Professional Learning

Seven Digital Learning Tips for Students

Are your students digital learners?

February 1, 2012

Happy Digital Learning Day! As an educator, I have definitely evolved from tech tentative to tech tenacious in a very short period of time. Because of my recently found passion for educational technology, I want to share some of the scaffolds I've developed to help my students evolve into digital learners.

In order to help them prep for an eventual transition to web-facilitated (some online usage) or hybrid schooling (up to 80 percent online), I've been pulling together a list of qualities common to many successful online learners. As many of us incorporate more and more online lessons, assignments, assessments, and digital presentations into our instruction, it's important for students to understand the skills that they will need to function at their best.

The good news is that succeeding in an online environment isn't so different than succeeding in a traditional classroom. OK, sure, there's the time and distance and technological wall that can separate online learners. But the computer, in many cases, doesn't slam the communication door closed; it, in fact, opens it wider.

But it's good to know what you're getting into. So to help teachers communicate their expectations to students who are just starting to blog or use dropbox or set up discussion threads, I've provided a list of characteristics that many agree successful distance learners possess. Notice the similarities in many of the attributes that our students need to succeed in a traditional classroom. The difference, of course, is that one's success relies far more on individual choices and energy management.

Here are seven attributes that should have or need to develop for successful online learning:

  1. You have to have a sense of self. Successful learners online have an awareness of metacognition -- self-motivation, self-starting, and ownership of one's actions. In other words, they reflect on how they learn as well as what they learn.
  2. You need to be able to manage your time wisely. They must be able to lay out their tasks with a critical eye, plan them accordingly, and follow them through to fruition -- many times without someone looking over their shoulder.
  3. You have GOT to know how to collaborate. This is a biggie. More than an understanding of technology, more than a perfection of writing skills, the ability to collaborate is one that must be used comfortably online.
  4. You need to be able to set goals for yourself. Being able to see the target and backwards plan towards that target is vital.
  5. You need to communicate well in writing. The entire online community is based on the language of words and how to communicate them effectively. One cannot use texting language and expect to be heard. A student needs to use their best level of writing.
  6. You must follow the community norms. Just like a classroom has a set of rules, so does an online class. A student must function within the norms and rules of netiquette set up by the instructor (or, better yet, agreed upon by the class itself).
  7. You must be your own advocate. As slam poet Taylor Mali once wrote when asked if they would be tested on the material, "If not you, then who?" So does it go with being one's own advocate. If you won't ask the questions, take control, and make sure your voice is heard in a positive way...then who will?

Still not convinced that online learning is similar to your traditional classroom? Well, as I wrote about in my book, business leaders and college professors have identified 13 skills as those most needed by students entering college or the workforce. They are as follows:

Clearly all of these skills are interrelated and weave together in some form or another. But now look at the seven skills of distance learners above. See many similarities? Online learning contributes to one's education of both college and career readiness, and that's the goal. Use this list as a sort of rubric. Let the students know of your expectations online and I bet you'll see that door begin to swing steadily more open.

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