What are the benefits of digital education?

Digital education requires teachers to acquire new skills that they may not have had the opportunity to acquire before. However, the benefits of digital education for both learners and teachers provides significant impetus for teachers to develop new skills.

Consider the infographic below. It illustrates the impact that teachers in sub-Saharan Africa believe digital education can have on teaching and learning.

Teachers who have used digital tools in their classrooms will have experienced many of the benefits of digital education that I will discuss in this blog post.

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Defining digital education

Digital education is when teachers use electronic tools to create, store and process content and information to enhance teaching and learning. It is the teacher’s role to choose the electronic tools and devices that complement their teaching approach. The decision on what digital tools to use to achieve what outcome is an important part of the process of moving towards integrating digital teaching in the classroom. The use of technology in digital education improves the quality of learning through access to digital media such as video clips, online tools (such as interactive assessments) and teacher-specific tools (such as analytics that track learners’ progress). Digital media also provides learners with opportunities to self-study and interact with ideas and topics in new and exciting ways. 

Digital education is not a new phenomenon. For over 25 years teachers have used technology to enhance the learning experience in their classrooms. There is a wealth of information and experience on what works and how to use it. For example, teachers have used video content to show science experiments and documentaries on historical events, CD-ROMs to provide interactive experiences, test banks to assist in the development of classroom assessment and audio CDs to assist with listening and pronunciation. More recently, this digital content has been made available through interactive whiteboards in classrooms. With the advent of the internet and the provision of online access, as well as the ever-increasing availability of affordable devices such as tablets, a variety of digital education options are now available and widespread adoption is expected in coming years.

Learners can interact with digital education tools at their own pace and use these tools in ways that respond to their learning styles. For learners who are exposed to various digital media applications (apps) in their day-to-day lives, digital education tools offer new ways to engage these 21st Century learners, for example through educational strategies such as gamification or approaches such as mobile learning.

Learners using tablets in the classroom

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Using digital content in the classroom

Digital education content is material that you access from a digital device. This content could be stored online on a website or downloaded to the device as an e-book or app. It can even be distributed offline via a USB disk or CD-ROM. Some of this content is freely available for re-use and adaptation and is called Open Educational Resources (OERs). Other content has been developed by commercial publishers and is available for purchase similar to a print book. 

Digital content can take many forms that could include videos, animations, interactive diagrams or widgets, audio clips, assessment content, images and text. Some types of content work better on a laptop or PC but all should be able to be accessed on a smartphone or tablet.

A teacher with learners using tablets in a lesson

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A useful glossary of ICT terms in education

Please suggest others in the comments 🙂

South African learner in robotics class
Term Definition
21st Century skillsskills needed to live in the digitised 21st Century, e.g. information technology and media skills; learning and innovation skills such as collaboration, critical thinking and creativity
adaptive learning tools/systemsprograms that adapt (change) the content and process of learning offered to learners on the basis of their response to questions and tasks
analyticsdata generated by user engagement with content and assessment that can provide insight and guidance for intervention if required
animationsa series of slightly different pictures, photos or illustrations that are viewed rapidly in succession to create the illusion of movement similar to that of a video or film.
AndroidAndroid is an operating system developed by Google for smartphone
asynchronouslynot occurring at the same time
augmentationdigital technology that directly substitutes print, for example, and improves either the quality or variety of the content that is made available for teaching and learning purposes
bandwidththe rate at which an internet connection can send and receive a volume of information
broadbandalways-on internet access
blogginga personal journal/record of events captured on a website
central processing unit (CPU)a component of a device that provides processing power, necessary for the running of programs or applications
collaborative learningthe practice of learners working together to complete a task or solve a problem
collaborative toolsdigital tools that allow learners to work together in online environments
computing-based toolstools that require a computer
connectivitythe ability to connect with other computer devices via the internet
content delivery systemscomputing-based systems that structure and manage the delivery of content and assessment to learners
desktop computers (also known as personal computers (PCs): designed to fit onto a desk top
digital educationthe use of electronic tools that create, store and process information to deliver and enhance teaching and learning
digital learning programscomputer programs that teach content and test learners’ understanding of the content
e-learninganother term for digital education
embeddedplaced in a computer file or program
enhancementsadditions that improve the quality of something
ePDFa digital document that is formatted as an embedded portable document (PDF stands for portable document format; commonly referred to as books behind glass, ePDFs are simply digitised versions of paper books
ePUBan electronic publication that can be used across devices and operating systems; it allows text to reflow and resize in order to fit the type of device on which it is viewed
formatsarrangements of data in a file or program that allows it to perform certain unique functions
functionalitythe ability to do something
gamificationturning an experience into a game-like process by using elements of game design
hardwarecomputer equipment such as monitor, mouse, keyboard and CPU
hyperlinkslinks in a digitised document that, when clicked on, take the user to another part of the document or to an external location, such as a website
information and communication technologies (ICTs)information and communication technologies
interactive whiteboardselectronic whiteboards that are connected to a computer and can perform the same functions as the computer to which they are connected
interneta global network of computers that connects them to one another
iOSiOS is an operating system developed by Apple for smartphones
laptop computerscomputers that are small enough to fit on the user’s lap and can perform all the same functions as desktop computers
learner management systemanother term for content delivery system
mobile learningthe use of mobile devices and/or mobile networks to deliver teaching and learning
modificationthe degree to which something is changed; in the context of SAMR, the learning tasks that are set are substantially different from those that are set without the benefit of digital tools
offlinenot connected to the internet
onlineconnected to the internet
online discussion forumsonline websites that allow users to engage with one another usually from remote locations
Open Educational Resources (OERs)educational material – typically electronic or digital – available at little to no cost and can be used, shared and/or adapted
operating systemsthe software program that enables a computer or other digital device to perform certain functions
platformsthe software or hardware used to host a particular website or other type of digital tool
podcastsa popular form of audio broadcasting on the internet
redefinitionto change the definition of something; in the context of SAMR, to allow learners to perform tasks that were not previously possible
SAMR(substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition): a framework for understanding the impact of digital tools on education
simulationsvirtual representations of real-world scenarios and tasks
smartphonesmobile phones that are connected to the internet
softwarecomputer programs
substitutionreplacement; in the context of SAMR, learners use digital platforms as a direct replacement of other forms of content delivery without any change in the nature of the task or the teaching and learning method
synchronouslyoccurring at the same time
tabletshandheld computers that have flat screens and can connect to the internet
touch screensa computer display screen where the user interacts with the computer by touching pictures or words on the screen; this includes the keyboard which exists as software in a tablet
USB diska portable storage device for digital files
virtualnot physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so
website(s)a set of pages on the World Wide Web published by a single person or organisation about a particular subject or closely related topics
widget(s)interactive component that responds to user input

Digital skills training for South Africa

Digital information and communication technologies have revolutionised the ways in which knowledge is created and shared. Today, global domination of the information economy by the Internet, mobile phones and other digital devices creates the potential to facilitate new ways of recording and sharing knowledge. However, for the majority of South African people, limited digital skills and poor information literacy puts the Internet and online information beyond their reach, even if access to these technologies was available.

Accessing information on a mobile in South Africa

African Content on the Internet

In terms of digital information, African content levels are low, mainly due to a lack of capacity among local communities to record, transfer and disseminate information digitally. This puts Africa at a major disadvantage in the current knowledge economy, and leaves people poorly equipped to make a meaningful contribution to the global information society.

The knock-on effect of limited local content and a lack of local language usage on the Internet is that it slows the uptake of digital resources by local communities, impeding ICT skills development and, thereby, socio-economic transformation. However, African knowledge needs to be part of the global information economy, regardless of the inherent difficulties in collection, preservation and dissemination. This philosophy is underpinned by the Geneva Plan of Action, developed by the World Summit on the Information Society (2003). Three action lines in the plan speak directly to the need to include all people in the access to and generation of knowledge:

  • Access to information and knowledge: This line concerns policies relating to public domain information, community access points, and alternative software models.
  • Capacity building: This covers skills needed for the Information Society, including literacy and ‘ICT literacy’ and the empowerment of local communities to use ICTs.
  • Cultural diversity and identity: linguistic diversity and local content. This action plan line focuses on promotion of respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions and dialogue among cultures as a factor in sustainable development.

There is a tendency for digital divide thinking to focus on getting ‘global’ information resources to the marginalised and on educating the marginalised to consume information in the way the globalised world does. However, in order to decrease the digital divide between the data ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, there needs to be an understanding of the processes by which people can assimilate, and then use, information. ICTs can become a broad enabler of development when used in community informatics, which allow groups to use the resources in ways that are meaningful to them. However, this is not easy to achieve in practice because skills levels are often low at a local level. 

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