Learning how to think in a digital world

eLearning Coordinator Matt Smith believes a focus on thinking and reasoning is crucial in responding to the pace of technological change.

Our children are starting primary school in a digital age. We’ve gone from a time when ‘computer skills’ were taught in an isolated IT lab to a world where technology is fully embedded. Technological change is extremely rapid and the volume of information we need to process each day has massively increased. What does this mean for our classrooms? How do we teach in a way that responds to this pace of change? And how do we meet students’ needs for their future careers?

These are all new challenges for educators. The reality is, if we want our students to become agents of change in the society of the future, we need to create a curriculum that focuses on thinking and reasoning rather than knowing a certain set of facts. Changes in technology mean that there’s no way we can teach the same content in the technology classroom every year but, importantly, we need to make sure we consistently teach students how to think critically, how to communicate and how to remain flexible in the face of change.

We also need to reconsider our assumptions about our children as ‘digital natives’. While students now grow up in an environment where technology is part of the fabric of society, this doesn’t mean they automatically learn healthy ways of managing their digital lives. They now need new social and ethical frameworks to respond to the social landscapes of our online culture. Again, teaching students to question received information and think critically about what they find online is crucial. We also need to ensure students are resilient enough to manage inappropriate online behaviour, teach them how to behave responsibly, respectfully and ethically in their online interactions, and find a balance, with the ability to switch off from the digital world when necessary.

Drawing out all these skills in the classroom is less about focusing on the resources we have at our disposal – though these are often what spark students’ interest – and more about looking at the process. A new technology project may be exciting in itself, but it should always lead us back to creativity, flexibility and problem solving. We need to encourage students to keep asking: How do we refine ideas and make them tangible? How do we improve a design? How do we embrace the next challenge with a technological solution?   

The reason these kinds of thinking skills are so important is that today’s primary school students will begin their careers the 2030s when adaptability will be as important as academic fundamentals like literacy and numeracy. Teaching flexibility, emotional intelligence, critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate will prepare our children to be able to move through not just many jobs, but many careers in their lifetime.

It may sound strange to be thinking about careers at such an early stage of learning, but the fact is that employers are already focusing on candidates with more flexible and entrepreneurial mindsets. We have a responsibility to respond to this in our primary school classrooms, recognising that while technology will continue to challenge us in ways we can’t predict, teaching strong cognitive and emotional skills will always be a necessary constant.

Matt Smith eLearning Coordinator