digital age

Lutheran Education and the Digital Age—Part Three

Bernard Bull The Lutheran Educator Leave a Comment

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Welcome to part three of our four-part series on Lutheran education in the digital age, inspired by the good and important insights described in Will Richardson’s 16 Modern Realities article.

In this part, we are going to tackle four more statements posited by Richardson in his original article:

  1. “High stakes” learning is now about doing real work for real audiences, not taking a standardized subject matter test.
  2. While important, the 4 Cs of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication are no longer enough. Being able to connect to other learners worldwide and to use computing applications to solve problems are the two additional “Cs” required in the modern world.
  3. Increasingly, as a variety of educational opportunities are beginning to take shape, traditional college is becoming one of many paths to a middle class existence, not the only path. Students need to be “ready for anything,” not just college and career ready.
  4. Our children will live and work in a much more transparent world as tools to publish pictures, video, and texts become more accessible and more ubiquitous. Their online reputations must be built and managed.

As such, let’s talk about the following four themes: real world, connected living, learning pathways, and reputation systems.

Real World Learning in a Digital Age

Richardson makes a point that is becoming increasingly common, an important balance to the high-stakes testing craze finding its way around the United States and beyond. In fact, I consider this one of the ten critical issues in education today, so much so that I devote a full chapter to it in my forthcoming book Critical Issues in Modern Education.

Here is the point. Too many people are focused on the abstractions and signs of learning instead of focusing upon the learning itself. Students, teachers, and parents often care more about grades than learning. School leaders and policymakers are increasingly focused on test scores as the ultimate evidence that they are doing a good job. Tests are too often treated as the end goal instead of one of many tools to help students progress toward the end goal.

Yet, the real high-stakes learning, as Richardson explains, is not whether you score well on the test. It is whether you are ready for life beyond and after school. Did you learn what you needed to have confidence and competence as a lifelong learner? Did you develop core mind-sets and character traits that will help you be a blessing in the rest of your work and life?

School can easily become separated from real audiences and authentic contexts, but that is changing. More educators and schools are realizing that you can create wonderfully engaging and impactful learning experiences where students are developing new knowledge and skill while also addressing real issues in the world, solving real world problems, serving real people, getting feedback from people beyond the walls of the school. This is blurring the lines between school and community in what I consider to be promising ways. When we do this, we help students better understand the relevance of what they are learning. They also find it easier to transfer what they are learning to real world contexts. They are discovering how to draw from multiple subjects to solve problems and create things that matter to people. This less compartmentalized approach is not perfect, but it has great promise and is certainly worth our consideration in more classrooms and schools.

Connected Living in a Digital Age

We’ve been talking about twenty-first-century skills now for almost twenty years, but this focus on living in a connected world could still use more attention. Life in a connected world is distinct. When you have a problem, explore a compelling question, or develop new knowledge and skill, you now have access to a world of tutors, resources, collaborators, and partners. It is just a matter of building the competence and confidence to live in this community of connected learning. How can you identify and draw together human and technological resources from around the world to solve a problem or explore a promising possibility? This is a great question to pose with our students, to invite them further into this world of connected living and learning, providing them wisdom and mentoring along the way.

Learning Pathways in a Digital Age

When it comes to learning something new, rarely is there just one way to accomplish it. Usually, multiple pathways lead to the same learning destination. Some prefer that students just follow the pathway prescribed by a single teacher, but why must we be so insistent that our one way is the best and only way to learn something? In fact, how confident are we that the way we are proposing is truly the best and most effective way for each wonderfully different student? Instead, what if we invite students into the discussion? We identify the learning goal and then explore together the best way to get there. Perhaps individual students can take different pathways and then compare the benefits and limitations of their choice. Perhaps a group of students can analyze the possibilities and collectively decide upon a shared pathway. The point is that there is tremendous value in inviting students into learning how to learn, learning how to create and analyze different pathways to the same learning goal. This will prepare them well for the rest of life. Some, perhaps many, will go the traditional college and formal training routes. But in this world of connected learning, it is important for them to understand and be able to evaluate their options. Many jobs and other aspects of adult life require us to be constantly learning, often in the absence of a formal teacher or curriculum. Let’s get serious about equipping students to prepare for such a life.

Reputation Systems in a Digital Age

Finally, in this connected world, much of what we do is in the digital space. We create a digital footprint each time we post a video, picture, or message online. We are building our reputation, and it can affect us in many ways. It affects whether we are a positive or negative witness to those who encounter us online. It affects our job prospects. It affects our ability to build meaningful and useful connections with people around the world.  In short, this is an important part of life in the digital age. How we represent ourselves online matters.

The idea of a reputation system actually comes from sites like, where people rate books and products. Those ratings affect whether others buy a product and what they think about it. However, this same sort of thing happens based upon what people put on their LinkedIn profile, Facebook posts, personal blog, Twitter stream, Pinterest board, and Instagram feed. All of these collectively communicate something about who a person is and what he or she values, and this is increasingly where people look first. As such, preparing students to learn how to build and protect a reputation is an important life skill.


In summary, the real world matters more than high-stakes tests. Outside of school, hardly anyone judges or hires you based on how well you can fill in bubbles on a multiple choice tests. Learning in a connected world is about so much more than what happens in a single classroom. It is also about connecting with the most valuable people and resources around the world. There are many pathways to learning something new, and we have the wonderful task of helping students learn to create and assess pathways to reach learning goals. Finally, reputation in the digital world is a new and different animal. We also have the privileged of helping students discover how to create and manage their identity.

These are some of the new and interesting challenges and opportunities of going about the good and important work of education in the digital age.

Photo via Visual hunt


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About the Author

Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He has 20+ years of experience in Lutheran education ranging from middle school to graduate school and parish education. He is also the editor of the forthcoming CPH book, Pedagogy of Faith. Bernard’s work focuses upon futures in education, educational innovation, and the intersection of education & digital culture. You can read his latest posts here.

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