Commentary: Student skills for this digital age Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 6:00 am Kristi McCracken Educationally Speaking Lee Crockett, co-author of “Understanding the Digital Generation…

Commentary: Student skills for this digital age

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 6:00 am

Lee Crockett, co-author of “Understanding the Digital Generation,” lectures about living in an age of infowhelm where facts become obsolete faster than they can be published. Even our newspapers now arrive out-of-date. As the knowledge base becomes more digitized, educators must adapt. Google is in the process of digitizing 60 million books which amounts to approximately the number of books from the top five libraries.  

New technologies keep advancing the rate at which knowledge can be consumed. With increased availability of digitized information, students are be able to access almost any information from any culture or place on the planet on their handheld device.  

The types of skills and knowledge students need in order to process all this digitized data differs from what is currently being taught. With massive amounts of data at their fingertips, students need to determine its authenticity and bias. 

Students have grown up with a mouse in their hand so they believe that images on the screen are intended for active consumption.  This fundamentally different kind of student has learning preferences that differ vastly from the traditional teaching styles.

Because of the digital bombardment, the brains of students are becoming accustomed to this barrage. Chronic exposure to digital material means the brains of digital learners are trying to accommodate this onslaught of data. Their eyes now process and interpret content of photographs 60,000 times faster than text.  

Crockett quoted a researcher from Washington who found that people can remember the content of 2500 pictures with over 90 percent accuracy 72 hours after looking at them for only 10 seconds.  A year later participants had 63 percent recall of those same images. With traditional lecture format delivery, students only remember 10 percent of the material 72 hours later. 

These findings suggest that educators must adapt their teaching to accommodate a more visual learning style in this digital generation. Teachers trained in a print and paper world must revamp their delivery style in order to engage this new learner. 

College and career readiness for students in this rapidly changing economy is a challenge. The top ten jobs that will be in demand in the next decade haven’t even been invented yet.  Students can expect to have 10-17 careers by the time they are 35 years old according to Thomas Freedman who cited statistics from the American Bureau of Labor in The World Is Flat.

How can students be prepared for jobs that don’t exist yet? They’ll need fundamentally different skills to survive and thrive in that world. Focus must move beyond teaching them what they might need to know just-in-case.  

The mindsets of digital learners are organized around just-in-time learning. When they need to know how to tie a tie, they look it up on YouTube.  When they want to start marketing their business, they access a webinar online. Learners now look up the information they want just-in-time to do the next thing they don’t know how to do.  

The need for a four year degree is coming into question. It appears that constant learning, unlearning and relearning will be required to make it in the digital world. Just-in-time learning is having the skills, knowledge and habits of mind to adapt just-in-time for the next window of opportunity or area of interest that opens for the students.  

Crockett suggests several 21st Century fluencies are needed.  Solution fluency is the ability to solve problems in real time. Information fluency requires assessing the authenticity of facts and the ability to apply them to a situation.  Creativity fluency is critical for innovating to meet new needs. Media fluency is the ability to decode the message that is being sent, how well it’s being communicated and the most accurate media for getting information out there. Collaboration fluency is the ability to work with others in the same room or in another country. 

Crockett challenges educators to design lessons with these 21st Century fluencies in mind to better accommodate digital learners. He said that teachers must prepare students for their future, not our past. 


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at

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