How can digital learning improve ‘character skills’?

Our new Future Skills research with 361 teachers in 21 schools explores how the daily use of technology in schools can prepare students for future employment through the development of key characteristics, including resilience, curiosity, creativity, self-control, confidence, determination, ambition and emotional intelligence.

The recent Government focus on developing ‘character skills’ aims to encourage children to be resilient, determined, resourceful, curious and tenacious. According to employers such skills are sorely lacking in an alarming number of school-leavers.

Cynics might say that the infiltration of technology into almost every aspect of our lives causes complacency and laziness in even the most capable of students. Maybe over-reliance on technology leads them away from the very skills, attitudes and approach they need.

Turn that coin over, however, and we find that the very same technology, specifically digital learning in schools can also have a transformative impact on the development of the character skills employers are crying out for.

At Techknowledge for Schools, as part of our rolling research programme with schools who have been using 1:1 mobile devices since at least 2013 (some since 2011), we set out to find out how their use and integration into daily learning contributes to the development of ‘character skills’.  One of the important findings in the qualitative Transforming Learning research that preceded this latest Future Skills study is that students are becoming extremely adept at self-paced learning, searching for robust evidence related to their subject and are working collaboratively with peers.

Indeed, educationalists and policymakers emphasise repeatedly now that tomorrow’s young employees and entrepreneurs require advanced collaboration skills, sophisticated communication skills and problem-solving skills.  In 2012, the employer body, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recommended that in addition to a new curriculum, schools should be asked to deliver against a wider framework which includes the development of key characteristics, including resilience, curiosity, creativity, self-control, confidence, determination, ambition and emotional intelligence.

Using this CBI framework, and building on qualitative research earlier this year, our new study aimed to quantify how the use of technology in teaching and learning is helping students to develop or improve character skills that will enhance their prospects for future employment.

Headline findings

  • Almost 90% of teachers believe that learning with technology can help students to ‘be eager to explore new things’ and 60% agree that it helps students to ‘ask and answer questions to deepen understanding’ (curiosity).
  • 80% believe technology can help students ‘work independently and be solutions-focused’ (grit, resilience and tenacity). A similar number also believe the technology can help students to ‘identify and develop new ideas’ (creativity).
  • 62% of teachers believe that technology can encourage students to inspire others and 78% say that one-to-one mobile technology can help students to ‘actively participate’ and the same proportion to ‘show enthusiasm’.
  • It was also believed in the qualitative (Transforming Learning) research that many students engage more with the subject if they are asked to research it themselves. Technology was described as offering students a way of ‘seeing the world’. Two thirds of the teachers surveyed in this new study believe that learning with technology can help students to ‘be aware of pressing global issues’.

Teacher and school leader views 

“I have always believed that the most important thing for students in the classroom is relevance. If our approaches to information and technology are stuck in the 1980s and based on requirements predicated on the patently false notion of “what if you don’t have a computer?”, students will start to see school as deeply irrelevant to computer?”, students will start to see school as deeply irrelevant to their lives. That would be the worst of all possible outcomes.” (Primary/Secondary School ICT Teacher)

“It’s about encouraging independence and using 21st century tools. It’s about providing strategies and tools to research, get unstuck, find and share ideas, draft and redraft, feedback and critique and have a positive impact by reaching a greater audience.” (Secondary School Senior Leadership)

“The fact that students are unafraid of technology is a huge bonus. Plus, the fact that they are used to using technology to solve their problems, or to present their work is going to be important.” (Primary/Secondary School English/Languages Teacher)

“School policy must be changed and updated to reflect a constantly changing ICT/social media world.” (Secondary School English Teacher)

The majority of teachers believe that the use of  technology in learning has many benefits and can have a positive impact on the development of a range of skills for students, in particular attributes that enable them to be more ‘determined’ and ‘optimistic’.

Room for improvement

Managing the potential for distraction, however, is a concern, and many of the teachers we interviewed believe that schools and parents have a responsibility to ensure that young people learn valuable self-control skills, since they will be faced with these same challenges throughout their adult life.

More training required

It is also clear that some teachers need much more ongoing training and support than they currently have access to:

  • In Stage 1 of the research, while new teachers request training to be included in their induction period, more experienced teachers wish to have ongoing support
  • Less confident teachers request training and support on all aspects of technology integration:
    • technically (63%)
    • pedagogically (67%)
    • in classroom management techniques (48%)

To learn more about benefits and concerns, download the full report.

You can also download the infographic of Future Skills research.

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