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  • Writer's pictureJolie Radunich

An Explainer: Using Learning Products for School vs. Using Them to Design Your Future

Are we encouraging kids to use tech to ace their tests, or to harness its power to shape their destiny?

The correct answer should be both.

One of the greatest skills I've strengthened after transitioning out of student life is my confidence that typing into a few search bars and clicking START can help me learn nearly anything I set my mind to.

  1. Learn skills

  2. Apply them to real-life

Inspired by my journey being raised on this industry's solutions, this two-phase explainer illustrates how learners, whether young students or professionals, can become expert learning product navigators and use these tools to design their lives.

Phase One: Getting comfortable using learning products

I watched, played, and competed with digital learning materials for as long as I can remember. Literally.

Here's a quick look at the experience of learning with edtech, through the eyes of a student.

Joey is an eager, energetic, and eight-year-old student. In computer class one day, their eyes widen and their ears prick up at the sights and sounds of a learning product echoing on a classroom projector. After taking in the stimulation of the colorful webpages and cutely accented sound effects, questions swirl in Joey's head about what it is they're looking at, what it does, and how they can get their hands on it.

After using it on a regular basis, Joey feels excited and empowered to take charge of how they spend time with that product. This starts by taking their school login home and soon escalates to spending lots of their free time engaging with it.

Joey and my eight-year-old self seem to have an experience or two in common.

Some of the tech that helped me conquer the "learn with tech" phase during my school years include...

  • BrainPOP videos followed by comprehension quizzes

  • IXL practice questions with adaptive difficulty levels

  • Quizlet flashcards, games, quizzes

  • Khan Academy mini-lessons

Either my homeroom or technology teachers got the ball rolling with introductions to learning products. They showed me the URLs, helped me create secure passwords, and encouraged me to log in, on my own.

After the first couple of times teachers guided me to interact with a new product, that product eventually did the rest of the leg work, becoming a go-to place to have fun, learn the material, and become a better learner.

I knew (in hindsight) that these solutions were making an impact because...

  • I started volunteering my free time to learn with them

  • I always returned because they were fun

  • I performed better on tests

Phase one is not confined to the K-12 years. Think of the times you've learned your way around a new technology as an adult. However, given the edtech industry presence in classrooms nationwide, for Gen Z and later generations, this period is likely the first time learners and tools meet.

As the years went on, I became supremely comfortable navigating many platforms. By the time I was ready to start designing my life beyond school, I'd built up a full toolbox of virtual knowledge.

child with print and digital learning tools

Phase Two: Using learning products to design your future

Near the end of high school, the way I interacted with learning products began to shift. I started integrating edtech usage with plans to attend college and eventually create a career.

Some of the tech that helped me conquer this phase included...

  • Naviance career readiness portal

  • Coursera courses

I was no longer just practicing with products to boost my grades. I still kept this up but turned to career readiness quizzes, portals, courses, and YouTube videos to learn more about selecting a college major (for the first time in high school and the second during college).

If it sounds strange to seek courses outside of the degree you're pursuing, keep in mind that no matter how innovative a university is, the course selection is just the tip of the learning iceberg. Extra research is needed to get a deeper understanding of a subject, let alone a career, you want to pursue.

I knew (in hindsight) that these solutions were making an impact because...

  • The new insights I picked up impacted my college experience

  • I started volunteering to learn with them in my free time

  • I went back to products because they were engaging

The case for using learning products AND designing your future with them

Even after transitioning from learning with edtech to working in the industry, I still live in both phases...a lot.

Whoever first said the phrase learning is never truly done was on to something. If you're not entering a new field or looking to learn a new skill right now, you're probably upskilling and looking for ways to become an even better professional.

Here's my order of operations if I want to learn a new skill today:

  1. Phase one: Find platforms with games, courses, or certificates that specialize in the skill I want to work on, using broad Google searches or directly from trusted platforms. Here I aim to develop an intrinsic joy for learning the skill and gain motivated to take that skill back to work.

  2. Phase two: Do the work of applying the newly acquired skill to my job. This looks like plenty of Photos screenshots, entries in the Notes app, and mental reminders.

I hope that you—a current student or lifelong learner in your career—feel just as empowered by learning products as I do. Solutions exist that can inspire you to access knowledge and get what you want out of your career, and your life.

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