What is digital learning and why is it important?
by Roberta Nicora

It could be said that digital learning is exactly what it says on the tin - learning but digitally. That would be a very short blog post if we finished there, so by taking a look at what exactly this consists of we hope to explore just why digital learning is a valuable tool in everyone’s learning life.

Arguably, prior to generation X most people would have thought digital learning is simply anything electronic that is related to education. For example, a calculator, a PC or a laptop. Would it surprise you if we said they are correct? - but it doesn’t stop there.

By only considering the above definition, we ignore the vast array of technology that is on offer. From media such as audio - video, gaming - websites and even social media.

 Characteristics of digital learning

According to JISC, there are 3 key characteristics that emerge as a result of digital learning. The first is flexibility; going digital enables users to cater their learning pace to them, resulting in a whole generation of distance learners who have integrated learning to their own lifestyle. An example of this is the Open University which uses a range of open access materials including; OpenLearn (free course materials), YouTube (over 800 clips of video content), iTunes U (huge range of podcasts) and Open Research Online (one of the largest university research collection in the UK).

Second in JISC’s list is the gaining of digital skills. By learning digitally there is no need for users to ‘learn’ a particular digital skill as in most cases they have been using these skills all their lives. For example, in the marketing sphere, social media is becoming a more prominent advertising tool. Approximately 2.5 billion people regularly use some type of social media in their everyday lives - thats 37% of the world’s population who are already geared up for these roles.

Lastly, digital learning encourages a network of learners to be more connected with one another. The increase in the use of social learning promotes a whole body of support, nationally or even globally that was not available beforehand. Digital programmes such as Skype allow learners to video chat from all over the world creating global awareness and international collaboration. Students or interested parties can take part in virtual field trips, lessons and listen to guest speakers.

 Why is digital learning important? 

So why is this important? Just take a second to think of a world without the advantages that digital has to offer. Pretty bleak eh? Students sat behind desks, teachers stood in front of blackboards and classrooms covered in chalk dust spring to mind. In their day, blackboards were state of the art, top of their class, but in a world that champions the latest technology let’s embrace the more personalised, efficient and accessible path that digital learning offers.

Personalisation is key to digital technology. Individuals are able to customise their learning from where they study to what device they use and which content they access. They are able to create social profiles, compete for milestones and even check out what happened when Astronaut Tim Peake visited the moon in a live video stream!

Students and teachers are able to take exams, access support and give and receive feedback instantly. By using programs such as Turnitin or Learnosity plagiarism is easily monitored and recorded.

Digital learning can also provide a much more inclusive experience for individuals with learning disabilities. Allowing users to access alternatives to print content, such as read-aloud, can open up a whole world of educational possibilities.

 So back to our question, What is digital learning?

- Well it’s safe to say it does a lot more than it says on the tin...




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