A Guide to Digital Learning: What to Know in 2021

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Today, teachers and students are both fortunate and challenged when it comes to the role and implementation of digital learning in education. Fortunate to have practically unlimited access to tools and knowledge previous generations couldn’t use and challenged, because managing the sheer breadth of information available is truly an adventure in itself. 

Nevertheless, educators and children are optimistic and interested. In the UK, 87% of schools, colleges and universities said that technology plays a key role in making learning opportunities more widely available to all. The process has definitely started within our digital native generation: 46% of 5-15-year olds have their own smartphone, and 49% have their own tablet in the UK. If this is the new normal at home, schools and the education sector in general must keep up.

In our 21st-century digital learning environments, digital learning undoubtedly leads the way in schools, in the present and into the future. Digital learning can be a tremendously important factor in raising student engagement, interaction levels and helping children attain higher-level, digital skills (such as familiarity with technology or finding and using online resources) that prove to be necessary for an average adult’s life today, especially in the workplace.

Most teachers consider the ability to engage (86.8%) and enable (66.7%) students to be the primary benefits of using technology in the classroom.

Teachers’ use of technology to support literacy in 2018

 

Educators will need to acquire new skills as well to become so-called digital teachers or to be able to extend their curriculums to incorporate digital technology. The purpose of this, first and foremost, is to help students adapt to the needs and expectations of contemporary life, but getting acquainted with technology will be beneficial for teachers as well: whether it’s about the joy of learning for themselves and watching their students’ engagement levels increasing, or finding digital learning tools and resources that consistently and efficiently support their own work from tracking progress to monitoring results.

Digital learning, on the other hand, needs to be well understood first, before any attempts at implementation are made. One of the key focus points for educators should be to not forget that teaching is undoubtedly a social activity where human contact (even if realised online or remotely) is of utmost importance for students and teachers alike. Teachers must learn to find the balance, maintaining  their strong connections with children both in a traditional and a digital classroom. 

90% of our UK teachers say they have a duty to prepare their students for a digital future.

Research report: UK — The road to digital learning

 

This guide will help educators understand the basics of digital learning to give them a headstart in contributing to their students’ digital education.

What is digital learning?

Digital learning is any type of learning that includes digital technology. Think of tools like smartphones, platforms like blogs or social media, and formats like video. In this sense, we refer to digital learning as an umbrella term, to which other relevant concepts are related, as follows:

    • Online learning: It’s a slightly narrower term than digital learning where the majority or all of coursework is done through the internet but it doesn’t necessarily imply that there is no face-to-face interaction in a classroom. 
    • E-learning/ virtual learning: There’s no face-to-face interaction while learning. We usually refer to this as a single or several courses taken over the internet.
    • Distance learning: Technically the same term as e-learning or virtual learning, simply emphasising that distance is not a barrier online.
    • Blended learning: A mix of traditional (face-to-face) and e-learning or online learning.
    • Social learning: A learning type that is all about learning in a social context and today it’s often connected to the use of social media for educational purposes to help increase learners’ engagement with the subject matter.

 

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As a consequence of these definitions, digital learning doesn’t necessarily mean that students have to have internet access while learning, whereas online learning is generally understood as a learning type exclusively taking place through the internet.

Digital learning, furthermore, being a broader term, can (and usually does) include an array of e-learning or virtual learning assets. It can also happen from a distance and it can relate to a blended learning strategy where digital technology is used.

Digital learning trends are continuously shaped by the edtech sector with artificial intelligence and virtual reality showing the next steps for education, but the currently implemented technologies are less futuristic: 56% of 250 primary and secondary school teachers in the UK cited that learning apps get the most funding in their institutions, followed by desktop computers (54%). Another study reported that only 2.3% of schools are able to provide access to Virtual Reality headsets, 1.4% to smart speakers and 0.9% to wireless headphones.

The EdTech report, 2019/2020 & Teachers’ use of technology to support literacy in 2018

 

What are digital skills?

Digital skills are abilities that allow people to use digital technology, including devices, applications and networks in order to access and manage information. As the definition of UNESCO further explains, “they enable people to create and share digital content, communicate and collaborate, and solve problems for effective and creative self-fulfilment in life, learning, work, and social activities at large.”

Digital skills are important as they have become foundational for our everyday modern lives and are especially essential in improving students’ and adults’ chances of employability. The latter area can be greatly diversified depending on the expectations of industries as well, and even a specific job might require specialised digital skills. Nonetheless, there are basic digital skills everyone should aim to have today, as discussed in the next section.

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What are the 5 basic digital skills?

The UK government’s Department for Education talks about digital foundation skills and laid down a set of five basic digital skills in the Essential digital skills framework that are important for adults to have in the digital era. This can be a good guide for educators when preparing their students for their future.

The digital foundation skills cover elementary abilities such as knowing how to turn on and control devices, a basic understanding of the internet, being able to connect to a secure Wi-Fi network, as well as understanding password security and the need to change login credentials from time to time.

The five basic digital skills are the following, further categorised into two groups, skills for life and work:

  1. Communicating: “The skills required to communicate, collaborate, and share information.”
      • Skills for life examples: 
        • Setting up an email account to creating documents
        • Using video tools such as Zoom or Facetime
        • Posting on social media
      • Skills for work examples: 
        • Understanding your workplace’s IT and social media policies
        • Complying with your workplace’s security protocols
        • Using digital collaboration tools with colleagues
        • Working remotely using a VPN (virtual private network)
        • Creating and sharing documents with web-based applications such as Google Docs in collaboration

2. Handling information and content: “The skills required to find, manage and store digital information and content securely.”

      • Skills for life examples:
        • Accessing information from different devices
        • Using search engines to find information and then evaluating findings, knowing that not every source is reliable
        • Understanding that cloud solutions mean storing data and content in a remote location
        • Organising files and folders locally and on the web
        • Legally accessing entertainment such as films and books on the internet
      • Skills for work examples: 
        • Understanding and accepting your workplace’s IT policy
        • Synchronising and sharing information across devices at work
        • Managing calendar and appointment systems on multiple devices

3. Transacting: “The skills required to register and apply for services, buy and sell goods and services, and administer and manage transactions online.”

      • Skills for life examples:
        • Setting up an online account, using websites and apps to buy goods and services, for example on Amazon or eBay or travel websites 
        • Using payments systems online, from credit cards to bank transfers, and managing money online securely, through your bank and related websites and apps
        • Uploading documents and filling in forms when required for online transactions, such as uploading your CV and application to an online recruitment site
      • Skills for work examples: 
        • Submitting requests online for annual leave, and completing digital records for holidays and absence from work 
        • Accessing and reviewing salary information digitally and securely password-protected

4. Problem-solving: “The skills required to find solutions to problems using digital tools and online services.”

      • Skills for life examples:
        • Using the internet to find information and sources to help in solving problems, from recipes to travel information
        • Using online tutorials, FAQs, advice forums to solve problems using different devices, software and applications
      • Skills for work examples:
        • Using the internet to solve problems at work, like finding and checking business competitors
        • Using different software to present information to others and analyse data to solve problems such as spreadsheets for cost projection
        • Understanding that digital tools can improve your own and your organisation’s productivity 

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5. Being safe and legal online: “The skills required to stay safe, legal and confident online.”

      • Skills for life and work examples:
        • Responding to authentication requests for your online accounts and setting up two-factor authentication for them where possible such as your email address
        • Using different and secure accounts with secure passwords for websites and accounts
        • Setting privacy settings for online and social media accounts, to protect your personal data against cyber threats, such as ensuring only friends can see your posts on Facebook
        • Identifying secure websites and “HTTPS” in the address bar
        • Understanding that viruses can damage your computer and software, recognising suspicious online activities in email, website or social media messages
        • Creating backups and safe storages for your documents and all digital information in the cloud or separate, external storage devices
        • Understanding that online activities are recorded and can be accessed by others and that you also must not share other’s data, information and content online without their consent (being subject to copyright and intellectual property legislation)
        • Knowing to keep your computer and software updated and why it’s important

“Young people in the UK are technologically gifted. 97% of 15 to 24-year-olds have basic digital skills – and 0% have none. And this success is reflected in the technology industry: over 1,000 edtech ventures are based in Britain.”

Research report: UK — The road to digital learning

You will meet other definitions of digital skills out there, depending on business and industry guidelines and expectations. For example, in digital marketing, understanding social media, user experience and web analytics can be considered essential or basic digital skills, with additional ones, such as knowing how search engines operate or how artificial intelligence (AI) and automation can improve business processes.

As an educator or careers leader, it’s best to benchmark your students’ abilities and map them to each student’s desired career paths. 

Xello is an engaging and easy-to-use online edtech software for both educators and students. With its Skills Lab assessment, students can evaluate their career goals based on their current skills set as well as learning which areas they need to improve to achieve their career goals. 

Try it out for yourself before introducing it to your students. Book your demo here!

 

 

What are digital learning tools?

The list of digital learning tools existing today is practically endless but we have collected a couple of examples that can be useful in the classroom whether for everyday digital activities or special school projects:

    • Google Workspace (formerly G Suite): Every app included from Google Drive (for file management), Gmail (email software), Google Docs (document creation, sharing and management) to Google Slides (creating presentations), Sheets (creating Excel-like tables and documents), Meet (videoconferencing) — these can all be useful for any school activity, for both individual tasks and collaboration between students and teachers.
    •  Canva: A web-based graphic design app that is easy to use and can be great for creative projects such as dreaming up posters for a campaign, editing pictures and social media posts or even creating CV designs.
    • Kahoot!: Quiz your students in a fun way with this game-based, digital learning platform. This app will ensure an engaging environment for testing their knowledge where they can have fun while earning points and presenting what they’ve learned. Students, if allowed, can even use their own mobile devices to join the quiz which might instantly bring digital learning closer to them.

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    • Typeform: Teachers can use this simple online software to create forms for their students or their parents, but students can also use these to test their peers’ knowledge when presenting about a new topic or using it for other research purposes for their projects to collect information and evidence in a given subject. 
    • TEDEd: Hundreds of TEDEd animations and TED talks are available on this platform that students can browse on their own, while teachers can get help in creating customised lessons for their students using these resources, also sharing them online and tracking results. Students can create their own TED talks to share their ideas in class.
    • Xello: A great tool for educators to have their students take personality- and learning style quizzes, skill assessments, build their CV or create a personalised storyboard visualising their future career. Educators and careers leaders can also use Xello to create assignments, create and manage student groups, and follow their students’ engagement and progress in careers education, from student work reports to sixth form and FE (Further Education) college applications.

Purchasing or readying your pitch to your senior leadership for budgetary approval to purchase education software can be a complex task. Get your free careers education buying checklist to learn exactly what to consider when looking for a high-quality careers education and future-readiness program.

Just as digital tools will never be a substitute for teachers, they will never be a substitute for social interaction completely but can be wonderful additions to the process of learning. As they help students access information and collaborate better, and teachers can review the depth of their knowledge or offer them more engaging ways of studying, digital technology, tools and platforms are a perfect way to help students acquire digital skills.

Introduction to the digital classroom

To step into the digital classroom, let’s first cover the foundations, namely what is a digital learning strategy and how we define a digital classroom. Make sure to read on for our 10 tips for educators planning to introduce digital tasks in the classroom.

What is a digital learning strategy?

A digital learning strategy is about laying down the principles, basic methods, goals and measuring requirements of using digital technology in any setting from schools to workplaces where the use of digital assets can be relevant.

What is a digital classroom?

A digital classroom expands beyond the four physical walls of the traditional classroom by the use of digital technology, where not only teachers and students but parents and even invited industry experts can participate.

online learning graph

Source: The Future of Learning Report

A digital classroom has two parts in general: 

      • a synchronous one where everyone involved is connected for educational purposes at the same time (a presentation held via Zoom, for example) and 
      • an asynchronous one where participants don’t have to be present at the same time and place at all while still enjoying the advantages of a digital classroom (any digitally supported self-study activity at home can be a good example here, from emailing to posting on a shared class board online).
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Benefits of asynchronous learning:

  • Accessibility: Asynchronous learning does not only give greater freedom to students and teachers, but it also breaks down many accessibility barriers in education as a digital classroom is not time-and place-bound like a traditional one. 
  • Better reflection and response opportunities: Students have more time and possibly a relaxed home environment, without interruptions, to contemplate on tasks and questions that are required for class.
  • Everything is saved: All learning materials can be accessed and reviewed by participants at any time.

10 educator tips for tasks in the digital classroom

Some principles educators can follow when creating and implementing digital learning and teaching strategies and inviting students to do digital activities in class:

      • Make sure the use of digital technology supports, not dominates your curriculum.
      • Prepare your lessons with the use of digital technology in mind. 
      • Test your technical knowledge and get ready to solve technical problems in the class ahead of time. 
      • Explain and show students how they can access the digital materials with ease.
      • Learn how you can give your students technical support if they have any difficulties with the tools and platforms you use in the digital classroom.

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      • Don’t forget that you are not only a presenter as a teacher but also a facilitator and director of communication and learning in the digital classroom.
      • Create scenarios in class that resemble real-life situations where students can use digital tools to come up with solutions. Prepare them for what they may encounter later in their adult lives.
      • Promote collaborative tasks in the (digital) classroom to help students learn the ins and outs of working together with others to achieve a shared goal. Such activities will help them practice skills needed in their future workplaces.
      • Give feedback to students using digital tools (for example through comments and suggestions in Google Docs) and don’t forget you can offer personalised feedback as well. Students can take this opportunity to have further interaction and discussion with you.
      • Make sure to monitor how your students participate in the digital classroom setting, from attendance to examining their emotional signals. Anyone may need further support in getting accustomed to a new setup, and as an educator, you can use one of your best traits, your ability to connect with your students, to offer this support.
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Almost 4 in 5 teachers (79%) now use technology in almost every lesson. This practice in the classroom has more than tripled compared to 10 years ago when only 1 in 5 teachers was regularly using tech to teach.

The EdTech report, 2019/2020

The future of digital learning

In many aspects, Generation Z is leading the way to the future of digital learning: 24% of them already use Twitter to educate themselves about environmental issues and 37% of them learn about diversity and inclusion on Instagram, according to the Future of Digital Learning report. 30% of Gen Z also said that their preferred form of education technology is augmented reality — something not quite accessible in every school in the UK at the moment but with that level of interest, it could definitely be an emergent technology for the education sector.

The appetite for innovation in education is certainly there for all who are involved in it: half of the adults in the UK (48%), surveyed in the same report, believe that education will be delivered digitally in the future and 42% of Britons that it has the power to make the world a more diverse, culturally accepting place.

As an educator, if you would like to invest in this brighter future, make sure to book a demo of Xello that provides an immersive and engaging experience for students, helping them realise their career plans, and a streamlined, user-friendly software for educators to support them along the way.

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