Educating the #NetGeneration

Who is the Net Generation?  Those who were born sometime in the last decade of the 20th century are considered the Net Generation.  Other names that may apply are:  Millenials, Generation Y, or “digital natives”.

What makes this group of people unique? Net Geners or “digital natives” were born connected; connected by technology such as the Internet, ipods, text messaging, mobile phones, You Tube and social media.  This generation didn’t have to learn how to use technology, rather it has been part of their world.  Marc Prensky coined the name “digital natives” to describe this generation of learners.  In his paper Do They Really Think Differently, Prensky (2001) suggested that the Digital Natives’ brains are physically different than the brains of earlier generations.  This difference is the result of the digital input the Net Gener received growing up (Prensky, 2001).  Don Tapscott’s books Growing up digital:  The rise of the Net Generation and Grown up digital are excellent reads.  OR just listen/watch Tapscott’s TED Talk.

Why should educators care?  The Net Gener learns differently.  Barnes, Marateo, and Ferris (2008) stated that by the time a Net Gener has reached 21 years of age, he or she will have spent:

·         10,000 hours playing video games,
·         200,000 e-mails,
·         20,000 hours watching TV,
·         10,000 hours on cell phones, and
·         under 5,000 hours reading

 Should we change the way we teach?  Oblinger and Hagner (2005) observed that Net Geners seek out different ways of expressing themselves through a variety of communications.  Net Geners also reported that traditional ways of teaching bore them.  I also found a very good NPR segment and ebook by Oblinger and Oblinger on teaching to the Net Gen student.

We as educators should acknowledge that these students don’t learn the way we did.  We should not make them conform to how we learned.  We should give them multiple resources for learning so that they can choose how to learn and exploit the skills students have developed in the digital age. 

But, the Net Gen student should not expect instant gratification and constant entertainment.  The Net Gen student should be taught how to think more deeply about topics and communicate professionally.  

We can meet the students half way–incorporate their technology to teach them how to critically think and communicate professionally– teach them how to learn using their tools.  In turn, maybe we could even learn something from the Net Geners!


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