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Engaging students in a digital learning system

Margaux Daza |

Since February 2020, the health context has disrupted our habits on a global scale and significantly increased the use of digital technologies at all levels of society. From K-12 to Higher Education, the crisis has massively increased distance learning and compelled the French Ministry of Education to react quickly in order to support teachers and schools. This has brought out the challenges of the application of digital technologies in education: how to guarantee an equal and reliable access to the infrastructures, how to train teachers, how to engage students… Today we are going to focus on this third issue. We are going to highlight the potential of digital technologies in education and explain how it is possible to improve student’s engagement with a digital learning system.

1. New cultural practices and behaviors

a. Does the massive use of digital technology in student’s personal live change the way they relate to school?

Digital natives are children born between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s who grew up in a digital environment, during the web explosion and the first smartphones’ deployment. Today, 97% of children between 12 and 19 years old own a cell phone or a smartphone. Despite the development of social networks, and exposure to an infinite amount of information and resources online, digital technology is still struggling to reach the classroom1.
It has been suggested that young children who spend too much time in front of a screen struggle to focus much more than the others2. However, a recent cross-sectional study lead in the United Kingdom with more than 120,000 15-year-olds participants shows that the amount of time children spent on digital technologies is not a key factor in the alleged harmful effects of such use3.

Moreover, video games can be an educational opportunity as they help to develop three types of cognitive skills: three-dimensional spatialization, deductive intelligence and ability to multitask4.

It is actually in the interest of schools to take better advantage of the possibilities offered by digital tools. Many tools used in the corporate field for training purpose use the gaming codes. For example, the ones known as “serious games” combine a ” serious” pedagogical intention with playful elements. These gamified pedagogical tools lead to a better learners’ engagement with a digital device. They are used more and more in the educational field, especially in a context of distance learning.

2. An educational opportunity: how digital technologies can improve student engagement?

a. Some keys for successful distance learning

Distance learning often requires a stronger investment of time and energy from the parents. Indeed, the digital classroom is divided into screens, the teacher is no longer in the same room as the student and therefore cannot have the same control of his class. Each student is in a different context, in a different space and this space isn’t always suitable to learn. Parents therefore have an important role to play. They are required to support their children in their learning journey and to ensure the quality of their work environment.

According to the advocates of digital technology’s use at school, the opportunity to learn autonomously through this medium should come with a digital culture, starting from the youngest age. Young students should learn and create through these digital tools with the supervision and help of teachers in order to make the best use of them and to be aware of their limitations5.

b. Innovative teaching methods

The “flipped classroom” is an interesting educational opportunity for distance learning. It consists of the inversion of learning activities between class and home. In this approach, the teacher can ask students to work asynchronously on lessons via online resources and take advantage of videoconferencing sessions to exchange with them, give sense to the academic content and put it into practice through application exercises. Video conferencing tools provide many possibilities for interaction.

The “Savanturiers” association is also a good example of innovative pedagogy, based on the following interrogation: “How can we ensure that students are engaged in rigorous and ambitious learning while preserving their curiosity, creativity and ability to question? “. The educational program then offers to conduct research-based education projects in classrooms under the mentorship of scientists and with the Savanturiers’ team support.

The association’s approach of education is based on the research field that represent a “model” for School, because it is made of collaborative projects, cooperation, international opening, etc. During the first lockdown, while the students were taking their lessons from home, the ambassador teachers and Savanturiers scientists’ mentors imagined scientific challenges for the students to resolve. The children enjoyed solving them alone, in teams or even with their family. This fun and original approach has quickly won over children and parents, who were even asking for more.

3. AI allows to individualize learning experience

In the education field, artificial intelligence offers many opportunities, including personalizing learning paths according to the learners’ profiles. This individualization results of the collection and analysis of data generated by the student in a learning situation or collected by the teacher in a dedicated tool. It is then possible to know the students’ cognitive profile, their weaknesses and strengths, to recommend adapted educational resources, to identify the most effective resources adapted to their progress, etc.

Students are allowed to learn and progress at their own pace and according to their learner profile. The French Ministry of Education is currently conducting innovation partnerships on artificial intelligence with private companies to test possibilities offered by AI. These tools take advantage of the potential of new technologies while keeping the human being at the heart of the system: they support and assist the teacher on a daily basis, but the teacher keeps control over his pedagogical choices.

To conclude

Ultimately, the traditional school model may have to evolve towards a blended learning experience. Digital tools will be used for the lessons, to manage the classroom and to assist the teacher. But human connection and social learning will always stay at the heart of the 21st century school.


1 There are more than 5 billion connected objects in the world today and it is estimated that there will be 50 billion by 2020. 97% of young people between the ages of 12 and 19 own a cell phone, a technological jewel whose computing power is one hundred times greater than the computers on board Apollo 11 to reach the moon in 1969. They carry it everywhere with them: in the street, in the transportation, in leisure places, in cafes… One would tend to think that they are listening to music, playing games or sending text messages. However, in today’s world, the smartphone is increasingly used to search for information and acquire knowledge, including in the classroom, where its use despite many misgivings, is developing.

2 According to a study of 2300 Canadian preschoolers: “Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth control study” in PLOS ONE.

3 Przybylski et Weinstein, « A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis », p. 209–210.

4 Virtual worlds and school – Educational engineering files, n° 65, March, 2009, p. 16-17

5 « Le numérique, de nouvelles propositions pour l’éveil culturel des enfants ? », The Conversation, l’expertise universitaire, l’exigence journalistique.