Being a student is something one learns. Teenagers often question the merit of that assertion when they get to college or university, but teachers are very much aware of the qualitative leap former high-schoolers must make when starting their higher education.
At university, students must become autonomous learners. That means being organised, managing their time, studying alone or finding friends with whom to form study groups and assign tasks, and understanding the expectations of their teachers.
These many skills - which aren’t always as straightforward - constitute what professor of educational science Alain Coulon, who has written a thesis and a book on the subject, calls the « student profession ».
Digital technology, a skill to acquire
Since then, institutions have delved into the subject and come up with ways to support new students to limit failure rates in the first year. Of course, starting one’s higher education remains an important milestone.
Regardless of what they may think, one of the main challenges today’s students must face is mastering digital tools. Contrary to popular belief, using new technologies is not an innate skill, even for digital natives.
Admittedly, the 18 to 24-year-olds are among the greatest users of digital tools: almost all of them possess a laptop with an internet connection and a smartphone.
However, they mostly use them to play music, videos, and games or talk to their friends, rarely to work. Using tools for leisure is vastly different from using them for learning, and students must get acquainted with the latter.
Thus, more and more higher education institutions are teaching students how to use social media, control their digital identity, and work together to take notes - which is not an easy skill to learn, but a very useful one.
In addition, the growing amount of information and misinformation online has made cultivating a critical mindset a mission of vital importance.
In general, digital technology requires more autonomy from students. MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), which are free and open to all and take place entirely online, are a great example, given that merely 10% of those who sign up see the course through to the end.
Of course, reasons vary and some participants never meant to obtain a certificate - they merely wanted to pick up some information. Nevertheless, these high drop-out rates also indicate the difficulty of committing to consistent effort when the learning tool is exclusively digital.
To avoid leaving learners to their own devices and offer some support, some instructors organise meetings, either in person or online.
Consequently, more than the digital nature of new tools, it is the way they are used - in other words, the teaching methodology - that plays a decisive role in the learners’ success.
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