NetGen Learners: Where’s The Action? Check the Assumptions at the (Classroom) Door?

It seems you cannot find an educational technology blog, publication, presentation these days that do not somehow mention or directly address the NetGeneration learners (and most roads linking to a great EDUCAUSE e-publication). This is a Good Thing… to a degree. I find two things lately tickling my critical bones– (1) Recognizing is just a start; what are the actions to take, and are we really changing our educational practice, or just singing along with the chorus? and (2) I am a bit wary of applying the notions with a broad brush, and forgetting when dealing with human behaviors, we always deal with a spectrum of qualities.

But first a story… and this is why this resonates with some many people is that we either live with or know someone who is a Living Research Subject of a NetGen person. A colleague recently shared her story of her youngest daughter going off to her first year at a university. Mom helped her move, and then, waiting for some information, waited patiently while no phone calls came to describe how things where going. Mom simmers a few days saying, “I will give her time.” Finally, the older daughter, who is graduated now, calls her younger sister and asks, “Why you have not called Mom? She’s going nuts.” The response? “I wrote everything on my blog! If she just read that, she would know how I am doing? Why do I have to call all these different people to tell my stories, when they could just read my blog!!!!”

So we have our own first, second hand experiences. We know the current generation is almost a different species than our own (a trend that goes back as far as you can go, right?). I’ve heard another presentation where this is highlighted the point again, and at some point, it gets a tad repetitious. At some point we ought to be talking more about what we are doing to address this, strategies for making change, etc. And the irony, of hearing this again at a presentation last week (and even duly noted by the presenter) was that the mode we are communicating this (a single speaker lecturing to a passive audience) is in direct contradiction to the message that learning is social, active learning is the key to engagement, etc. etc. etc. What are educators in their professional gatherings not changing their own practice?

And on the other side, there is a subtle danger of assuming every room full of students from the defined age group are all game playing, multi-tasking, IM-ing, MTV mindset sterotypes. Another colleague, who has taught online for eons, told me of a class last semester of mixed age students, but non of them had experience, skills, or interest in using online tools. She faced a great deal of apprehension in trying to engage them in the tools that “should” be of instant ease to the “typical” NetGen learner. The fact is there is no such entity, so the problem gets even broader, or dealing with groups of people who are on different parts of a spectrum.

For now, I have not many answers for either. I do strive in any presentation, to avoid a “me only talking, me only clicking” session, but truth be told, 95% of the content being transmitted at presentations can be done offline, asynchronously, and the face to face tome ought to used for more processing, exchange, interactive types of activities. If you are sitting in one of these sessions, and it seems like it is content you could simply download or read from a web site, you know what I am talking about. A lecture is a lecture is a lecture.

I am less certain how we “gauge” the “NetGen”-ness of a group of people- I’d be loathe to rely on some sort of survey (“What is Your NGIQ?”). I’d like to see more things popping up of ways educators are dealing with the changing nature of student bodies, what sorts of projects, activities are working, etc.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Hi Alan. Like you I’m entirely suspicious of relying on a native/immigrant dichotomy – it seems to me more like a scare tactic than a useful frame for the discussion of how we get teachers to use technologies to support a range of learner-centred pedagogic practice. Like all dichotomies, it’s an easy to understand, and compelling narrative.

    However – I’d just like add this experience to the post: I was in the audience of one of the morning lectures at the UK MoodleMoot this year, when the chap giving the presentation said much the same thing – bemoaning the fact that his talk was pretty much a one way experience, and that we were subsequently a passive audience. At which point, the room imperceptibly exploded. A significant amount of people in that room were engaging fully with the presentation (or not) and the rest of the audience – by blogging and through the back channel. And another significant portion of the audience were engaging in the conversations over the shoulders of others.

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