Courtney: I should start by mentioning that I have an MEd in Social Foundations of Education, so obviously I think education and literacy of all types are important. I also have a PhD in Management and have focused on the human side of organizations for most of my career, both as an academic and a practitioner.
I have always been comfortable with digital technology and exploring new ways it can be used to communicate and collaborate. When I was a doctoral student in the mid-1990s, I was captivated by the potential of the World Wide Web and was fortunate enough to work with renowned organizational theorist Howard Aldrich to explore some of the concepts associated with that potential.
In 2008 I read a Businessweek article about how social technologies were being used inside IBM and thought “this changes everything.” I was immediately convinced of their power to fundamentally change the workplace. About a year later I made the impact of social technologies on individuals and organizations the primary focus of my work. Over the course of the next several years, my focus also expanded beyond social media to reflect emerging trends in related areas like mobile technology, cloud computing, and data analytics. As technology keeps expanding through the growth of the Internet of Things, robotics and autonomous devices, machine learning, and more, so have my own perspective and practice.
Technology adoption and adaptation are fundamentally human endeavors. Over the past several years, however, humans and human systems have been lagging behind technological changes, creating a new digital divide based on knowledge and use rather than cost and access.
To help bridge that divide, my current emphasis is on the digital transformation of organizations, Digital Era leadership, and digital literacy. Of those three areas, digital literacy is probably the most critical – but it’s currently receiving the least amount of attention in both the commercial and educational sectors.
Keith: We know you focus at the organizational and corporate level – but you’re also deeply interested in the role education plays in helping students prepare for the opportunities that are now and will be available to them. What advice can you give educators and students about the digital proficiencies they’ll need going forward?
Courtney: The focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and STEAM (STEM + Art) educational initiatives is critically important, but those initiatives alone aren’t enough. In other words, they’re necessary but not sufficient. We need to look at education in the Digital Era beyond preparing individuals for jobs and careers that have a specific technology focus, like software development. We also need to think beyond technology-enabled learning and the hardware and software that facilitate it.
Regardless of the jobs and careers they may choose, every young person today needs to have a high level of digital literacy.
The foundation of digital literacy is knowledge of Digital Era concepts, digital tools and systems, and social technology features, platforms, and tools. The next level of literacy involves digital engagement skills and tactics, but that’s not simply a set of mechanical and operational capabilities. We also have to make sure they are able to employ good judgment, sound ethics, and proper etiquette.
The key to developing high levels of digital literacy is to focus on logical learning, not just literal learning. Young people don’t simply need to know how to point, click, swipe and type in specific contexts and in response to specific cues – they need to have transferrable knowledge and skills that work across a variety of settings and enable them to be lifelong digital learners.
Join us tomorrow for Part 2 of this interview series, when we discuss the $1.3 Trillion skills gap affecting our economy.
Keith Oelrich joined Learning.com as CEO in 2012. A pioneer in the K-12 online education market since 2000, Keith has served as CEO of several companies which have collectively provided K-12 online education programs to thousands of districts, tens of thousands of schools and millions of students and their families.
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