Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Some notions about the 'Net Gen learner'

Interesting article from the Melbourne Age writer Eric Wilson (April 5, 2005)

A culture clash between internet-savvy students and old-style education professionals is brewing.

Carol A. Barone, a fellow of non-profit IT advocate Educause and a former chancellor of IT at the University of California, believes alternative ventures targeting today's learners have already begun to succeed in traditional university markets.

"The arrival of the net generation on campus is causing unrest in the classroom," Barone says in a new book published by Educause, titled Educating the Net Generation.

"A wave of young people empowered to create knowledge, not merely absorb it, now flows in and out of the classroom - calling into question the convictions and processes that have served as the foundation of traditional higher education. It remains to be seen if traditional higher education will adjust sufficiently to truly engage the net generation."

Surprisingly, the "net gen" doesn't necessarily crave more web-based e-learning. According to the book's editors, Diana and James Oblinger, the reverse is true.

"Traditional age students often say they came to college to work with faculty and other students, not to interact with them online," they say in the book. "Older learners tend to be less interested in the social aspects of learning; convenience and flexibility are much more important."

Instead, the clash of learning styles stems from how thousands of internet hours have affected the net gen's formative years. This has influenced not so much what they think but how they think.

He is in fact referring to a book published by Educause and freely available online which talks about the 'Millennial learner' who have vastly different stules of learning.

The characteristics of traditional age (18-to-22-year-old) college students—a group sometimes called the Millennials—have been described by Howe and Strauss as individuals who:

  • Gravitate toward group activity
  • Identify with parents' values and feel close to their parents
  • Believe it's cool to be smart
  • Are fascinated by new technologies
  • Are racially and ethnically diverse; one in five has at least one immigrant parent
  • Are focused on grades and performance
  • Are busy with extracurricular activities

When asked about the biggest problem facing their generation, many respond that it is the poor example that adults set for kids.15

Individuals raised with the computer deal with information differently compared to previous cohorts: "they develop hypertext minds, they leap around."16 A linear thought process is much less common than bricolage,17 or the ability to or piece information together from multiple sources. Among other differences are their:

  • Ability to read visual images—they are intuitive visual communicators
  • Visual-spatial skills—perhaps because of their expertise with games they can integrate the virtual and physical
  • Inductive discovery—they learn better through discovery than by being told
  • Attentional deployment—they are able to shift their attention rapidly from one task to another, and may choose not to pay attention to things that don't interest them
  • Fast response time—they are able to respond quickly and expect rapid responses in return18
Well worth a read.

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