Category:
Digital Fluency

The meaning and importance of digital learning

The digital world is becoming ever more intertwined with the world of the classroom. As tech continues to present new opportunities for learning, it is crucial for educators to adapt to our new knowledge landscape with approaches that benefit both them and their students.

To better understand how digital learning can revolutionise education, we thought we’d talk to one of our most experienced experts at The Mind Lab. With Dr. David Parsons, the longstanding Director of our innovative Digital and Collaborative Learning programme, we discuss the meaning of digital learning, the advantages of collaborative learning and how these concepts can intersect to create better outcomes for teachers and learners.

What does digital learning mean?

We tend to think of digital learning in two separate yet complementary definitions.

1. Upskilling with digital tools and integrating them into your established learning process.

2. Making use of a broad range of technologies to develop a more fulsome digital skill set and using computational thinking to use these tools in deeper, more creative and technical ways to accelerate and enhance learning. This interpretation of digital learning is becoming more prevalent in New Zealand as we embrace the updated curriculum, which signals a shift to a more digital future in education.

Why is digital learning important?

Digital tools and platforms are becoming ever more integral to our personal and working lives. Digital learning increases access to education and knowledge while empowering students with a mindset and capabilities that sets them up for success in their present and future. Plenty of data suggests that simply giving learners access to devices doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes; thoughtful integration and actively adopting a digital mindset is needed for digital learning to truly enhance the overall student experience.

What are some examples of digital learning?

The best forms of digital learning integrate multiple digital tools into a larger project or overarching concept. What is most important to remember about digital learning is that it is supposed to enhance the learning experience, not add additional burden or complexity. Digital tools should ultimately make the learning journey richer than it would be without them.

We aim to use tools that are free or very affordable and are built to be used intuitively by learners with all levels of digital skills.


Generally the learning comes before the digital tools. We encourage our educators across Aotearoa to constantly ask themselves how they can incorporate digital learning principles into each of their learning outcomes. 
 

What are the main advantages of digital learning?

  • The learning process becomes more time efficient
  • Teachers can better personalise learning to the needs of individual students
  • Digital learning establishes a mindset that allows us to continue adapting to new technologies well into the future
  • Effective learning can take place even when working remotely.

Digital learning is becoming more prevalent (and mandatory) in New Zealand regardless of whether you are feeling ready to integrate it into your classroom or not. Educators who are embracing shifts in the curriculum are becoming more efficient and effective while saving themselves time and preparing their students for the future of learning and work.

What is the difference between online and digital learning?

Online learning is simply a subset of digital learning. There are thousands of useful digital tools that do not require an internet connection to use. For example, one of our top recommendations for teachers wanting to take advantage of location-responsive education on field trips is the Actionbound app, which facilitates the creation of interactive mobile ‘scavenger hunts’ and interactive guides that can be cached to your device and used in any area regardless of reception availability.

What is collaborative learning?

When explaining the concept of collaborative learning, I use the pot-luck dinner analogy originally coined by Olga Kozar. At a traditional pot-luck, everyone makes a dish (that they are likely already good at) and brings it to the table. Guests benefit cooperatively from what everyone else has brought, but they don’t learn how to cook any new dishes. If, instead, everyone came together collaboratively to make these meals, the whole process would indeed be more shambolic and less structured, but everyone would learn a new set of skills along the way. Collaborative learning makes the group approach new tasks and concepts as a whole instead of dividing work into sections for individuals to complete.

The Mind Lab team are strong advocates for the practice of collaborative learning. It supports one of our key learning principles: Ako. We believe that effective, reciprocal teaching experiences are fostered through collective knowledge exchange, and that the learner is always at the centre of education.

Collaborative learning approaches seem to be effective with all ages and demographics of learners as long as the tasks are structured to suit the capabilities and learning objectives of the group.

What are the benefits of collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning facilitates a more complete understanding of the concept or project for the group as a whole than they would have gained as individuals. It creates an environment where groups collectively solve problems, communicate healthily and continuously learn from each other, not just the educator. This approach also helps develop deeper personal connections, even when collaborating remotely.

Ultimately, collaborative learning accelerates the upskilling and thinking of an entire group, whereas other group approaches tend to only benefit a select few. The active engagement required of each individual in a collaborative setting also results in higher information retention.

With all of the collaborative digital tools available today, digital learning and collaborative learning have developed natural synergy. Combining them actually magnifies the benefits of both approaches!

Are there digital or collaborative learning courses for teachers in New Zealand?

Absolutely. The Mind Lab have specifically developed qualifications and micro-credentials to help fill this gap in contemporary knowledge and capability across our education workforce. Our Digital and Collaborative Learning Postgraduate Certificate or Micro-credential explore the impact and use of digital tools in education and how student-centric collaborative approaches can enhance your teaching practice, position you as an innovator in your industry and help you empower your learners for the future.  

“I had a lightbulb moment that’s now made learning work for all my students, even those with shorter attention spans. I’m creating videos with all the (boring!) info to watch before class. Then they come armed with questions. It’s fast tracking our experience and their thinking because they’re using digital as their springboard!”

–   Claire Funk, September 2021 DCL intake

Ultimately the goals of both digital and collaborative approaches are learning and developing better ways of thinking. At The Mind Lab we advocate for exploration and discovery, and for educators to let go of the historical notions that ‘teachers are supposed to know everything’. The new age of digital has made information too readily available for any of us to keep up; pedagogies going forward should focus on teachers guiding students to effectively source and process information. Both digital and collaborative learning are important concepts to understand and embrace in order to make you the best educator you can be.

Learn more about our digital learning offerings here.

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