The traditional education model cannot keep up with the demands of the twenty-first century. The infinite amount of information available in today’s digital space means that lexical knowledge is constantly losing its value. In contrast, digital skills and advanced cognitive and social skills are essential parts of performing in the workplace.
Today’s children (Generation Y and Z) are born into a constantly changing world where interactivity is a basic necessity and will only get stronger as the years go by. Digital tools and social platforms have become commonplace. Children have a constant need to get instant feedback from their environment on whatever they are doing.
This means we need to create an interactive environment to keep their attention and interest. This poses a serious challenge to the traditional, mainly paper-based, education system. Although the use of digital tools is increasing, they are mostly not interactive.
Can digital education replace traditional education systems?
The answer to this question, which has become increasingly central since the outbreak of the pandemic, is of course complex. To do this, digital tools have to not only make lessons more colorful, but also have to focus on interaction and immediate feedback. We need to create an environment in which children, born and growing up today and in the future, can engage, and where learning and acquiring knowledge is motivating for them.
In order to do this, digital learning tools still have a great deal of development to do, both in terms of content and technology.
The digital world can replace the current educational system if it not only makes learning more colorful and enjoyable, but also provides a personalized space for children to develop at their own pace, according to their own needs, while also enabling them to develop and maintain social relationships.
When will this happen? That remains an open question. One thing is for sure, the importance of developing digital and social skills for today’s children is growing. But can we develop social skills digitally?
Not long ago, a small company in the field of education has become a significant player in a country in Central Europe. Okodo wants to equip children with the knowledge and skills to have a more successful life and a better future. This is something that is easier said than done. Close to 50 million exercises have been played by children in the last years and Okodo with its 15,500 gamified, visualized exercises in 14 different subjects in K-12, has grown into a digital platform that no teacher in Hungary is unfamiliar with. They believe that subject matter is a necessary but not sufficient part of children’s development and that one should play cognitive games and social exercises to maximize their potential. Cognitive and social skills are an inevitable part of children’s development. With their analytical tools, they measure the progress of students over time, and with a daily user number of 5,000-10,000, they are proud of their achievements. In 2022, Okodo has been focusing on the content development and testing of social skills.
Developing social skills
Research has shown that the ability to develop good social skills is crucial on the difficult road to successful adulthood beyond academic performance and knowledge of the subject matter.
Developing social skills is essential not only for building a career but also for developing well-functioning friendships and partnerships. However, due to the busy curriculum, there is simply not enough time to develop these skills in an institutional setting.
Okodo has been tackling this area of life and launched a new digital sub-site that aims to fill this gap with a playful package of activities and build personal training on it.
The importance of developing social skills and the need to integrate them into the school setting has been recognized by researchers for many years (Welsh, Parke, Widaman and O’Neil, 2001; Coie and Dodge, 1990). In line with this, the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) methodology demonstrates how these skills can be developed in an integrated way in the school setting, alongside the subjects. The theory mentions five basic skills (Self-management, Self-awareness, Responsible decision-making, Relationship skills and Social awareness).
They used this theory as a foundation, and through the process of development and research, they identified ten skills in total: emotional awareness, emotion regulation, self-esteem, the skill of asking for help, problem-solving, goal setting, cooperation, verbal and nonverbal communication, empathy and perspective taking. With this in mind, they designed social skills training.
Although professionals agree on the basic idea of SEL, very few countries actually implement social skills development in an institutional setting. One reason for this is that currently, the majority of social skills programs try to develop these skills in small group sessions, during which the trainer generates situations and discourse topics in which children can observe and practice normative rules of behavior. Small group sessions are time and resource-intensive (e.g. a person to deliver the session), making them difficult to fit into an already busy school day.
The advantage and novelty of the digital methodology Okodo has developed lies in the possibility of using the digital space to disseminate and apply the program widely. In addition, they also place a strong emphasis on teacher and mentor training, and the main goal is to ensure that, after the research is completed, teachers can use the method independently and integrate it into their daily school life.
Why a digital environment?
The use of digital smart devices is inevitable in the lives of children growing up in today’s world. The program puts the use of digital tools at the service of a “good cause” (improving social skills) and sets a time frame (maximum 20 minutes per session).
In addition, the digital space allows the training to be as wide as possible, and the digital content of the training is designed to be used by children independently in an appropriate way, taking the burden off the shoulders of already overworked teachers and parents.
Teacher/mentor support is essential for the diary module, and a digital manual and methodology pack have been developed to provide detailed guidance on how to use the training correctly, thus helping teachers/mentors.
Although it is still debated whether social skills can be effectively developed in a digital environment, a growing number of international examples show some promising data on the development of social skills through digital games (Sanchez, DeRosier and Craig, 2012; Sanchez, Brown, Cocher and DeRosier, 2017; Li and Flynn, 2020).
Testing & Results
Okodo, with the partnership of Molnár Ferenc Elementary School in Budapest and the Csányi Foundation founded by Sándor Csányi, the second richest man in Hungary, tested the social skill training with 155 children in the school and in a summer camp.
Description of the social skills training
The training consists of 10 modules organized around the ten skills mentioned above (1 module covering one skill). The digital content of each module takes about 15-20 minutes to complete and a further 20-30 minutes to work through the offline content of the topic together.
Two sets of exercises have been developed for each skill, consisting of 6-6 sub-tasks. This means that children had a total of 12 playful exercises to practice in one skill area. After completing the tasks, they practiced each social skill through an online game. After the individual tasks, the children watched two videos related to the topic together, and then each topic was discussed together with the help of the diaries distributed by the teacher/mentor/psychologist.
A total of 155 children from 4th to 6th grades participated in the research with the help of a psychologist, teacher, or mentor. 50 children participated in the research in a school setting, meeting the content for six weeks in two lessons a week, guided by psychologists.
The remaining 105 children completed the tasks in summer camps with the help of a mentor they had known for some time. The training was also new for mentors, so Okodo created a digital tutorial before the camp started and was always available to answer any questions. The children who attended the camps participated in a more intensive form of training due to the short duration of the camp, practicing once a day instead of having 2 sessions a week.
Overall, the children and the adults who worked with them were always happy to participate, and their feedback was that the exercises and games were clear and exciting. The videos covered important topics, which helped the children learn a great deal of interesting new knowledge (e.g. about depression, which is a serious problem even in childhood today). The diaries also helped highlight essential topics to talk to children about (e.g. abuse), which we rarely touch on in our everyday lives and often avoid because of their sensitivity, even though open communication is very helpful for everyone. The videos and diaries made it easier for the children to open up and participate in a joint discussion of the topics.
In light of the results of the tasks, it seems that empathy, communication, and emotion regulation are the most difficult for children at this age, while teamwork and cooperation are the easiest.
It is important to stress, however, that the package Okodo developed so far has been designed primarily for practice purposes and is not suitable for measuring individual skills. They are developing research to measure the effectiveness of the content in the near future, as the main goal is to ensure that children’s social skills improve with regular practice.
Hybrid is the Future
The twenty-first century provides several opportunities for young children but also presents many challenges for them. Although academic skills still play a very important role on the way to successful adulthood, we have to prepare the new generation to be able to adapt to our globalized and rapidly changing world. To provide assessment-based, deeply personalized education, human interactions are needed. This can be done most effectively by teachers. At the same time, teachers need hybrid tools – offline and online – to support their teaching activities.
Recently, computerized tools help but cannot replace teachers. This is even more valid in case of social skills. Social skills are essential in human development but require the presence of human tutors and other students in some sort of school environment. If you have an adequate set of social skills it contributes to your academic improvements (especially through your cooperation abilities) and increases your chances of a successful life. Those teachers and schools will be the most successful which can most effectively implement hybrid tools – which work well together – and which make them part of everyday teaching focusing on interaction and immediate feedback.
- COIE, John D.; DODGE, Kenneth A.; KUPERSMIDT, Janis B. Peer group behavior and social status. 1990.
- DEROSIER, Melissa E.; CRAIG, Ashley B.; SANCHEZ, Rebecca P. Zoo U: A stealth approach to social skills assessment in schools. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, 2012, 2012.
- SANCHEZ, Rebecca, et al. Improving children’s mental health with a digital social skills development game: a randomized controlled efficacy trial of adventures aboard the SS GRIN. Games for health journal, 2017, 6.1: 19-27.
- WELSH, Mara, et al. Linkages between children’s social and academic competence: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of school psychology, 2001, 39.6: 463-482.
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