I'm doing some research on - How do students think differently because of growing up on the internet? How has it affected their thinking, learning habits, processing information. What are some of their innate ways that differ from previous generations?

This could be an interesting study, because we as educators don't recognize the differences in how this generation processes, gathers, and analyze data to solve problems. Most of us are still using traditional linear methods of releasing information that includes long hours of study and comprehension. This generation learns in smaller "bursts" of information, with the ability to jump to new topics of interest instantly to break-up boredom and re-energize. They then return to the original task with new found energy and clear thinking. Some of this comes from Prensely's book "Digital Natives". The memorization and recall of information is no longer an indicator of a students success in the workforce. Their measurement will be more on problem solving and working in teams, collaborating solution. Your thoughts....

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I really do not think we have a good enough definition of how thinking is done by the older folks in order to compare it to the thinking ways of this new generation. There are far more thinking models inthe middle and older folks who may or may not have access to the Internet, and certainly did not grow up with it. How will you know what differences are due to the technology exposure and what difference are in their genes?

For the past 20-30 years, I've been hearing educators say that the next generation has to be problems solvers and collaborate, yet a study of any newspaper will show that the majority of available jobs are pretty much the same jobs as were available 20-30 years ago. Still a need for people to clean motel rooms, dole out fast food meals, collect garbage, change tires, sell on commission, and so on.
Hi Anne,

thanks for your input. I agree that there is a need to fill the types of jobs you've outlined. I worked at the Boston Globe for five years before entering academia and I can share with you that the Globe was not getting the job requests from top employers in our community, as a matter of fact these companies were going to Monster.com and other online job boards. Studies done by the Federal Bureau of Employment statistics claim that college grads earn 20% to 30% more income than non-college grads and there is a demand for bio-engineers, technology admin and network professions in my area (Boston) that are having a difficult time finding qualified people.

With regards to learning styles: Malcom Knowles, Piaget, Mager and others have provided us with numerous studies on how young and older students learn. Technology on the other hand, has influenced how the 21st students process information. Web 2.0 tools have provide these students with the technology to interact with information and other across far distances. The problem solving that Prensky was taking about is how do we support students who have high skills in building connections with information, peer, organizations (like this one) to solve problems. Business that I've spoken with have outlined they need college grads who can think on their feet, analyze data and make intelligent decisions without having to ask their boss - work more independently, and in many cases work across organizations. An environment very much different than the jobs you've outlined.
Like you, I always studied with music, tv, and a passel of younger sisters milling about. In college, I was a single mother of two teenagers, and everything was always going at once. When I got on the computer 20+ years ago, I continued to multi-task. As I write I am listening and sometimes watching Fast Forward over my shoulder. I am 64 years old.

I am distrustful of businesses who say that they want lots of problem solvers, critical thinkers, and self-teachers. I suspect they say this so that they can reduce the salaries of people who can do all of those things. Over my life I've seen businesses say that they really want this, this, and this in their emerging employees, and when they get it, they change to that, that, and that. I remember when they told schools that if we could just teach kids to do things in a timely fashion and get to work on time, they would love to have them as employees. So, we turned out clock-watchers, and lo and behold, the businesses wanted employees who could write a sophisticated resume instead.

So businesses say now they will pay for problem solvers, critical thinkers, and self-learners, but how long will they hold that promise? As soon as we start graduating them, the businesses will be back to wanting clock watchers.

So, don't not put much stock in what business says they want in employees. They are only describing what they would like to get cheap.

BTW, the late Jerry Bracey loved to point out that most of the engineering college graduates ended up taking jobs outside their field since there weren't enough engineering jobs to go around. He had the numbers to prove it.
Hehehe that's really what businesses are like ... But again, do we really have to choose between self-learners and the clock watchers. I mean 'watching the clock' reflects upon an individual's commitment to her job. Doesn't it? And yes, showing a sense of responsibility as well as demonstrating the ability to find answers (self-learning) are both valuable lessons to be learned at school. They are lessons for life far more than assets amongst job candidates.

So don't we need to create situations in school or otherwise that teach students both?
In university I recall turning the TV on in my dorm room, turning the volume off, turning my stereo on and reading my text books or writing notes on a paper. Somehow the noise and flickering images galvanized my study. Coffee also helped. As a young parent I perforce worked amidst chaos. I write recreationally and up until recently I could do it immersed in a variety of environments. Now I find that writing requires a simplified environment. But not all writing and certainly not all activities. I am one with the young people now. The internet with its databases and social networking has certainly affected the way I gather information, process it and report.
This area is one of my biggest pet peeves!!

Since the onset of the Internet, and it's rapidly growing use in education, students have come to believe that "if it is written on the Internet, then it has got to be true!" Aaaaaarrrrrrrgh!!!

One activity that I do with my students each year is called "The Internet: Fact or Fiction". I have the students go to different websites. They have to evaluate each site based on the 5 areas: Accuracy, Authority, Objectivity, Currency and Coverage. Once they are done with the evaluation, they must determine if the website truly exists or not. It's amazing (and scary) how often they are wrong!!

I have tried to get my school district to in-service the teachers on how to teach students how to "read" web pages and how to properly cite them as well. However, my concerns don't seem to be of a major priority. :-(

Sally Irons
Niles, Michigan

I think you are tapping into an important question. I would consider myself a "Digital Native". Following some of my thoughts.

1. The half life of knowledge is rapidly decreasing :)! (not sure you use that term in English - its from the radioactive half life)
2. Knowledge is increasingly accessible through the internet.
3. The majority of all young people will become "knowledge workers".

-> The methodology of how to acquire the right knowledge at the right time is a crucial skill. (ref. problem solving, etc.)
-> Personal skills (social skills, leadership skills, etc.) are the deciding factor of individual careers


I don't believe people learn different to earlier times but the priorities of what is important have shifted. Replication of static knowledge are useless in todays world. And although the tools of creating engaging educational experiences are growing - we shouldn't mix them up with the creativity that is needed to actually build the experience.
good point!
i definitley see how the use of technology is impacting our students. Students can use search engines, where in the past, they had to go to volumes of encyclopedias. I teach Special education and technology has made education more accessible and in many cases I am seeing success. We have a visual generation. the student who does not pass paper and pencil tests is often excellent in hands on activities. Education today must be a balance and we must still teach our students the old and new ways. they need to be able to access information many different ways because computers are not always accessible.
In my eyes, the biggest difference between "them" and "us" has to be the ability to delay gratification (patience).

When the internet in my class is running slow, I can wait for the pages to load, my kids complain and "problem-solve" it with their 3G cellphones.

Then I tell them about the time when songs were downloaded over dial-up at 28... And how Napster would be running all night only to find out the next morning that the One song I had downloaded wasn't the version I wanted. Then I would start all over again the following night so that the transfer wouldn't tie up the line.

So, again, we can DO the same things... But our "training" is different. We were trained for endurance, kids today are sprinters!
I don't mean they shouldn't complain. My point is they approach the situation differently.

Our life has gotten faster, theirs has always been fast. Patience and the ability to wait is a natural consequence of this difference.
I want to thank all of you who are participating in this discussion. You have brought a lot of good information to the table. As I review your comments, I noticed that it generates only more questions - that's a good thing!

Let me share with you addition information and comments from other professional out there:
Michael Wesch, "A Vision of Students Today (and what Teachers Must Do)," Encyclopedia Britannica blog, Oct. 21, 2008, http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/10/a-vision-of-students-today-...

There is something in the air, and it is nothing less than the digital artifacts of over one billion people and computers networked together collectively producing over 2,000 gigabytes of new information per second. While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. Classrooms built to re-enforce the top-down authoritative knowledge of the teacher are now enveloped by a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation.1

Sociality Is Learning

This post was originally written for the DML Central Blog. If you're interested in Digital Media and Learning, you definitely want to check this blog out.

As adults, we take social skills for granted... until we encounter someone who lacks them. Helping children develop social skills is viewed as a reasonable educational endeavor in elementary school, but by high school, educators switch to more "serious" subjects. Yet, youth aren't done learning about the social world. Conversely, they are more driven to understand people and sociality during their tween and teen years than as small children. Perhaps its precisely their passion for learning sociality that devalues this as learning in the eyes of adults. For, if youth LIKE the subject matter, it must not be educational. Unfortunately, I fear that we are doing a disservice to youth by not acknowledging the social learning that takes place during this period. Worse, what if our efforts to curtail social interactions out of a preference for "real" learning have professional costs?

Very few of us work in professions where we are forced to focus on one anti-social task all day, every day. Even academics, a notoriously hermitic bunch, have to interact with students, fellow faculty members, and perhaps grant makers at some point. Most of us are constantly relying on and honing our social skills, developing new techniques to communicate our message, navigate office politics, manage someone's expectations, and keep the peace. Those in service jobs face this in an acute way, having to manage irate customers and balance many people at once. Social skills are the bread and butter of professional life. So how do we learn them?

It's easy to point to middle school as ground zero of youth drama. The rise of status hierarchies combined with budding sexuality throws all sorts of relationships upside down. Bullying, social categories, and popularity are all there. But the key to "surviving" middle school is learning how to navigate these muddy waters with an intact self-esteem. It's not that jealousy and other social dramas disappear after middle school; it's that they get much more nuanced as people's skills improve. But for people to improve their skills, they must learn how to manage unpredictable and uncomfortable social situations. These aren't skills learned in abstract; they're learned through practice.

Over the last three decades, youth lives have gotten increasingly structured. Many youth spend little to no time in unstructured social settings, otherwise known as "hanging out." The practice of hanging out is consistently demonized by educationally-minded folks as a waste of time. Yet, it is in that space where youth learn to navigate social situations, make sense of impression management, and develop the social skills necessary to be productive adults.

Social media has created an interesting rupture in the landscape. Youth turn to it to reclaim unstructured social encounters, to create a public space that allows them to simply hang out with their friends, peers, and cohort. The flirting, gossiping, and joking around that takes place is not proof that social media is useless, but proof that it's extremely valuable. Without other spaces in which to gather, youth have developed their own. They want to be social, but we also need them to develop social skills. What's fascinating is that they're learning to do so in a mediated landscape, developing norms that will persist through adulthood. It's not like all social encounters between adults are face-to-face; learning how to interpret a Facebook post is a great skill to have when entering an email-centric corporation.

Rather than demonizing social media or dismissing its educational value, I believe that we need to embrace the environments that youth are using to gather and help them learn to navigate the murky waters of sociality. We cannot "fix" their social worlds, but we can provide the scaffolding that they need to help learn to make sense of sticky social situations. We can serve as listeners, guides, and cheerleaders. We can be there when they're trying to make a decision about a best way to handle a situation and play devil's advocate when they need to work through complicated dynamics. But to be there for youth, we have to treat them with respect and value what they're learning. We have to value the importance of learning about sociality. And we need to be able to listen as confidants, not judges.

We can continue to demonize social spaces, dismiss hanging out, and overly regulate our kids. But I believe this does them a disservice. Being a successful adult in society requires social skills. And we desperately need to give youth space to learn them. They're committed to learning; why aren't we supporting them in doing so?



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