Develop an approach to fostering learning that infuses digital tools and practices with a deep focus on positive youth development.See pedagogy resources
When making decisions about pedagogical approaches to digital learning program design, organizations have much to consider. They have to determine programmatic structure, the what and how of the lessons or curriculum educators will teach, and now more than ever, how to infuse media and technology in meaningful ways.
For many, there is still a steep learning curve when it comes to designing learning that extends beyond the basics of technology integration to substantive uses of technology that supplement and extend already strong projects and lessons.
Basic efforts in technology integration might directly teach youth a specific predetermined tool and provide them a limited set of rote skills with the new technology. Too often, the effort ends there. New tools are being introduced with little or irrelevant context, disconnected from any type of enriching experience, and with a predetermined and narrow standard. For example, a coding bootcamp may be structured as a series of classes that teach students to program in a specific language, but if the classes are divorced from application in meaningful work, play or goals relevant to youth, much of the potential of digital learning is lost.
So what does more robust digital learning pedagogy look like? The organizations highlighted in this toolkit exemplify a deeper, more impactful and more relevant approach through utilizing the following pedagogical strategies in their programs: activating youth interest, guiding youth to have impact, creating ambitious and collaborative digital learning projects, building a culture of trust, and orchestrating learner-centered supports.
- Build programs based on youth interests and motivation. Wondering how to do this without the learning experience feeling contrived or missing the mark? One best practice that illustrates this principle is to co-design programs with youth, combining educators’ expertise with youth interest and insights about what is most meaningful to them.
Hear from A Participant in Free Spirit Media’s Programs about how she’s developed digital stories about issues facing her community.
- Guide youth to be impactful. Often the most powerful learning experiences are those that make a difference in some area of a young person’s life or in the lives of those they’re connected to. Creating and carrying out projects that help youth develop personal agency and voice are powerful and vital launchpads for learning; this is especially true when youth are able to both receive and deliver impactful learning experiences. Providing opportunities where young people learn to engage, grapple, problem-solve and make decisions— whether or not technology is involved—builds a critical skill set that prepares youth to leverage agency, voice, and power in responsible ways.
Read our resource on Structuring Adult/Youth Collaboration in Ambitious Digital Learning and Making Projects.
- Develop and scaffold ambitious and collaborative digital learning projects. Typically, we think about skill development as a progression where first basic facility is mastered and then access to more advanced topics is unlocked. This type of scaffolding approach with direct instruction is a common strategy for teaching a new skill or tool. Organizations should consider embedding the same strategy in more ambitious learning projects. Even with complex projects that require multiple competencies and collaboration, a scaffolded approach to skill development can produce not only the effect of leveling-up, but also provides a satisfying and relevant end-goal. Creating and structuring ambitious projects in a scaffolded fashion is no easy task, so our resources include various approaches that emerging and well-established organizations alike can employ.
Read our resource on The Role of Trust and Ritual in Youth Digital Learning Projects
- Build a culture of trust. In order to get to a point where deep learning and collaboration can happen in the context of digital learning projects, youth and educators need to have a sense of belonging, shared understanding and trust. Organizations accomplish this through norms and rituals that might go unnoticed since they’re less focused on skills or knowledge, but are still critical to successful programs. Effective practices create an environment where there’s openness to set-backs, understanding of shared and diverse backgrounds and a sense of collective purpose.
Read our resource on Comparative Program Structures in Informal Digital Learning Organizations.
- Orchestrate learner-centered supports. Youth may already be deepening learning around their interests by creating “just-in-time” experiences. They may be creating projects for themselves that have an actual impact on their personal lives or their surrounding communities. Now what? How can organizations get a handle on supporting all that youth would like to create? One way to solve this challenge is to think carefully about how to surround youth with the right adults, educators and peers as they pursue their digital projects. More ambitious projects might require working side-by-side with more expert adults. In this way, as youth complete more projects, gaining more experiences and knowledge, they also gain more connections and more ways to navigate working relationships. Another approach is to carefully design collaborative interactions between learners with complementary skills, providing each needed support and also the opportunity to learn new competencies from a peer.