Engaging Families in a Hyperconnected World – Adapting to New Expectations

Early years programs must explore new channels to engage hyperconnected families, however, it is important to evaluate internal implications when making a decision.

What does the term “hyperconnected” mean?

Let us start by defining what is meant by “hyperconnected”. In a blog post last year I defined hyperconnected as a term that refers to the widespread adoption of Internet enabled technology devices allowing people to be continuously linked to other people and to information globally. A central component of the hyperconnected society is the significant trend of mobile technology adoption.

So that’s the definition, but let’s get a better sense of the scope of this relatively recent phenomenon. Let me throw some statistics at you to help wrap your head around it:

  • 200 billion tweets are sent per year. That’s about 6,000 tweets every second.
  • 50 billion text messages are delivered via WhatsApp, a mobile messaging app, every day. That’s not a typo. Yes, every day.
  • 7.2 billion active mobile devices in the world. As of last year there were more mobile devices than people in the world and they’re multiplying five times faster than we are.
  • 60 texts sent per day by U.S. smartphone owners aged 18 to 24. That’s nearly double the number for the same group aged 25 to 34.
  • 21 minutes spent on Facebook per user per day, on average. That’s about 8 days per year on Facebook during waking hours.

I like a quote from The Economist Intelligence Unit that really gets to the core of what hyperconnectivity is really about – “More than a technological trend, hyperconnectivity is a cultural condition to which businesses have no choice but to adapt.” The key message here is that hyperconnectivity isn’t a trend, but rather a fundamental change in our culture and our society. It’s not going away like trends sometimes do. Quite the opposite, it’s here to stay and, if anything, will become increasingly relevant as can be seen with the above statistic about increased texting with younger age groups.

What are the implications of a hyperconnected society on early years education?

The way I like to frame the implications of the hyperconnected society is in terms of expectations. Expectations are different from what they were in the past. This applies to anyone that is part of the hyperconnected world, including an increasing number of families that you work with in your child care or early learning programs. In particular, there is an increasing need for communicated information to meet the following criteria:

  • Timely – The hyperconnected society wants information now. For example, we used to put up with commercials during TV breaks, but now prefer services like PVR and Netflix where we can skip through advertisements or avoid them all together.
  • Accessible – The hyperconnected society wants information to be at their fingertips. For example, we used to be okay with going to the library or book store to find reading materials, we now prefer to download them instantly to our iPad or Kindle from home.
  • Relevant – The hyperconnected society wants information to be specific to their needs. For example, we used to pick up the yellow pages to look up what we wanted to order in for dinner, but now we open an app on our smartphone and filter for delivery options by neighbourhood, price point and type of cuisine to get specific recommendations.
  • Stimulating – The hyperconnected society wants information to catch their attention. For example, we used to sit down and read articles in newspapers, but text-based content isn’t stimulating so we prefer more entertaining digital media channels with imagery and video.

There do exist digital channels that meet most or all of these criteria in the context of early years education, depending on how they’re used. For example, social media, blogs, messaging apps, cloud storage, webcams, and even email can communicate information to parents in a format that is, for the most part, timely, accessible, relevant and stimulating. However, meeting the needs of your hyperconnected families is only part of the challenge.

How do I assess the internal implications of new digital channels?

In addition to making necessary adjustments to your communication channels to engage your hyperconnected families, you must also look internally to determine the feasibility and implications of implementing new channels. I recommend framing your analysis around three main themes:

  • Process – How will I implement this new communication channel? With what frequency? What type of information will be sent or received? How will I document and communicate the established process?
  • People – Who will be the owner of this process? Who will be accountable? What policies do we need in place? What capabilities are required and do we have those capabilities? What training is required?
  • Technology – What tools will we use to help us? What is involved in setup and configuration? What hardware is required? How much does the hardware / software cost? Is there support provided for the technology?

There is no single answer to how you should engage your hyperconnected families. Every early education program has a unique culture stemming from its parents and teachers. The important thing is to adapt to the changing expectations of your families while considering the implications to your internal operations. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re putting a lot of additional work on the shoulders of your teachers or opening up privacy concerns with your parents.

We have helped hundreds of child care and early learning programs with these questions. If you’re struggling with these issues and would like to talk with one of our Community Advisors, we’re always happy to chat. Just visit our Contact Us page to start the conversation.

Ron Spreeuwenberg

Ron is the Co-Founder & CEO of HiMama, where he leads all aspects of a social purpose business that helps early childhood educators improve learning outcomes for children.

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