundations for impacting and life-long learning to occur.
Heimans J & Timms, H, 2018, New Power: How Power Works in out Hyperconnected World and How to Make it Work For You, Pan McMacmillan Australia.