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Social Learning Blog

The Return of the (Digital) Native

Posted on March 25, 2011 at 02:53 AM

Digital Native childIn recent years, we’ve all heard a lot about digital natives. These precocious youths, born after or during the general advent of digital technology, have an inherent understanding of its concepts in a way that their forebears cannot hope to achieve. What’s more, they are beginning to use it at an increasingly young age – a recent study from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Sesame Workshop (producers of Sesame Street) found that 80% of children age 5 and under use the Internet at least once a week.

As this is well under the age at which language learning is easiest, and as one could argue that mastering the concepts of technology (as opposed to rote memorization) is somewhat similar to learning language, it’s not really a surprise that many of these children are becoming wired to learn in a way that is much more technology-oriented than their predecessors.

The problem, though, is that many primary schools are still geared to teach in ways that would be more or less recognizable to students from thirty years ago. Textbooks, blackboards, and overhead projectors remain the tools of choice for many teachers, at a time when their students are geared to learn from iPads, PowerPoint, and instant messaging. The result is a lost message, and a lost opportunity. An excellent article from Cross Pollination Media, titled “Are ‘Digital Natives’ Better Suited for Mobile Learning?” does an excellent job of illustrating the dilemma with some eyepopping statistics, showing plainly that “because of their interaction with media, Digital Natives process information and think differently than prior generations.”

While the increasing difficulty of engaging Digital Natives in a way that is meaningful to them is still mainly an issue for the school system, it will soon be an issue for corporate training professionals, as well. Already, the first classes of DNs have entered the workforce. Providing training to them in a way that reflects their preferred way of learning is a challenge that no company can afford to ignore.

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