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Digital Learning: The Next Intelligence?

by Neil Finney

There are students in our classrooms that have an innate and seamless existence with technology. They search, connect and respond to a global online community. They network and forge relationships through a web-wired world. They are digitally intelligent in ways that did not exist twenty years ago.

For these students, digital learning holds promise and power. We, educators, recognize that they will need digital skills and citizenship to function in the world of today – and tomorrow – with success and confidence.

To be sure, our classrooms are gaining speed and momentum in many regards as school districts and leadership teams recognize the value and need for infusing digital content and devices in our schools. Digital learning is here and students are writing the curriculum as “digital natives,” as Prensky would say.

Digital intelligence can be seen as students build games and animate sprites using the “Scratch” program. It is apparent as teachers when we assign blog topics and writing prompts for students to respond to and post. Their world is shifting from the written word to visual postcards using Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook cultivates their social ties and Twitter gives them an outlet (while subtly teaching summarizing skills). Technology vehicles are rampant and effective when it comes to “tuning” student digital intelligence.

As the next potential intelligence, being “digitally smart” is something that students seem pre-wired and destined to be. But, how can we harness the power of these tools and forge new skills in technology literacy when we often feel on the outside of the web-wired world ourselves? The answer lies with the students.

Our students are working behind the scenes and cultivating their “digital” intelligence in ways that we have not begun to measure. They are building a future that is fresh and relevant and we simply need to follow their example and shape our instruction to become more “digitally relevant” for them. Let them lead the way and learn as you go. Students as teachers and we, teachers, as excited pupils will ‘flip the classroom and the learning model’ until we gain enough confidence and digital prowess to begin to meet their needs.

How do you see students showing their “digital intelligence” in your classroom? What “digitally-smart” programs and lessons are you using to facilitate a plan that prepares students for 21st century careers and key skills?


During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.



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  • Deborah McCallum

    I have actually been giving this very topic of Digital Literacy a lot of thought. I like your perspective of allowing students to lead the way. I do agree that we can create and maintain their motivation to learn in school if we allow them to have the opportunities to take risks, share their digital skills, and lead the way in terms of what they are interested in. I also have been considering the fact that we as Educators still need to be keen facilitators, so that we can guide their enthusiasm and knowledge from superficial levels to deeper levels of meaning and understanding. Thanks for your great ideas!

    • neil

      Absolutely, Deb! I like your idea of getting past those “superficial” levels and towards deeper and meaningful understanding. The exciting part here is establishing exactly what those deeper connections and levels are. There are so many pathways and areas of knowledge here to develop through digital intelligence and technology content – we have surely only begun to scratch the surface!

      How many of us have experienced that moment when a young person “corrects” you on technology or teaches you how to do something digital?