My very lucky news is that next week I’ll be in Edinburgh for the TED Global conference. (If you don’t know TED, you should check it out!) So in the midst of trying to get ready and get caught up, I’ve been trying to think of big questions I have to frame the ideas I hear next week. One ever-present topic for me is the impact of technology on how we think. For example, now that I have GPS on my phone I will never gain a sense of direction? Or now that I can do research on the fly, will I make better decisions?
Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for getting me connected with a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University that looks at a similar question – only strictly with millennials. The first paragraph of the report draws you in…
Analysts generally believe many young people growing up in today’s networked world and counting on the internet as their external brain will be nimble analysts and decision-makers who will do well. But these experts also expect that constantly connected teens and young adults will thirst for instant gratification and often make quick, shallow choices. Where will that leave us in 2020? These survey respondents urge major education reform to emphasize new skills and literacies.
Hmm. I have to wonder when teens weren’t interested in instant gratification – but other than that I agree totally – especially with the idea that we need to emphasize new skills and literacies and I’d broaden that beyond teens and young adults. I think we all need to learn how to adapt technology but also we need to help technology adapt to us!
The report is interesting to read – it’s really thoughts from leaders in the technology and sociology fields on the topic. They create a shortlist of skills that will be even more desirable in the future…
Survey participants did offer strong, consistent predictions about the most desired life skills for young people in 2020. Among those they listed are: public problem-solving through cooperative work (sometimes referred to as crowd-sourcing solutions); the ability to search effectively for information online and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well (referred to as digital literacy); synthesizing (being able to bring together details from many sources); being strategically future-minded; the ability to concentrate; and the ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
It’s interesting to think of these in terms of current education. Are we fostering these skills in the classrooms? I have kids in school and I see some of this happening – although I also studied these skills in library school so I think they get a good dose of digital literacy and synthesizing at home. I still see an emphasis on the end answer more than the process – which I think can be misleading in terms of gauging ability to synthesize and/or distinguish between noise and message.
It occurs to me that these are also skills that are important in digital inclusion efforts. I know the focus right now is simply getting people to use tools – but I think we will reach even more people when there’s a focus on using technology as a means – not an end. (I’m sure some classes and programs do that now.) I remember talking to the folks at PCs for People about their clients, who by definition are new computer users. Their clients learned how to use the computer on their own – maybe with help from friends or family. And I think many people learn that way. It’s a good first step. But are the making the most of the technology? Maybe the next step of adoption programs needs to focus on:
- public problem-solving through cooperative work
- searching effectively for information online and discerning the quality and veracity of the information
- synthesizing (being able to bring together details from many sources)
- being strategically future-minded; the ability to concentrate
- distinguishing between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
That might lead to higher level users and encourage users to become “lifelong learners” who are constantly adopting new digital skills as opposed to users who are proficient with the tools we have today.