Education in the digital era: Giving attention to the
Personal and Relational

Having entered the digital age, and rapidly preparing for much more in it, we are faced with new design possibilities. Looking at it more carefully and critically, digitalization and humanization appear not as opposites and instead can be perceived as mutually beneficial. Thus, considering how to devise digitalization should be complemented by reflecting on how to shape the growing digital world in a human manner, and in particular how to design education accordingly. Such reflection may draw one’s attention, next to ensuring respective professional skills, also on the essentials of human life and of a good living together. To these belong the ‘personal’ and ‘relational’, since they are crucial for whatever real togetherness in families, in small communities, and in society at large. They are irreplaceable elements of human development, and therefore also indispensable in education and formation as processes of acting subjects, which means of human beings as persons.

At least, this applies if education and formation is not perceived as purely based on or designed by technical devices, like computerized respectively automated learning. Seen from the ‘action perspective’, education and formation present themselves as a personal and thus relational reality – albeit as an important part within a multifactorial process. For educators and formators as well as for those to be formed, e.g. the students, particularly in their mutual interaction, this personal and relational dimension becomes quite meaningful. It is of special importance also when emphasizing the time-dimension of education as ‘life-long endeavour’. Hence, the option for the just mentioned view on education and formation is quite in line with reflections about specific educational profiling of academic programs and about securing future-proof formation concepts.

In other words, in respect of educating and forming processes it is all about persons and relations, and it seems to be quite significant to be aware of this, also when talking about the other side of the coin, namely about content and goals of education and formation. The main reason for this significance is that both processes and content of education have considerable influence on development of human beings, on character-forming and self-perception as persons, on motivation and involvement as driving forces of formation, and linked to it on opportunities for individual and social development, for societal, political and cultural participation as well as on personal abilities, attitudes, commitments etc. All this is at stake and consequently a matter of discourse, reflection, and conscientization when one wishes to get involved in clarifying principles and purposes, i.e. in creating forward-looking guidelines for education that would inspire human development within the migration to the digital world.

Most of this is not completely new. However, it gains new heights and a kind of urgency in view of the quickly evolving digital era that does already and will increasingly affect all sectors of individual and social life. Hence education and formation will not miss out on necessary innovation. The more we make use of and are exposed to emerging new technological environments, the more we may feel attracted to notice the importance of the ‘personal’ and the ‘relational’ in all this. The ‘digital’ in general, and the social media in particular may be rather useful in creating some awareness in this regard – but they will not per se foster nor guarantee respective humane education and formation. No special imagination is needed to see that giving new attention to the ‘personal’ and ‘relational’ would serve the proper purposes of education and formation precisely in the digital era and that every effort of deliberately engaging in this as persons would be worthwhile for lasting integral human development in a changing world.

About author

Alois Buch

Dean, St. Lambert Interdiocesan, Major Seminary, Lantershofen, Germany
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