21st Century Technology Hierarchy of Needs

It’s interesting…just like the ISTE tech standards over the years have shifted from very skill based standards to much more global digital learning standards, so have the discussions around teacher tech standards. Are we getting ahead of most teachers in that discussion though? Is the reason for that shift partly because we believe everyone has got the basic standards or that we just can’t wait for everyone to catch up and need to push the conversation forward?

ISTE Coaching Standard 1d says that coaches need to “implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms.” With the speed at which technology changes, this suggests that there will always be a need for people in districts that are the innovators and early adopters and I would suggest that those people need to be in three strategic areas in order for real change to happen. First, the district leadership from Superintendent to Principal need to be on board with the possibilities that technology brings. It would be most helpful if they embrace technology use to the point that they use and model it’s use with their staff and actively expect it from their teachers. Second, there have to be classroom teachers who are innovative and stretching the district and their tech departments to think differently, try new things and use technology in creative ways that pave the way for change. Finally, I would make the case that, if there isn’t strong leadership at the principal level, there is a role for Instructional Technology coaches (or whatever they are called in your district). Coaches whose whole focus is on learning and leading around “initiating and sustaining” technology innovation can be the keys to translating technology for the teachers and administrators that aren’t on the forefront of technology.

I’m a Digital Learning Specialist in my district. We changed our name this year to what, we hoped, better reflected the focus of our work. Our goal is to help students learn with digital tools. It’s about the learning first. Unfortunately, we are still seen most of the time as “the tech people” which translates to the problem solvers and fix it people. It’s not what I want to be doing. A few years ago, when our technology just didn’t seem to be working and teachers were frustrated and ready to give up, it struck me that what was going on was similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. I developed a digital version using some thinking that I found online and I regret not keeping track of the author.

My thinking was, and still is, that some teachers are functioning at the bottom of the pyramid in basic needs and safety/security. If things don’t work, they don’t have the time, energy or knowledge to problem solve their way out and they get stuck. Innovators will find a work around or figure out how to fix it. The folks functioning at basic and safety levels will never progress beyond that level until their tech works they way they want it to work and it works reliably.

Usability comes next and is essential. There are no two ways about it, there is a certain level of skill needed to tackle technology tasks. Some folks will need to be “trained” on each new piece of technology. Others will learn technology in a more conceptual way and will be able to adapt what they learn to other digital tools. The help button question mark  is the help button in almost any program you come across now and many other icons are becoming standard across website, like the stack of three or four horizontal lines that denote a menu of choices. These however are skills. In 2005 THE Journal ran an article about the the 20 Technology Skills Every Educator Should Have (Turner 2005) These were very skill based but I think many of them are still relevant. Downloading and installing software is becoming a thing of the past now that so many things are web based and our storage options are becoming more web based as well and you can exchange PDA knowledge with SmartPhone and you’ve got a lot of it covered.

Interestingly, they redid the survey in 2014 (Thompson 2014) and you can already see a shift away from just skills toward a change in attitude (willingness to learn), connection, collaboration, and communication. All important 21st Century Skills as defined by the P21 (Partnership for 21st Century Learning)

10 Skills Every Educator Should Have.

  1. Searching the web effectively
  2. Mastering Microsoft Office & Basic Word Processing
  3. Being Willing to Learn New Technology
  4. Connecting with Social Media
  5. Sharing and Collaborating via YouTube & Blogging
  6. Unlocking the Potential of Mobile Devices
  7. Reaching Out with Emails
  8. Making Your Point with Presentation Software
  9. Googling It
  10. Getting Ahead in the Cloud

These skills I believe are also a part of the upper parts of my Tech Hierarchy of Needs which come with Proficiency and allow for creativity. Until we give teachers the skills to become confident and successful with technology, some of them will have trouble reaching the newer Technology standards reflected in the ISTE Educator Standards which seem to assume that most teachers are already proficient tech users. The problem is, I don’t think that’s realistic to expect yet. It’s certainly a worthy goal and one many educators can reach but there are still teachers and students who will need help with the bottom half of the pyramid for awhile.


Turner, L. (2005). 20 Technology Skills Every Educator Should Have — THE Journal. [online] THE Journal. Available at: https://thejournal.com/articles/2005/06/01/20-technology-skills-every-educator-should-have.aspx [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

Thompson, G. (2017). 10 Tech Skills Every Educator Should Have — THE Journal. [online] THE Journal. Available at: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2014/01/22/10-Tech-Skills-Every-Educator-Should-Have.aspx?Page=4 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

P21.org. (2017). Framework for 21st Century Learning – P21. [online] Available at: http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

5 thoughts on “21st Century Technology Hierarchy of Needs

  1. Karen – I appreciate your hierarchy of tech needs, but where do the soft skills come into play. Like with our students it is not just about if you can learn the skill or strategy but also if you will turn around and teach it to someone else. That next level of reaching out and spreading the love or knowledge is important. I would suggest checking out something I heard about recently called Mastery Transcript (google it). It is all about conpetency instead of grades for students. I wish we could see teachers in the same manner.

    1. Your hierarchy of need is really creative and useful. Is it necessary to work progressively through this hierarchy to help teachers create and implement 21st century learning activities? Is it technology skills that keep teachers from offering 21st century learning to their students?

    2. Really like this idea that we are all teachers and all learners that is inherent in “spreading the love or knowledge.”

    3. I thought about spending more time on the soft skills but to me they are almost more like attitudes you have to bring to the table. Willingness to learn, willingness to share, grow mindset about your capacity for learning, etc. I’m honestly not sure how to do that other than starting with the basics and making people feel comfortable and confident at the bottom level of the pyramid so they will be able to reach the higher levels where they will need those soft skills to learn more independently. I don’t know of a single teacher in my experience who is in the bottom sections of that pyramid that are ready to “spread the love or knowledge” yet. That’s where I’m trying to get them though.

  2. Karen, your Tech Hierarchy of Needs is a great visual that I could easily see being used at a school PD. Just like a Gen. Ed classroom made up of students with various backgrounds and skill levels, your hierarchy seems to represent a lot of staff populations. I wonder how more partnerships could support those near the bottom. Of course, time would be a factor, but if teachers were willing, there could be great support and modeling simply withing buildings.

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