Last week I attended the 5th Conference on “Digital Media – Analogue Reality”, a conference series organised by the Federal Insitute for Vocational Education and Training, this time in collaboration with the largest German supermarket corporation EDEKA. This 5th edition focused on learning and teaching environments in commercial occupations. A lot of good ideas from both businesses and vocational schools attracted my attention. However, as shown by the following critical but constructive reflections, there is still much to be done.

–   With so many different topics, many things which should be discussed in different ways are lumped together. No distinction is made between learning about digital media, e.g. for obtaining media competence, learning with digital media, e.g. when searching information or simulationg complex systems and learning how to learn with digital media, e.g. for acquiring media-related facets of learning competence. Those aspects should be seperated clearly because otherwise, everybody talks at cross purposes, saying all the right things, but only relating to one of them.

-What I find interesting is that quite a lot of people still have instructive learning in mind, although using the latest presentation formats. This is understandable since we all have grown up with it. I myself started with a computer course at school and held beginners’ courses at adult education centres, where I learned that using and learning with digital media is not only a question of knowledge and skills but also of attitude and personality. And that’s why it does not make sense to to try to teach anybody – especially adolescents – how to use digital media safely. Whether they use them safely is rather a question of personality, as also shown by recent research results, such as the study “Wie ticken Jugendliche 2016” [What makes young people tick 2016] presented at the conference. Instead of telling them what to post online, we should rather help them to develop a reflective personality, which should be possible with the aid of digital media.

-In the end, digital media are tools which make the world accessible – similar to books, which also can be read on a computer. Is the book different when reading it on a computer? Of course not. Apart from letters and pictures, digital media provides other modes of exploring the world. This is their advantage, and this also implies some risk. Banning Wikipedia and other sources because we do not know whether the information they provide is correct is like believing that only the newspaper you are subscribed to or a certain news program reports the truth. It would certainly be better to prepare young people for finding their own truth and finding good strategies for that. But unfortunately, many adults do not have these strategies either. Actually young people are often one step ahead here. Regarding their fields of interest, they already have well developed strategies for forming their own opinions (e.g. to recognise trends) or acquiring knowledge (e.g. tutorials on youtube), mostly using digital media.

-This positive picture of competent young people certainly does not apply to all of them. A new digital divide is clearly visible. The digital natives divide into one group handling digital media actively and carefully, reflecting on them and making their contribution, using media as tools, and those digital natives who follow the path indicated by internet groups and game producers, who have a passive consumer attitude and do not make progress. This could be a promising starting point for media education because of the high motivation potention the media still has.

– According to the ICILS-Study German teachers (most probably not only the Germans) have the lowest value when it comes to using the internet while preparing their lessons and the highest value when it comes to concerns. Only competence development can bring these values to a reasonable level. Teacher education is in demand here, because the personalities of people who have been employed for decades will be hard to change. Also books were perceived as a threat once, and they might have contributed to one or other conflict. However, very few people would consider books a step back because of this. Nevertheless, I consider it important not to measure digital media with the same yardsticks. Digital media should be seen as tools for exploring and shaping reality. A current decline in the use of media by some young people shows that they have recognised this already and only use digital media where appropriate.