Online Participation & Digital Literacy
Diverse challenges require diverse formats
Albert Einstein is attributed to have once said that it is insanity to do things over and over again and expect different results. Transferred to our educational system, the question arises, what kind of insanity we are dealing with, if we always teach the same contents with little variance in the formats and at the same time expect that the current future generations will find answers to the manifold challenges our society is facing. This fact is all the more astonishing as a multitude of scientific studies as well as practical experience clearly show that learning does not really need much except space to try. The first thing that our educational system “trains us down” is our childlike curiosity. Instead, we are trimmed to strive for degrees, certificates, proofs of any kind, which represent a legitimizing representative function for our supposed competences and skills. The structures necessary for the maintenance of our educational system have become highly complex. Lost in the process is the knowledge that in order to unfold potentials and develop skills, all that is needed are impulses that encourage curiosity. Impulses that challenge us cognitively and socially in a variety of ways. Small and big learning adventures in worlds unknown to us until now – just as we learned through play as a child. The good thing: research confirms that we learn better and faster in this way and, above all, develop the ability to understand new connections ourselves. So we just have to do it! And here comes the second piece of good news: Digital technologies open up incredible opportunities for us to turn learners into educational researchers, to respond to individual needs and requirements, and to turn teaching staff into learning facilitators that can contribute not only specialist knowledge but also foster a wide range of experiential learning curiosity.
Instead of stuffing more and more content (and strictly speaking it is mostly only ever more of the same) into curricula, it is time to understand that we have arrived at an age in which, due to easy access and the abundance of information, it is no longer their mediation but the variety of forms to access and link them independently of time and space that is becoming increasingly important.
To learn like this takes little and whoever does creates the future. Because: Learning is what happens now. Now, at this very moment, each one of us is wandering along a very individual (digital) learning path. Satisfies digital learning needs and develops new ones – some out of necessity, some out of curiosity. The special thing about digital educational future as digital future education: We are free to learn how to life and thus to live learning. What is meant by this? I call it the “Pippi Longstocking Principle”. Pippi is characterized by a very special attitude: First of all, she assumes that she can do what she wants to do. And we, too, can act with just this confidence and conviction in digital educational arenas. And we can do so whenever we create the space and framework to ensure that learning is always what happens now. Then digital education becomes a kind of developmental crossroads. If we find that we are not directly successful at something, we always have a choice: either we decide to do it ourselves in a new way (innovate), or we do it together with someone who can already do it (collaborate). Either way, our digital potential will continue to develop our talents – in some cases more in terms of content, method or technology, in others more in digital interaction.
This is where the political dimension of digital education unfolds. No matter how innovative a form of “ability” may be, as long as it is not associated with a “want” or “may”, it will not be applied. Thus, “ability” may answer the question of “why” in terms of content, but not of “what for” in terms of context. As a child we still have this incredible intrinsic will to learn that answers the “what for”. We do not let ourselves be misled by repeated failed attempts, but practice persistently until, for example, the first steps work only to then use the new freedom thus conquered to storm the next developmental summit. With the acquisition of the language we learn additionally then above all over one: Questions! Yes, the apparently never satisfying “why” may bring us older people to our limits at times. But that is exactly what helps us to make real educational leaps. Why is the description of these human development phases so familiar to us all from our own lives important? Because we forget them so quickly. Because we forget so quickly again how well and successfully we have already learned in our youngest years. Because we allow our educational system to first teach our children to unlearn so that they can conform to an approach of education that is less concerned with individual development and more with a memorization and application of general knowledge. In addition, today’s educational institutions are more concerned with explaining what we are not allowed to do – partly because it is so fixed by a (legal) system of rules and regulations, partly because it simply questions what we are used to and thus creates uncertainty.
Digital education is therefore only to one part a topic of interest due to the fact that digital technologies represent a new teaching channel that can foster openness and sharing. Digital education also has another part to do with promoting digital literacy for everyone, such that we can learn how to learn again and become aware of what learners and teachers are allowed to do in digital education arenas – a literacy that encourages them to formulate what form of digital learning they want and need to be able to build a better future.