The Problem With Digital Learning Day

February 22, 2018 was Digital Learning Day. One should weep at the very idea.

On the surface, the organisers of this initiative make a worthy case for digital learning.

“Digital learning is any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience. It emphasises high-quality instruction and provides access to challenging content, feedback through formative assessment, opportunities for learning anytime and anywhere, and individualised instruction to ensure all students reach their full potential to succeed in college and a career.”

One notes the absence of any reference here to things like fulfilment, empowerment, or life itself. The goal is clear: to “succeed in college and a career”. This is a pretty narrow notion of success. However, the event itself has a broader conception: “Digital Learning Day is not about technology, it’s about learning.”

So, if Digital Learning Day is not about technology, but learning itself … why is it not simply called Learning Day? Why does it need a day? Why only a day? And if it is truly about learning, then why does the technology have to be singled out? We never had Pencil Day, Math Manipulative Day or Textbook Day. But we are prepared to give all of 60 minutes to the Hour of Code. Unfortunately, Digital Learning Day is attempting to address a profoundly sad reality. Access to technology is widening the gap between affluence and poverty; as long as digital learning is seen as a separate approach to education and social inequity is tolerated, this gap will grow. Too many young people are denied the possibility of any kind of education, let alone the prospect of college and a career.

What is it about educational technology that leads educators to view it as something distinct from, rather than integral to learning? Surely, in 2018, digital learning should be the norm and not compartmentalised into isolated events and departments? As a school principal, technology vision, integration, modelling, and remaining current in this field are part of my core responsibilities. After all, it’s not about technology, it’s about learning in a modern context. These things can’t be separated. 

Learning is learning. The purpose of school is to ensure that it permits learners to flourish and lead meaningful, balanced, happy lives. Every day should offer the best possible learning environment and culture that schools can provide using the most effective tools for the learning tasks involved. Surely the days of technology as something separate, that we think of independently of our core learning environment and accountability are over? Why do we need a Digital Learning Day?  

Millions of children go to school hungry each day. They don’t have access to computers in their homes or the luxury of wifi. Not dropping out may be their greatest educational achievement and a notable one at that. But there is hope and there are educators and leaders doing wonderful things to try to bridge this gap. Digital Learning Day is part of that effort. But it is also about more than social inequity. There are tensions around Big Tech and the absurd suggestion that technology can deliver education in more economic ways, without teachers. And there are some who still fear technology and frown upon its pervasive reality. There are more still who have not been professionally supported to use the latest digital tools, to take a break from teaching to the test in order to learn themselves. A true vision of embedded edtech is a celebration of the empowerment of both teachers and students, learners together. Access to technology should be implicit in every learning environment for all and those of us who enjoy the privilege of open access should decry the tendency to view technology as somehow detached from learning, something that we are not obligated to lead, something that some learners can be denied.

We should not weep because there is a thing called Digital Learning Day, a day of celebration in so many ways, a showcase of great things happening. We should weep, not because it is happening, but because it is needed.