Learning in the Digital Age

Learning in the Digital Age

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April 1, 2020

Learning is a dynamic and complex process. In this globalized and digital world, knowledge has undergone an unprecedented transformation. Unlike necessary educational skills of reading and writing from agricultural age (Education 1.0), and scientific production-line learning of the scientific revolution age (Education 2.0), learning in this digital age (Education 3.0) is shaped by “a confluence of neuroscience, cognitive learning psychology, and educational technology” (Borden, 2015 quoted in Schaff and Mohan, 2017:10). Digital learning offers a personalized and customizable approach (Schaff and Mohan, 2017:10) within the “learner-centered environment” (ibid., 11). Marc Prensky, in his Digital Game-Based Learning, observes the digital cognitive style list of changes like: “twitch speed vs. conventional speed, parallel processing vs. linear processing, graphics first vs. text first, random access vs. step-by-step, connected vs. standalone, active vs. passive, play vs. work, payoff vs. patience, fantasy vs. reality, technology as friend vs. technology as foe” (Prensky, 2001:52). It is not strange that we complain about the short span attention of this new digital generation. We have to find ways to engage them in the process of learning, assuming that their cognitive and mental abilities now work in the novelty of digital context. “The data from the study suggests Digital Game-Based Learning is a sound instructional strategy that promotes student engagement” (Schaaf, 2012:61). 

“A vast majority of the globalized world plays video games as a pastime or hobby. If teachers could harness the excitement of playing digital games and bring that sense of excitement to the classroom, then students would truly experience hands-on, brains-on learning simply by using the digital media that is already part of their daily lives outside of school” (Schaaf, 2017:1). Digital game-based learning first recognized the importance of play for education. The play involves “socialization, rules, self-reflection, and individual discovery” (ibid., 16) along with cognitive development, the imagination of real scenarios of life, and failure and overcoming through experimentation (ibid.). The essential benefits of digital game-based learning are: enhancement of creativity and developing problem-solving skills, the joy of competition, and the development of analytical skills (ibid., 19). All games used in the classroom as a tool for education contribute to the development of the 21st century skills of “collaboration, persistence, practice, problem-solving, and creativity” (ibid., 20). The future of education, therefore, belongs to educational “gamers.”

Emerging gamification represents using the game design in non-gaming situations (ibid., 22). Engagement of students is a critical issue in contemporary education. Involvement and participation through active and creative self-learning is the ultimate goal of educational gamification. Learning is “structured as a game” (ibid., 24) via “story-like format” (ibid., 25), and it significantly contributes to comprehensive (not just verbal) creative student-oriented learning.

Bombarded continuously by digital content, student’s cognitive and mental capabilities are “permanently” altered (ibid., 33). They are transformed into “digital learners.” In the digital world, words, music, text, images, and interactive discussion are all transcended by real-world experiences and simulations that should create real-world products and solve real-world problems (ibid., 34-chart). The process of learning is characterized by quick information processing, multitasking, processing complex video formats, collaborative simultaneity, the specific format of reading the text, instant gratification and immediately rewarding, transfluency between real and digital worlds, relevant, and active useful fun (ibid., 35).

It is necessary, in this digital age, that teachers and educators recognize the need for transformation of the learning process. In this regard, game-based learning and gamification represent a new methodology of engagement that might stimulate the emerging passion for studying the learning content in this new generation. Applying the principle of connectivity between the content of learning and active participation in games, Marc Prensky says: “When you think of computer games, there’s lots of engagement but little content. Business has lots of content, but no engagement. Put the two together and you have a way to learn the business through computers that makes sense of this generation” (Prensky, 2001:1). Digital game-based learning provides the platform for interconnectivity between educational content and engagement of learners-oriented gamers’ educational journey.



Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. NY: McGraw Hill, 2001.

Schaaf, R. (2012). Does digital game-based learning improve student time-on-task behavior and engagement in comparison to alternative instructional strategies? Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13(1), 50-64. Retrieved from http://cjar.nipissingu.ca/index.php/cjar/article/view/30

Schaaf R. and Mohan N. (2016). Game On: Using Digital Games to Transform Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press, 2016.

Schaaf, R. (2017, February). Making schools a game worth playing: Digital games in the classroom. [Webinar]. Retrieved from: http://home.edweb.net/making-schools-a-game-worth-playing-digital-games-in-the-classroom/


Aleksandar Alex S. Santrac, DPhil (University of Belgrade, Serbia), PhD (North-West University, South Africa), PhD (Education) (cand.) (Notre Dame of Maryland University) is Lead Pastor of the Chesapeake Conference, Columbia, MD; Extraordinary Researcher and Professor of Dogmatics and Dogma and Church History at the Unit for Reformation Theology and Advancement of South African Society, North–West University, South Africa; Online Tutor for Graduate Studies in Dogmatics, Philosophy, and Ethics at the Greenwich School of Theology, UK and Theological University of Apeldoorn, NL; Member Representative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Observer), Faith and Order Commission, National Council of Churches; Member of the Ethics Committee, Washington Adventist Hospital.

Photo by Alex Carmichael on Unsplash


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