Here in the overly-large school district, we’ve had lots of discussions around the term “digital learning”. It’s now part of vision statements and official plans, not to mention plenty of slides in presentations. We’ve ventured out into the community to ask parents, kids and others what the phase means to them. Digital Learning even has it’s own day, which I gather is today.
However, after all the conversations, articles, presentations, pronouncements, defining and redefining, the more I think about it, the closer I get to this conclusion:
There ain’t no such thing. “Digital Learning” is meaningless. It doesn’t exist.
Let’s face it, learning happened before so-called digital tools were created, before all of us were connected to multiple networks. Using non-digital artifacts like books, lectures, and even teachers. Scientists experimented, people explored, and kids came to understand what happens when they drop an analog brick on their brother’s head.1
Certainly learning is made better – easier, extended, enhanced in most cases – using connected devices. I can’t imagine not being able to use all the amazing resources available through the various screens I use. But that is not “digital” learning. That’s learning using the most effective tools I have available.
I understand the need to give the use of computers and other devices to improve the learning process a name, something short, catchy, ready for press releases, sound bites and tweets. Unfortunately, manufactured terms like “digital learning” often get in the way, with too many politicians, education “experts”, and even teachers emphasizing the tools over the desired outcomes.
Kids – people – do not “digitally” learn. They learn. Period. So what we need is to make the necessary tools of all kind available to all classrooms and then let the teacher and students decide which of them work best for the individual, subject and situation. On occasion, finger paints and chart paper can be more powerful to foster learning than a drawing program on a tablet.
We especially need to give students more options to choose their own approach to learning, the tools they will use, and the method of demonstrating the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired.
So, celebrate “Digital Learning Day” if you like. But as you do, remember that the Learning is far more important than the Digital. And “digital learning” is much more of a marketing concept than something that exists here in the real world.