Original publication: April and May 2015

Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Finland: Kirsti Lonka, and Mind the Gap Research Group: Lauri Hietajärvi, Mona Moisala, Heta Tuominen-Soini, Lauri. J. Vaara
Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland: Kai Hakkarainen, Katariina Salmela-Aro [Part 1]

Vincent Cho, Ph.D. and Adam Steiner, M.Ed. – Boston College, United States [Part 2]
Short link to this post:  http://bit.ly/2sOH8M6


There is a worldwide concern that our educational systems are outdated and failing to promote the necessary skills that will adequately prepare our children for the future. The previous generations’ motivation to study was strongly based on sense of duty. Younger generations have different motivational profiles: in their lives interest, emotions, and engagement matter much more. The emerging social practices of the new generation are always evolving as is the state of digital communication. There is no reason to assume that the development of ICT will be any slower in the future. In contrast, new innovations will emerge at an increasingly faster pace – and we can only hope that they are going to be developed by Europeans. We need to take care of our future by designing innovative and engaging learning environments for our youth.


The aim of this paper is to provide a review on how we currently understand the role of schools and education in the digital era. This topic is not easy to tackle and there is no current research that can objectively tell us what would be the most beneficial way to move forwards. The problem goes far beyond technology. Current research literature indicates that we are moving from an individualistic knowledge acquisition culture towards a collaborative knowledge creation culture of learning.

As stated in the NMC Horizon Report Europe: 2014 Schools Edition, European schools are facing key challenges linked to the impact and use of new technologies. Today’s young Europeans are the first generation to have come of age in a digital society. Computers, smartphones, and global communications have shaped and educated this generation of students. They are active and often enthusiastic participants in the creation of online communities since early childhood. The problem is that such activities generally take place outside schools. In many cases, informal learning is much more engaging and effective than formal learning. Furthermore, most pupils do not learn how to systematically make use of technology in academic activities.

The other worrying trend is disengagement at school. Our own research indicates that the students with the best skills in technology are also the ones who are most bored and disengaged at school. Important 21st Century skills involve, for instance, new forms of (digital) literacies, creative problem solving skills, collaboration and communication skills, cultural and ethical awareness as well as entrepreneurship. In order to maintain wellbeing at school, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is important for teachers, pupils and parents. SEL includes the skills that are needed to regulate oneself and interact with others in constructive ways.

Europeans who were born after 1980 can be labelled as “digital natives” since they do not normally remember a world without digital technologies. The term itself is debated and it cannot be claimed that being a digital native necessarily indicates effective or sophisticated use of technology in educational settings. In order to cultivate complex personal and social competencies, adolescents need systematic support from parents and teachers. It is important to investigate how digital technologies affect our everyday life inside and outside the educational environment. Our recent inquiries indicate that these so-called digital natives are far from being a unified group. There is a huge variation in ICT use among adolescents, even among fairly homogenous populations, such as one city area. It is also quite likely that there is a gap between the informal knowledge and media practices of digital natives and the practices of educational institutions. Young people need to discover meaningful ways of using technology for learning purposes and collaborative knowledge creation.

For personalized and flexible learning, the use of technologies should be embedded in sophisticated pedagogical practice. There is no evidence that students’ learning styles are the key to designing personalized learning. Meaningful learning matters more. Students should be guided towards innovative practices of knowledge creation. The time of e-learning as it was originally defined appears to be over. MOOCs do not necessarily change anything since they are often based on knowledge transmission rather than knowledge creation. Rather, hybrid forms of learning are advisable, where mobile, digital, virtual, social and physical learning spaces merge. Mobile devices and MTSD play a role when virtual and face-to-face merge in new and seamless ways. It is also important to design physical learning spaces in accordance with current knowledge practices and new forms of socio-digital participation.

Assessment is the tail that wags the dog: It guides student learning in many ways. ICTbased assessment is often recommended, but it is rarely indicated how it should be applied. It is possible that our assessment practices are the major obstacles to educational transformations. In some countries there are indicators that the efforts to improve school and PISA scores have resulted in increasingly obsessive individualized assessments. This trend hinders meaningful learning.

There is great disparity in our schools and education systems. Research shows that disparities persist in the availability of ICT-based educational tools and content. There is not only variation among adolescents, but also among schools and teachers in how they use ICT in schools. The lack of equal access to technology and knowledge puts entire communities and populations of students at a disadvantage, especially minorities and students in sparsely populated or geographically remote areas. In Finland and many other countries the availability of technology is adequate, but the primary challenge to overcome is the readiness deficiency for pedagogically meaningful use of ICT. It is imperative to develop innovative pedagogies that simultaneously support the acquisition of a deep knowledge base, understanding, and 21st Century skills. Such instructional procedures do exist, such as problem-based and project-based learning as well as inquiry-based science education. Art, music, sports, and handicraft are also important for the balanced development of individuals. Such activities foster not only well-being, but also cognitive development. Playful learning is recommended for all age groups, but playing is especially important for children.

When it comes to economic equity, there are currently several conversations being had regarding how parents and families should contribute to buying technologies for schools. BYOD discussion (Bring Your Own Device) is one example of this, indicating that each pupil could use their own devices at school. However, in many countries it is forbidden to use one’s own mobile devices at school. Instead of being denied technological tools, the pupils should learn how to use them in socially and pedagogically acceptable ways. They need to learn how to regulate their own use of mobile devices inside and outside school. The opposite approach is 1:1, favored by the manufacturers and companies, where each pupil is provided her own device by the school. Many pedagogues think that 1:1 is not necessary if the goal is to promote collaborative knowledge creation and meaningful P2P interaction.

Action is needed to promote innovation in the classroom and to take advantage of increased use of social media, open educational resources, and the rise of data-driven learning and assessment. Consequently, this requires a new set of competences for teachers, teacher educators, and education leaders. According to the Key Competence Framework, digital competence involves the confident and critical use of Information Society Technology (IST) and thus basic skills in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). In this paper, we are conceptualizing this issue in a novel way. Instead of discussing the technologies themselves, we will be discussing new ways of socio-digital participation (SDP). Teacher education and educational leadership need to be in constant development.

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Technology has produced fundamental changes in the routines of daily life, but the educational world has remained largely unchanged. Adding complication to this dilemma, different technologies may promise different forms of contribution to education. Accordingly, this brief takes stock of three sets of focus technologies, each carrying potential to improve teaching and learning in Europe: Open Educational Resources (OERs), digital devices and 1:1 computing, and computer data systems.

Open Educational Resources

Internet and satellite-based connections have led to significant changes in how people access and use information. Open educational resources (OERs) attempt to capitalize on these changes by offering up free, openly licensed educational materials. This category of resources includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which offer online coursework and instruction to many participants at once. An alternative conceptualization of OER involves the use of Web 2.0 technologies (e.g., wikis, blogs, social networking sites), which have become especially popular in every lives. Using these technologies, educators and students may freely share questions, insights, and resources. Both approaches represent a trend toward “anytime, anywhere” learning. Important considerations for the use of OERs include: promoting their value to potential users; advancing supports for special students; and investigating best practices in online instruction.

Digital Devices and 1:1 Computing

One-to-one (1:1) computing initiatives aim to bring about changes in schooling by attempting to leverage the unprecedented power of today’s computers and mobile devices. Such initiatives have become increasingly popular in the EU. There is some research to suggest that the uses of such technologies in classroom may improve student learning outcomes. These initiatives are often premised on the assumption that students have Internet access and that teachers encourage dynamic learning activities. Important considerations regarding 1:1 computing initiatives include: attention to child development; promoting digital citizenship; and various structural and logistical decisions relating to implementation.

Computer Data Systems

Today’s computer data systems provide educators with a range of sophisticated analyses about their students. With this information, educators are better able to address individual student learning needs or to plan activities for groups of students. However, the uses of data systems vary among EU Member States. This not surprising, since policies and practices relating to data vary from place to place. Important considerations relating to computer data systems include: promoting local dialogue about the future of data use; restructuring local education authorities to support data use; and supporting efforts to improve the flow of data among schools.

Discussion and Recommendations

Although each technology focus area was associated with unique considerations, some trends that emerge across the technologies as an ensemble. First, it is inappropriate to assume that technologies simply and directly determine human behavior. Rather, norms, expectations, and personal experiences all influence how and why technologies are used. Accordingly, future investments in technology should also attend to the social processes around use. Second, recent technological innovations have become increasingly reliant on multiple forms of media to deliver information. However, it is important to note that not all media communicate information with equivalent degrees of richness. Accordingly, there is still much opportunity to design and refine what users experience when attempting to learn using computers. Third, the focus technologies in this brief have all been reliant on the availability of networked communications. It is important to recall, however, that some communities and some socioeconomically disadvantaged students may not have easy access to the Internet. Similarly, the use of computer data systems is premised on local privacy policies and system interoperability. Fourth, it may be valuable to also consider what about education should not change. Life in the digital era is different than in previous decades, and now is the time to reflect about what should not happen with technology. Rather than blindly adopt technologies, research can help uncover productive and counterproductive approaches to technology use.

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Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563.389

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