For some folks in our society, simply coming to grips with new technology is a real challenge. For children and young adults, however, understanding the technology and being comfortable with its use is rarely the problem. Even pre-school children are picking up smartphones and tablets, very quickly learning the basics including entering PINs, mastering swipe gestures and navigating their way through icons to the content they want.
As they get older, kids become more accomplished and begin using PCs, tablets and smartphones to assist with research projects, complete homework assignments and of course interact socially with friends near and far. Who needs an old fashioned pen pal when you can have a video pal on the other side of the world and upload your thoughts to a private YouTube page?
Despite the growing technical dexterity of young users, there is still a practical usage gap in their abilities, and they need guidance from those with more experience, including some of those within their peer group. That usage gap has been described by some companies and organizations as a lack of “digital life skills.”
The U.S. National Education Technology Plan says: “Our model of an infrastructure for learning is always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location or the time of day.” The organization also talks about creating “relevant learning experiences that mirror students’ daily lives.”
The reality is that while the use of tablet and smartphone technology is on the rise, many schools still ban mobile devices or the use of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube because they consider them a distraction.
Some educators and companies, however, are more enlightened. In the U.K., Barclays Bank created a Life Skills program designed to aid students and young adults in making the transition towards the real world by helping them polish their resumes, utilize their Twitter profiles in engaging recruitment agencies and clean up their Facebook pages.
While Barclays might have a commercial side to its initiative – encouraging targets to sign up for that all-important first checking account educators are certainly beginning to recognize the need to teach what might be termed ‘digital citizenship’ to the student body.
Edvocate featured a powerful article on its website earlier this year that stretched the argument a stage further. Maybe it’s not enough to just teach the kids to be aware of their social media profiles and what those profiles say about them when they head for the job market; rather, it’s actually about teaching digital marketing skills.
Digital citizens who know how to create and curate relevant content about themselves, their interests and their areas of expertise – whether it’s making movies, the NFL or rocket science can quickly develop their own ‘personal brand’ online. If they also learn how to promote themselves and their brand by communicating effectively through social media, they will likely become more attractive and sought-after by top colleges and the best employers.
Kids and young adults in America certainly know how to work technology, but maybe they need a little more help in learning how to make technology work for them.