3 Ways to Instill Lifelong Digital Learning Skills in Students
Millennials value tech training and development from their employer, above all else, because they know that it will help them compete in a global economy. Interestingly, appropriate tech training and professional development equates to higher job satisfaction. Additionally, improving your tech skills will not only ensure you are a more productive employee, but also a more fulfilled individual overall. While milestones like high school and college graduations are worth ones to celebrate, they are never an end date for learning new tech skills. Lifelong digital learning, the kind that goes beyond what is needed in the moment or to perform well at modern jobs, is essential.
Yet the U.S. tends to put a time stamp on learning and it is often assumed that individuals learning and education halts at age 18 or 22, when they enter the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average by age 40 a person has held 10 different jobs. That means those job-specific tech skills learned in college classrooms, while still valuable, aren’t as relevant when the next job or career comes along. With technology changing job fields so drastically, it is now more even more imperative to continue learning new tech skills, in order to be the most well rounded, productive worker possible.
So what are some ways that the education and edtech community can foster this spirit of continued digital learning while children are still in classrooms?
Teach basic tech literacy.
All kids, regardless of what they hope to accomplish in their careers, need a basic technology skill set that simply did not exist a generation of K-12 students ago. This tech literacy must happen early, and be fostered in ways that are feasible from home too. A good example of a foundational tech initiative is Code.org’s Hour of Code program. It focuses on children and their involvement in computer science and coding and offers lessons for students as young as Kindergarten. Likewise, President Obama’s K-12 Computer Science for All program is also concentrated on providing students with the computer skills necessary to thrive in today’s job market. Just as learning to read opens countless doors throughout the rest of life, learning coding and other tech basics will serve this generation of K-12 learners well for the rest of their lives.
Cultivate a “learning for learning’s sake” atmosphere.
The climate of our classrooms today is one of strict adherence to a set of benchmarks. If a topic isn’t on a standardized test or in that year’s outlined curriculum, it matters less or not at all. It’s not really the fault of the teachers. Educator accountability, after all, is tied to test results. Whenever possible, though, teachers should look for opportunities for learning that will not be tested later. Maybe it’s unplanned visits to a school garden or a related lesson that won’t be on any graded or tested materials. Show students that learning is not just about answering test questions later on; sometimes it is just about gaining more knowledge.
Offer accelerated learning.
The job market is evolving rapidly and our education system hasn’t caught up. The weight of large undergraduate student loans means that it isn’t feasible for workers to take 2 to 3 years off to pursue higher education. Accelerated online learning programs that cater to working individuals fit the bill here. Several companies including One Month, Codecademy and General Assembly use varying methods but all aim to address the same issue: getting students on track in a flexible, affordable, and fast way. New skills, such as computer programming, can be taught online via specialized learning platforms to people on their own time and won’t interfere with their full-time employment. The K-12 community can take a cue from these higher education initiatives: Find ways to offer learning that goes outside the traditional school hours and shows students that learning can happen on a flexible scale.
Becoming a lifelong digital learner truly is invaluable, both personally and professionally. Instilling this trait in our students is important for their own sake, and for ours. The next generation of graduates must value learning simply for its inherent greatness — not just the knowledge that lets us accomplish a simple goal.