2014-01-July-School-Out.jpgRemember when the end of the formal school year signaled the excitement of summer vacation? Whether you relate to the Glee performance or Alice Cooper's rendition of “School’s Out,” there was always a certain element of freedom imagined in leaving the walls of the schoolhouse behind. But it's starting to look as though digital has changed that dynamic -- for better or for worse -- forever.

With a bit of a twist on my usual customer experience focus, here’s my take on how digital is impacting the student experience.

Digital technologies and access have changed education, altering how students learn in our schools, increasing opportunities for learning even when the teacher isn't there and morphing what we do during our time honored tradition of summer break.

Learning in a Digital World

In his seminal 1995 book "Being Digital," Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, made some fascinating predictions for our digital future. He famously forecasted that the interactive world, the entertainment world and the information world would eventually merge. Many of his predictions -- like his "Daily Me" concept of a virtual daily newspaper customized for an individaul's tastes -- have come true.

Unfortunately, one prediction has struggled to come to fruition. For education, Negroponte predicted that "schools will change to become more like museums and playgrounds for children to assemble ideas and socialize with other children all over the world.”

Negroponte envisioned schools becoming collaborative environments where innovation would roam freely. Much has happened with the digital student experience since James Pillans, headmaster at the Old High School in Edinburgh, Scotland, hung his students’ individual slates together on the wall, making a large "slate board" that all could see and collaborate with. Despite all the changes, however, some might say that digital has not substantially furthered the journey toward Negroponte’s vision for our schools.

While the in school core education experience may be disappointing, there have been bright spots of innovation. A colleague of mine coaches an awesome Odyssey of the Mind team. OotM is a creative, international problem solving competition involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together at length to solve a predetermined problem, and then present their solution. They also participate in a spontaneous competition at the OotM event by finding solutions to a problem they have not seen before. Of course, digital is only one aspect of this program, but it does seem to embody Negroponte’s vision. But what is most unique in this example is where the learning takes place -- and it is NOT in the formal school curriculum.

Perhaps then, digital can best contribute to the student experience by expanding the walls of the classroom and the possibilities and opportunities for learning.

Digital Education is Expanding Horizons

Students are becoming used to living in a digital world. In fact, a survey on how US teens are spending their summer found that they tend to park themselves in front of various media screens. “Technology has effectively become a ‘sixth sense’ for many of them.” In a report from McCann Worldgroup, teens were given a list of items, including their car, passport, phone or laptop and sense of smell, and were told they could save only two. More than half (53 percent) said they would give up the sense of smell if it meant they could keep an item of technology.

Eric Pakurar of G2 concluded that “while parents might perceive the increased amount of time their teens spend in front of media screens during the summer months as a waste of time, it might be better to think of it as a way for teens to stay connected with their friends and do some exploring beyond their own backyards.”

So how can digital help to increase knowledge exploration and improve learning outcomes? This infographic calls out digital content, mass distribution, and personalized learning as three new trends that are making a difference and driving the classroom of the future. In addition, I am seeing that technology that enables digital collaboration can extend and enhance interaction between students and teachers.