The Big Question: Are there learning design differences for Digital Natives?

Posted by gminks in big question, Learning Circuits Blog | 2 Comments

This month’s Big Question on the Learning Circuits Blog is Are there learning design differences for Digital Natives?

First of all, let’s get this “Digital Natives” definition out the way. A digital native, by definition, is someone who has grown up in the era of electronic communications. Supposedly, this exposure to all things digital has made this generation require new ways of learning, thinking, communicating, etc. In fact, this generation will supposedly demand all content be delivered in a more engaging format.

I for one do not think the title of digital native is accurate. Just because kids have grown up with the Internet does not mean that they are the ones who understand the ways to use it for communication and learning. My son is a great example. He is 19, and is very connected online. However, he has trouble with simple searches for academic information. And don’t get me started on what he puts out there for the entire world to see. He feels if he has to log into a site with a password that what he puts there is private. God help us if he ever decides to run for office.

On the other hand, some of the so-called “Digital Immigrants” have been using and studying the use digital formats for education for the past 30 years. We cannot afford to disenfranchise or discard the work of these old-timers just because there is a “sexy” new definition for electronic experts.

I think the question needs to be:

  • Are there learning design differences for different generations?
  • Are there learning design differences for different technology aptitudes?

As for this current generation that has been exposed to the Internet for most of their lives, I think they need to be taught to critically evaluate information sources. The need to understand how to search for, and find, relevant information. Maybe as designers, our role should be to include ways to search for (and find) credible information related to the instructional topic. I think facilitating the discovery of related information is an important thing to do.

2 Responses to The Big Question: Are there learning design differences for Digital Natives?

  1. Lori Reed says:

    This is definitely a huge challenge that we all are facing now. I work with learners who span an age range of 16-70 so you can imagine the differences in not only learning styles but in attitudes and approaches to learning.

    You are correct that just because one is a digital native does not mean he or she is adept at the ins and outs of technology. I had to help my 12-year-old neighbor with homework earlier in the week and while she can out text me any day, I realized that some of her other technology skills have not been developed yet.

    I would say that the best approach to this dilemma is through the use of blended learning and remembering that learners have as much to learn from each other as they do from us.

  2. gminks says:

    Thanks Lori. I think you are correct about blended learning. I also tend to think we need to learn from our technical pasts – we have 30 years or so to go on! I was doing papers on digital ethnography 8 years ago in my undergrad work.

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