Are You Behind?

Are you behind?

During my most recent presentations, I’ve asked audiences where they are at with designing and providing digital spaces for learning.  I’m not talking digital courses here, but just a dedicated space for learning online that is school-supported, and with an expectation for use.  I’m looking for spaces that provide students with access to the resources they need to be successful in their classes, perhaps discussion forums, perhaps with social connections to their classmates and others, as well as digital locations where students have ownership, and can create and collaborate independently of any course or teacher.

It’s very rare that an audience of 500 or so will have more than a few hands raised.

I guess that’s not surprising to me anymore.  It’s certainly disappointing.

Undoubtably, most schools in the United States still focus on the physical space as the primary location of learning.  And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, ignoring the potential of digital spaces to provide support for learning, and be a venue for learning in their own right, is failing to see how people learn today when learning is not constrained by the notion of “school.”

Have you seen what’s going on online?  How has your school, or you for that matter, responded?  Based on my observations, not many have.

So, the question:  Are you behind?

First, let’s begin with vision.  Does your current vision of what you want learning to look like include learning in digital spaces?  I’m not talking about some sappy Web site version of a mission/vision but when you really talk about learning within your organization, do you talk about learning in both physical and digital domains?  Do you talk about the potential ability of both spaces to interact and inform each other?  Do you talk about how skill development (e.g. collaboration, communication) now needs to occur in two different learning locations?  And based on those conversations, do you believe that a digital location can be just as important for learning as the physical space?

Most importantly, what experiences do you want to engage your learners in?  Do you want experiences that help kids learn content, develop skills and thinking behaviors, and ultimately learning dispositions?  If so, should those experiences involve learning online in addition to face-to-face opportunities?

If you are a teacher, are you helping students learn online?  And if you are an administrator,  have you supported your teachers with what they need to accomplish that, and have you helped your school community understand that learning is different today, and that  digital spaces for learning must assume their rightful place in the learning ecosystem, and that you have that expectation?

If you haven’t, you’re behind.

Second, do you have the spaces?  If your vision does include learning online, you have to have school-supported digital spaces.  It can be anything really, but you have to have something.  And I’m not talking about individual teachers putting something together, because that doesn’t make sense for kids or from an organizational standpoint in terms of support and dedicated growth and development in concert with the vision.  I also don’t believe this should be something left to students to self-organize around-if its part of the vision, the school has to be intentional about it and provide a common landscape for all.

At my school, we use Moodle and Google Apps for Education.  Teachers develop their course presence on Moodle, kids use Google Apps and its phenomenal suite of tools  independent of any one class, but supportive of all.

That’s just our strategy.  It doesn’t have to be yours, but get a strategy that works for your climate and culture and supports the realization of your vision.

If you don’t have dedicated digital spaces for learning, you’re behind.

Third, do you allow student devices?  I know there are schools where that might be problematic, but for most schools, at least at the secondary level, not permitting student devices is reflective of a school living in the past.   By devices, I mean cell phones, smartphones, every type of tablet, and laptops.  If you don’t have the guidelines/policy to support bringing and using devices, develop them.  If you don’t have the enough wireless, go buy yourself some access points. (If you are not wireless by now, well….).  If you have teachers and administrators that don’t believe it’s important, go somewhere else besides your school, anywhere really, and watch.  Look. Around!  And go back to your vision of learning, rethink it, and put student devices into the learning mix.

If kids can’t use their devices in your school, you’re behind.

And if you permit digital devices, good for you.  There is another step…

Finally, are you designing for mobile?  The next step is designing around mobile, and creating mobile experiences that support everything you do.  So, does your vision include mobile learning?  Are your digital spaces accessible on all of the devices your kids have?  Do you think mobile when you think about what your school offers, what your school does, and really, what your school is?  Has mobile become an intentional design element of your organization?

If you don’t think mobile is important, again, look around.  Google now considers itself a “mobile-first” company.  Searches from mobile devices were up 200% in 2012 and YouTube views from mobiles increased 300% in the same year (Wouk, 2012).  Revenues from mobile purchases in 2012 at The Home Shopping Network have grown 200% and now total over 100 million dollars (Tode, 2012).  Almost one in three (31%) cell phone owners use their device to look up health information, up from 17% in 2010 with smartphone users leading the way (56% of smartphone users have accessed health information) (Fox and Duggan, 2012).  And smartphone ownership among teens continues to grow, with 31% of high-school aged teens now reporting smartphone ownership.  91% of these teens indicate that they use their smartphones to access social media sites (Lenhart 2012).

From Dede and  Bjerede (2010),  “No vision for 21st century learning can be realized without mobile broadband.”

So, if you are a school still entrenched in the belief that learning only takes place in a brick-and-mortar classroom, where the only “devices” kids have are paper textbooks, notebooks, and pencils, and what occurs outside of school during the other 16 hours of the day doesn’t matter, you’re not only behind, you’re going to be irrelevant soon, if not already.

Vision. Spaces. Devices. Access everything, anywhere, anytime, and on anything.

Do you have that?

If not, you’re behind.


Image:  Licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by ….Tim:


Dede, C., & Bjerele, M. (2011, March). Mobile Learning for the 21st Century: Insights from the 2010 Wireless EdTech Conference. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Fox, S., & Duggan, M. (2012, November 8). Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Mobile Health 2012. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Lenhart, A. (2012, March 19). Teens, Smartphones & Texting. Overall Cell Ownership Steady since 2009. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Tode, C. (2012, November 16). HSN exec: Mobile year-to-date sales top $100M. Mobile Commerce Daily RSS. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Wouk, K. (2012, November 9). Google focusing on being a mobile first company. Android Authority RSS. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from


  1. Everything comes down to vision and understanding that how students learn outside school shouldn’t be much different from how they learn inside school. Thanks for your insights and questions.

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