Homeschooling in the Digital Age

The world has changed in the last 20 years. If you’re reading this blog, it’s because you know about it. You’re online. Maybe you’re even reading this on a smartphone, or maybe you got here from a social media site where you and I are connected.

It’s only been the last month or so that this has become very clear to me. I’ve been reading some of the books in my long queue, and the last four I’ve read all hit hard on the way the digital revolution changed our lives.

To Sell is Human showed me how the structures of the industrial era have broken down and changed the way we all relate to one another. Made to Stick showed me how the tools of the digital age are changing the way education and marketing are happening. Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century hammered hard on the ways the digital era have changed the things that get our attention. And Seth Godin’s Tribes hits on how small the world has become and how easily we can gather people with common interests and do awesome things together.

Only one of those books was about education in particular. The rest were marketing/pop psychology, which is kind of a pet topic of mine lately. However, they’re completely changing the way I view the way I teach my kids at home.

Using Digital Tools for Home Education

programming in scratchFor years, I’ve felt like the oddball out. My kids learned how to read on PBSKids.org and ABCya.com. They’ve learned science on YouTube thanks to users like Periodic Videos. Every member of the family has their own personal computer and their own tablet. My kids devote hours each week to programming on Scratch or working on 3D design in Tinkercad. They learn math on Khan Academy, and they also learn to code in JavaScript, HTML and CSS there. They have favorite educational websites like moleclues.org where they play games and watch videos. They’re just as likely to record a video about what they’re learning as they are to write a paper. We’ve done spelling tests in Google Hangouts. If anyone asks a question none of us know, the next thing you’ll hear is, “Ok Google….” When I fill out our weekly school reviews, I can see that there is a lot of learning happening.

emmatabletBut when planning season comes around, and other people start asking, “What curriculum do you use?” I start doubting myself. Do I need more structure? Do I need a textbook and a well-organized series of worksheets to help my children memorize their vocabulary? It doesn’t help that my homeschool community is made up of devoted Classical Conversations moms, radical unschoolers, and traditional school-at-home types.

khanacademy codeI never knew where I really fit before. I’ve taken the awesome quizzes, and they usually tell me I’m something of an unschooling, unit studying, Montessori-style educator. I suppose that fits. But what I really am, more than anything else, is a digital learner. I love the digital era. I did my Mastery Challenges on Khan Academy this morning. I did my Korean lesson on Mango, thanks to the library’s free subscription. We watched a video on Atoms and Molecules on Access Videos on Demand, another library database with free educational videos. In a minute, my kids and I are going to watch Running Man, our favorite Korean TV show. I’ll stream it on the computer, and cast it wirelessly to the Chromecast on our TV. I love the availability of information. I love that I can learn any topic under the sun with a collaborative community of people who are playing around, sharing their observations, and helping others. And I love that my kids can do the same thing.

Changing Expectations

I’m still adjusting to the realization that I have embraced the digital age. I didn’t grow up in it, but I’ve been part of it almost since the beginning. And I don’t believe that social media and google are the end of the world as we know it. Our attention is different, but that doesn’t mean we’re worse than we were. It means we’re adjusting to new ways of doing things and new things that are important. I hope to explore better ways to use the digital tools at our disposal to make life and learning easier from home. And I hope to share those ideas with you in the future. For now, I’m just happy to better understand why what I do is different from the books I read that were published 40 or 50 years ago.

How has the digital era changed the way you view education? Do you have favorite apps or websites you use to learn from? Or do you think our dependence on technology is hurting our ability to think? I’d love to hear from other home educators and learners who have thought about this.

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