LIVE@CoSN2024: Exclusive Coverage

digital learners

Startling: New report reveals 10 ways students are outpacing their schools

Students reveal their favorite technology learning preferences and talk about where digital learning can take them

Although technology changes at a rapid pace, one thing is constant: today’s students have a deep desire to learn using digital tools and resources that engage them and help them develop real-world skills.

From mobile devices to gaming and online learning, students are ready to take charge of their learning, often outpacing their schools in their use of these digital tools for learning.

More than one-third of middle school students say they have already taken an online class in math, science and English. But they want more options, and said they would take more courses, and take a variety of subjects, if possible.

“Students have always self-directed some of their own learning, but with the explosion of mobile devices, 24/7 connectivity and digital resources, students are leaving adults behind as they explore subjects that interest them in the ways they learn best,” said Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow. Through Project Tomorrow’s Speak Up 2016 Research Project for Digital Learning, students shared their digital learning preferences.

“Despite all of the opportunity at their fingertips with the growth in educational technology access in schools, more than half (56 percent) of students say they use technology more often for learning outside of school than in school,” Evans said.

(Next page: The 10 most important things you should know about digital learners)

Here are 10 important things to know about today’s digital learners:

1. The next step: self-directed mobile learning. There are twice as many students with Chromebooks now than there were in 2014. Students in grades 6-12 are using mobile devices to self-direct learning, including doing online research (84 percent), looking up class information (59 percent), creating shareable documents (54 percent), emailing teaching questions (47 percent), setting due date reminders (43 percent), and taking notes (40 percent).

2. Changing rules regarding school technology. In 2011, 50 percent of students said they couldn’t access social media at school. Today, only 38 percent have the same complaint. In 2011, 32 percent of students said school internet was too slow; 53 percent say that is a big problem now. Forty-two percent of students say too many rules at school limit technology use.

3. A new generational divide among students. Thirty-seven percent of students in grades 6-8 say they are playing online or digital games for learning purposes at least weekly; only 1/4 of high school students say the same. The top benefit of learning games, as indicated by students, is that they challenge students to think more than other class activities.

4. Learning online is more available. Middle school students say they are very interested in online learning. Their wish lists for online classes include study skills (58 percent), art appreciation (58 percent), world languages (56 percent), career tech ed (51 percent), and computer science (47 percent).

5. Getting the news, the student way. Students say they most often use a mobile app to get news alerts, and they read a print news story least often. Only 41 percent of students say they know how to detect bias in what they read online or evaluate information accuracy.

6. The internet is an all-purpose study guide. Seventy-nine percent of high school students use the internet at least once a week to support homework and school assignments (48 percent use it daily), even though only 29 percent of high school teachers are assigning internet homework weekly. And where do students go online? At home (79 percent), on campus before/after hours (50 percent), at a fast food or coffee shop (28 percent), and the public library (20 percent).

7. Student-teacher conference. Two-thirds of students say teachers should just talk to them in class, and just 28 percent say a text is best.

8. coding for the future. The majority of students are interested in coding, but boys are ahead–66 percent of boys and 58 percent of girls in grades 3-8 want to learn to code. By high school, only 50 percent of girls say the same. Thirteen percent of elementary students say they are already coding.

9. Summer camps give way to online videos. More than one-third of students say they want to learn about future jobs and careers via online courses, digital games, online videos, and social media. Students showed decreasing interest in summer camps, after-school programs and student competitions.

10. Technology and learning is the future. Students say that learning how to use technology is important for their future (51 percent), and that learning and using technology results in college- and career-ready skills like creativity (46 percent), collaboration (48 percent), and problem solving (41 percent). Students also use technology more often for learning outside of school than in school (56 percent).

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.