An Expert in Online Learning, At Work and At Home

Previously, we’ve talked with Bernard Bull about his work as a pioneer in the field of online education. Here’s that story. Today, he shares his expertise on learning in a digital world from another angle: that of a parent.


An Expert in His Field

Over the past three decades, Bernard Bull has helped audiences of all ages around the world grapple with what it means to learn in our increasingly connected world.

For the past 12 years, he’s also been a parent of two children.

It’s at home, he says, where he encounters his biggest challenges related to navigating the complex crossroads of education and technology.

Using Technology for Good

Bernard’s daughter is 12, and his son is 9.

Bernard says he understands how parents making choices about their children’s technology use at home can be difficult.

“My wife and I may not always get it right, but we’re having important conversations with our children about how they can use technology not just for entertainment,” he says, “but to help them accomplish their short- and long-term learning goals.”

Generational Differences

In addition to these family discussions, Bernard has talked with learners of all ages, sharing his perspective on how families can make the most of digital learning experiences.

His biggest advice for parents? Be humble.

“Young people are wired differently…because they’ve grown up in a digital world,” he says. “They don’t know anything else.”

Because they are digital natives, Bernard says, young learners are often more comfortable than their parents with exploring and adopting new online learning tools and options.

“See if your children will take you on a digital walkabout.” (Bernard has recently returned from a work trip to Australia).

“Ask them questions about what they do online, how they do it, and why. See where the conversation takes you. Be curious. Learn from them,” he says.

During these teachable moments, Bernard warns parents against one thing: judgment.

“Stick to asking questions. Don’t drill them to find something you see as ‘wrong’ with what they’re doing.”

A Two-Way Digital Street

Bernard says the younger generation can learn something from these conversations, too.

“While parents likely don’t have the same technical acumen, what they do have is a wealth of life experiences and, hopefully, a measure of wisdom to offer their children about using appropriate caution in these online contexts.”

In the end, it’s about mutual respect for each other’s differing knowledge and perspectives, says Bernard.

“A walkabout can be a really wonderful way to make digital learning a larger part of the parent-child relationship.”

A Media Literacy Moment at Home

Another common topic of conversation for Bernard’s family: media literacy.

“We talk about different kinds of messages we see online and on TV,” Bernard says.

“I want my children to understand the importance of being deliberate, and cautious, and thoughtful when it comes to analyzing those messages.”

Bernard can recall a time when he knew he was getting through to his children.

“A few years after we started letting my daughter watch television, a doll commercial came on during one of her shows,” Bernard says.

When it was over, his daughter looked over and said something surprising.

“Dad, I know they’re trying to trick me into buying the doll, but it’s okay to be tricked sometimes, isn’t it?”

For Bernard, it was a “proud dad” moment.

“I knew she was thinking on a deeper level about the meaning behind the messaging, and she was getting media literacy,” Bernard says.

Beyond the Basics

Now that his children are older, Bernard says family discussions are focused less on one-way, traditional advertising and more on appropriate ways to represent yourself in online, collaborative environments.

“I want my children to recognize that they can use technology to find resources and build meaningful relationships with people who can help them become whatever they want to be,” Bernard says.

Learning to Learn

When it comes to the future, Bernard says his children don’t yet have a clear vision of what they want for a career.

“I’m completely excited about that,” he says. “I love that this is a time for them to play, experiment, and explore options.”

Right now, Bernard’s daughter is very passionate about art.

She’s been taking lessons at a nearby studio for three years, and Bernard says she recently started spending hours a day drawing at home.

He’s very impressed by her process, and especially how she’s integrating technology into it.

“She uses YouTube to find video tutorials. She’ll say ‘the eyes don’t look quite right. How do I draw them so they look more animated?’”

During this time, he monitors her only from a distance. Bernard has taken his own advice.

“She’s learning how to learn. That’s her job,” Bernard says.

“My job is to be really curious and ask questions. And maybe guide her once in a while.”