High school students say they learn the most important skills outside of school

If you ask middle and high school kids these days what the most important skills they learn are, they’ll probably name something they learned on their own, outside of regular school hours.

That’s according to Julie Evans, CEO of the nonprofit Project Tomorrow, which has been running focus groups with students for years – before and after the pandemic – and whose organization conducts an annual student survey. colleges and high schools on their learning. This survey effort, called Speak Up, surveys hundreds of thousands of students and adults about learning trends and makes local data available to individual districts.

Evans says these students’ eyes light up when they talk about the self-directed learning they are doing. Some learn how to better use Photoshop so they can up their Instagram game or how to create more compelling videos for their personal YouTube channel. For others, perhaps a classroom mention of the horrors of Civil War medical care sends them down an Internet research rabbit hole to learn more about what soldiers of the time went through.

And it’s not just super precocious kids who embark on self-directed study — what Evans calls “free agent learning.” His group’s surveys show that about two-thirds of middle and high school students report doing this type of self-study outside of school through online tools, and the trend holds across all types of demographic groups.

Evans lays out his research in a new book due out this fall, titled “Free Agent Learning: Harnessing Student Self-Directed Learning to Transform K-12 Education.”

The trend that could have a huge impact on education, at the K-12 and college level, Evans argues. On the one hand, it’s a challenge for teachers – that they have to do more to tap into students’ intrinsic motivation, that students can learn so much more if they’re excited about what they’re doing.

But it is also a challenge for the way many teachers perceive their role. In other words, perhaps the best teachers are those who guide a student’s self-learning rather than the one in front with all the answers.

EdSurge spoke with Evans last week after a talk she gave at the ISTE Live conference in New Orleans.

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