20th century educators and 21st century learners

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20th Century Educators and 21st Century Learners: The need for change in education

20th Century Educators and 21st Century Learners: The need for change in education.Fiona Grindey, Introduction to Digital Environments for learning, February 2011Introduction

For some time now there has been much debate over the next generation of learners, especially those entering Higher Education and whether or not the Universities are providing todays student body with the necessary skills that needed in order to benefit the workplace into which they will enter. A decade ago, Prensky (2001) coined the term Digital Native. This term has been used widely within the media, causing an array of conclusions about the future of education and the abilities of a generation of technology savvy learners. The essay has been divided into sections on the digital native debate with a discussion on how it is necessary to develop a new model of delivery to meet the needs of a different style of working. This then leads to the recognition of the importance to teach new skills in examining their use of technology and how the broad term of digital literacy has come to define a new skill set essential to the success of these learners. It will also detail the challenges and issues faced by the educators and institutions of these increasingly 'media savvy' groups of learners and consider what the implications are to Higher Education.It concludes that although we are in times of austerity we are also in a time of change and students would be failed if Universities do not adapt to meet the needs of the society that they should be serving.

Digital Natives and Digital ImmigrantsIan Dukes Understanding the Digital Generation

The idea that young people are more adept at using technology has been around for a long time and long before Prensky (2001) introduced the concept of the Digital Native and Digital Immigrant. He defined the natives as students of today and the immigrants as those of us not born into the digital world. The term he coined has become highly influential, being in common usage in the media. A Digital Native is someone who because of the era into which they have been born has the ability to master all forms of digital media. They are used to and expect to be able to use technology in order to function in all areas of their lives. They use it to communicate, gather information, for entertainment and for their social life. In fact at all levels, this generation is switched on. The Digital Immigrant on the other hand, may have an interest in technology and may use it to some extent, but that they will always bring part of their old life with it. For example, Prensky mentions that Digital Immigrants have an accent meaning that they may print off email instead of reading them on the screen or that they may call someone to check that they had received their email or text. Click here for Understanding the Digital GenerationDon Tapscott Talking about Digital Natives

There have been many other proponents of the idea of a generation of tech savvy individuals. Quite famously, Don Tapscott wrote about the Net Generation or NetGeners (Tapscott, 1999, 2009) in his book Growing Digital where he talked about the defining characteristic of a generation was their immersion in technology for every aspect of their lives. He defined them as those born after 1978 and surrounded by technology considering it as part of the landscape. In his latest book, Grown Digital (2009) he has argued that this generation has now come of age and that they are entering the workplace and all areas of society.

YouTube Cartoon presentation on Digital Natives

The term Millennials was coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss who described them as born in 1982 and so graduating in 2000 (cited Schulmeister 2009). All in all, and there has been much said of the technology generation. They all agree that there has been a step change in the way in which the youth of todays environment is formed. Prenksy (2001b) identified that research has shown our brains are constantly changing, previously it was thought that our brains only changed at a very young age. However if this is the case, then the brains of anyone, regardless of generation, living in a technological society would be constantly adapting. Of course, therefore, the argument for a straight cut down the middle approach to defining the technological ability for a generation, assuming that they are able (and want to use technology) has been refuted or rather refined over the years. Selwyn (2009) engaged in a mission to promote a realistic understanding of young people and technology in his paper, The digital native myth and reality in which he argues that although there has been a wide spread acceptance that of the concept of the new generation of digital users amongst the masses there needs to be a more detailed review of how children and young people use new technologies based upon looking at not merely the age into which they were born but to other important factors such as gender, geography, socio economic status and social class. He adds that some of these so called Digital Natives can appear to be digitally- excluded much more than the adults already are and that their use of technology is much more limited than some of the literature that has formed public opinion has had us to believe.Stoerger (2009) claims that it is a more complex debate than just a generational approach with many more factors needing to be considered. Interestingly, she notes that the label is applied from a technology point of view and that in terms of technology many of the digital natives may be tech savvy but not necessarily in the ways relevant for education. They come to the classroom with a range of levels in expertise in using technology which belies the myth that all young people have a digitally innate ability to use technology.There is also an issue in the demography of the students that are coming to university, not all of the cohorts are Millennials or Digital Natives. Many people are returning to University level education from a wide range of generations, and these students have a need to use technology and can do so as well as (if not better) than the generation that are supposed to be innate users. There has been much research (Stoerger 2009, Bennett et al 2008, Beetham et al 2009) which has shown that these students have learnt to use technology as part of their lives as much as any other student and so to define a group of people based on their generation would be redundant and inaccurate. As the recent JISC report (2008) notes, we are all part of the Google Generation now. As an update to his original work (Prenksy 2009) distanced himself from his original generational assertion with the concept of Digital Wisdom that users of technology can adapt its use to enhance the functions that are needed at the given time. He uses Barack Obama as an example. Blending the distinction between the generations and how people are able to learn new skills. The research which looked at a Millennial approach to categorisation of these learners has recognised that age is not the determining factor (Oblinger and Oblinger 2005, cited in Jones et al, 2010) and offers a more complex view encompassing the environment, social factors and economic issues.

This broader concept is a much more realistic approach which has been developed even further by the suggestion that when the two groups (immigrants and natives) come together, they transcend barriers by blending together ideas and uses of technology (Stoerger 2009). Therefore, the argument for a divisive generation of innate technology users is rather limited. What has become apparent is that although there is a group that have always used technology and will engage with it, the range of skill level within a cohort of Digital Native students can be vast (Schulmeister 2009) with many of them not using technology correctly or having any idea how they could be applying it to their education. They even prefer and expect to engage in traditional practices both in terms of education and social areas (Schulmeister, 2009). The preference is for the use of technology to be the means of an end, rather than a tool that increases the value of the activity.

What does this mean for education?

Rethinking Education Youtube presentation

We know that as a society, technology has infiltrated into the lives of people from a range of cultures and ages, we know that this will have implications on the type of education that is necessary in order to be of value. The traditional, factory model of education, is no longer relevant in todays information society. Traditional forms of delivering content to a passive cohort in a lecture theatre do nothing to contribute to the needs of the graduates in the future workplace. There is a mismatch between the needs of society and the existing system of education. The values that we held in the last century and previous centuries do not fit into the world into which the graduates of today are entering (Siemens and Matheos 2010) This was succinctly demonstrated by a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson which has been animated by RSA Fellowship talking about the changing paradigm of education in 21st Century.

Characteristics of learners in the 21st CenturyAccording to Tapscott (2009) learners in the 21st century have different and new skills for ways of operating both for their own social lives and also for their education and working lives. These skills are developed through their literacy interactions over their lifetimes. The influences for a Digital Immigrant would be very different to those of a Digital Native. Characteristics of these learners have been identified as, they are always online, globally active and aware, they work co