Why Digital Learning Tools are Needed in the 21st Century Classroom

The installation of digital learning tools in the classroom is geared towards enhancing the learning atmosphere and relevance in the 21st-century.

Updated June 14, 2022
digital learning today

All schools wishing to remain relevant in the 21st century need to embrace appropriate digital learning tools inside and outside the new look-day classroom.

These tools, in addition to relevant learning practices, are critical in facilitating the acquisition of relevant skills that children need for school, work and life in the 21st century.

Yes, digital tools aside, the modern-day teacher must be adaptive, creative, a life-long learner, and always evolving with the new classroom.

Whereas classroom instructions based on digital tools have shown glimpses of hope in many countries around the world, it is receiving lukewarm adoption in others, because of procrastination and lack of resources.

The pessimists are still looking for reasons to hold it off for a few more decades, while money is a real problem for poor schools in developing countries!

Thankfully, the procrastinators received the jolt they needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and elsewhere, in developing countries, schools have been forced to try harder to acquire relevant digital learning tools.

In addition, millennial parents are quickly figuring out ways to digitalize education at home, because of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 experiences.

Millennial parents are known to encourage their children to adopt technology faster than older generations, and are challenging educators today to master teaching methodologies relevant in the 21st century.

Exactly what is digital learning?

Digital learning describes all instructional practices, solutions, and tools that are geared towards enhancing the learning processes in the 21st-century classroom.

Digital learning involves extensive use of technology devices in the classroom, in addition to promoting collaborative practices online.

Several arguments are associated with e-learning. Accessibility, affordability, flexibility, learning pedagogy, life-long learning, and policy are some of the arguments related to online pedagogy. It is said that online mode of learning is easily accessible and can even reach to rural and remote areas. 

Journal of Educational Technology Systems

The aim is to upgrade the learning environment to mimic modern-day technological realities in the workplace.  

Common tools for digital learning include:

  • Rich media & electronic book forms
  • Mobile computers
  • Interactive and smart-board learning tools
  • Distance learning resources such as Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom
  • Online collaborations
  • YouTube channels
  • File sharing sites
  • Online apps
  • Virtual reality devices
  • Augmented reality devices
  • Gaming
  • Blended learning
  • Chat-bots

Reasons for digital learning solutions today

(Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels)

1. The ready Alpha market

Alpha children, who form the bulk of children today, do not have to go to school to learn the basics of computing. They acquire these skills because of constant exposure at home.

They practically start using technology devices very early, and find it easy to weave their way around the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) in the house. 

In a UNESDOC file regarding the Pursuit of Smart Learning Environments for the 21st Century,

Learners today utilize mobile gadgets and applications as their primary sources of information, knowledge, and social discourse. However, despite these advances in educational technologies and the way learners have adapted to their changing environments, many classrooms today still employ teaching methods of the past: lecture formats, unauthentic assessments, and rote learning.

It is therefore absurd when they enter a school environment that is distant from home and workplace experiences. It is no wonder they easily become bored, confused, and go through learning with little or no interest at all.

2. The stimulated Alpha mindset

By the time Alpha children start formal education, their brains are well stimulated and wired towards the acquisition of skills and knowledge via technology.

After playing computer games and solving multiple interactive tasks at home, they are fine-tuned to explore new opportunities in the classroom.

The eager mind in them yearns for challenging assignments beyond what traditional education offers. It is boring when they have to sit back and let the teacher talk endlessly, or have to scribble notes routinely.

To tap into these brains, parents, and teachers need to re-evaluate how young brains are educated by equipping themselves with appropriate learning tools.

3. Staying ahead of the learning curve

Just as newspaper articles become outdated the minute they hit the streets, so are textbooks, used in traditional learning models. The internet offers more than enough to challenge traditional text book and other paper forms.

Nostalgia aside, it may come as a relief to many, then, that textbooks are becoming anachronistic. Digital in-class learning materials, like software that adapts to the ways in which individual students acquire information, and other forms of virtual education content are becoming more effective and intelligent. 

The Death of Textbooks?

The internet is awash with old and new information/data that can be sourced anywhere with relative ease. Information is available as digital textbooks, audio references, and podcasts, and can be downloaded or shared through online collaborations.

This then begs the question: Are textbooks dead? 

Of course not. Still, the Internet has become the preferred source of information for learners and educators, and is becoming cheap by the day.

On the other hand, textbooks are becoming expensive because of the cost involved in producing them.

4. Online and offline collaborations

Learners and educators from one part of the globe can now engage with peers from other geographical locations and share valuable content online.

Time, path, space, and place do not limit this collaboration, as it encourages engagement beyond the classroom. In this learning environment, content and ideas are embraced from near and far.

The educators are thus challenged to keep up to speed with the explosive amount of resources available globally, and the curious mind of digital learners.

The experience will probably get even better when the Metaverse becomes reality in the near future.

5. Preparing for future job markets

The speed at which productivity marketplace trends continue to evolve today only show why learners must be educated with relevant digital learning tools, and equipped with 21st century skills.

Parents and educators need to keep an open mind about what may or may not happen in the job industry, by getting their children prepped with digital-oriented skills in addition to traditional soft skills.

While many vocations will remain relevant in years to come, we are not sure what jobs will be available for digital natives in the decades to come.

It is interesting to imagine how advancements in Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) will shape the job market in the next few decades.

In any case, the second wave of digital transformation is a harbinger of things to come. It is all built around excellence in service delivery, simplicity, and of course intelligence automation.

In contrast to traditional automation which relies on prescriptive instructions and structured data inputs, Intelligent Automation assists with each step of the automation cycle, and then continues to improve over time.

The IA cycle begins with process discovery, where AI-powered tools automatically observe the work activities people are doing, identify optimal workflows, and propose an automation path.

At the automation stage, intelligent automation applies AI to access unstructured information, including human chat conversation, audio, and video, which is crucial to making end-to-end automation possible—In today’s enterprise, unstructured information represents 80% of all business data.

Intelligent automation

More opportunities and job titles will become available in the future, just as new ones have come in the last few decades.

Just to illustrate, it was hard to predict 20 years ago that career descriptions listed below would appear in job listings:

  • Mobile phone app developer
  • Technical evangelist
  • Social media influencer
  • Digital prophet
  • Data detective

6. Embracing higher-order-thinking skills (HOTS)

Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) empower learners to acquire knowledge for transfer purposes, unlike rote learning, which emphasizes the learner’s ability to recall textbook notes.

According to Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) teaching based on knowledge transfer empowers learners to internalize what they have learned and use it in real life.

This is a concept-centered approach aimed at fostering skill development, meta-cognition, critical thinking, and problem-solving strategies, and can be harnessed through constant interactions with technology.

As far as technology goes, we do not use computing devices to only read and reproduce information. It is about understanding them and using them as target tools for college, work and life in the 21st century.

The proliferation of internet data and computing devices simply means that information is freely available for educators and learners. This is accessible through mobile phones and desk-based computers, anytime and anywhere.

Needless to say, educators need to embrace practices that are more than just acquiring information and passing it on to learners.

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