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Ten Tech Commandments for Connected Learners

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

The original Ten Commandments that most people are at least passingly familiar with represent rules for how Jews and Christians should conduct their lives. The Fractus Learning site has put a 21st century spin on this ancient dogma by updating them as The 10 (EdTech) Commandments, that have little to do with how you should lead a life according to a particular set of religious beliefs, but that have a lot to do with helping educators be successful in a connected educational setting. However, as the focus of online learning should be on the students themselves, some tweaking of Fractus’ Ten Commandments turns them into a handy guide for the successful connected learner in the digital age.

The Connected Learner
Prior to launching into the Ten Commandments that the connected learner should live by, it is helpful to quickly define what connected learning is and to whom the term applies. Education, like most everything in life is rarely a strict dichotomy between two fixed points. As the digital age progresses online learning and face-to-face education are likely to merge into a hybrid system in which all classes utilize a combination of the two mediums for delivery, making every learner a connected learner. Some or all aspects of their education will be mediated by technology, and social media will represent a significant portion of class interactions and networking beyond the classroom. In the digital age, most or all student knowledge synthesis and presentation will be shared electronically with the instructor, fellow students, and the wider world. That said, here are Ten Commandments that every connected learner should live by.

1. Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid
This is literally lesson #1 when I teach remedial tech classes to adult learners. In order to be successful with technology and by extension connected learning, you cannot be afraid of computers, the Internet, smartphones, or any other connected devices. They are your friends, particularly in the digital age, and exist to make your life better. Short of throwing it out the window, there is literally nothing that you can do to a computer that cannot be repaired. The only way to overcome an existing fear of technology is to "get thy hands dirty."

2. Thou Shalt Get Thy Hands Dirty
Lesson #2 in my classes happens to also be the solution to overcoming a fear of technology. Click, experiment, search, explore, press every button, monkey around with the OS, try out new apps and programs – students should do anything they can imagine with technology to become familiar and comfortable with it. Again, there is nothing that can be done that cannot be undone. Just make sure you are cultivating a local support network in case you do encounter problems.

3. Thou Shalt Learn On Thy Own
While there is immense value to obtaining a higher education, the rapid pace of technological change means that any hard skills or specific software tools that you learn during the time you are in school are likely to be outdated by the time you graduate. Additionally, the career that you find yourself in five years after graduation may not even have existed as a career option during your education. These factors make it imperative that every individual who wants to be successful in the global information economy become a self-directed learner before they graduate. Exploring personal interests on DIY sites and enhancing your classroom learning with outside resources help train you to be a lifelong learner who actively pursues the newest, most relevant advances in technology and makes you a more viable long-term contributor to society.

4. Thou Shalt Take Safety Precautions
While you are getting your hands dirty, it is essential that you take safety precautions to ensure that your computer does not become infected with viruses, spyware, malware, or other virtual nasties. Installing and maintaining up-to-date security software and learning how to back up your files should be a key component of developing familiarity with technology and building your confidence. Here are some of the basic precautions you should take.

5. Thou Shalt Make Connections To Others
Web 2.0 is about social media and the powerful ability of the Internet to foster connections between people. The connected learner needs to leverage this capability to create virtual networks that can support their learning, social life, and future employment. From Twitter to LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and blogging, social platforms can be an excellent resource for research, to learn how to do things, and for professional networking. Don’t be afraid to reach out through these channels to experts in the field to ask questions. You might just find a virtual mentor.

6. Thou Shalt Make Connections Between Subjects
Nearly as important as making interpersonal connections through technology, the connected learner should leverage the power of the Internet to find the linkages between different subjects. Creating these connections will help to affix the knowledge you gain in your mind and develop critical thinking skills that never go out of style. It may also open the doors to areas of inquiry that are new for you or even for the world at large.

7. Thou Shalt Share With Thy Neighbor and Thy Instructor
In a connected world learning goes both ways. No individual can be an expert in everything. The rapid pace of innovation makes it impossible for your instructor to keep up with all the latest tech tools. As you discover them for yourself (see Commandment #3), share them with those around you; friends, neighbors, and your instructors. They will be thankful and explaining new tools to others is a great way to solidify your own understanding.

8. Thou Shalt Integrate Technology Into Thy Life
If this hasn’t happened already it will soon. Technology is an integral part of our lives having infiltrated our work, play, social lives, and learning. While the implications may often be frightening, embracing the many benefits of the digital world can make your life more efficient, more enjoyable, and more profitable. Technology can do almost anything for us from paying our bills to helping repair your car, to working more efficiently from the comfort of our homes. It is here to stay so you might as well take advantage of what it has to offer.

9. Thou Shalt Use Many Devices
Not a commandment in the sense of you must do this, but rather that this has been forced on you and seems out of control. Smartphones, iPads, tablets, e-readers, laptops, and desktops all occupy their own niches in our digital lives. It seems like there is a device for every function rather than one that does it all. Survey the options and decide which tools best suit your needs and lifestyle. Maybe you can make due with just a smartphone or tablet? While this may change in the future, it is our current reality to have to juggle multiple devices and platforms, which is why …

10. Thou Shalt Organize Thy Digital Life
Your virtual life is spread across multiple platforms and devices with no rhyme, reason, organization, or synchronization. Taking advantage of a platform like Dropbox, Google Documents, Microsoft Live Mesh, or iCloud can keep all of your documents, contacts and other information straight and accessible across all platforms. Keeping your virtual life organized will make adhering to the first nine Commandments much, much easier.

Don’t Smash Your Tablets!
Many of these Ten Commandments for the Connected Learner are not optional. They represent the way that the digital world works. While there is some room for interpretation, particularly in regards to which devices and programs you use, the overall point is that following these guidelines will make you not only a more successful connected learner now, but will make you a more successful connected person throughout the rest of your tech-integrated lifetime.