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Learning and Technology: It’s time to change course

Technology is changing how we learn and we need to change how we teach. There have been several studies that have confirmed predictions that students who have grown up with digital media will learn differently and demand a more engaging form of education (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010).

One study concludes that Generation Y students are visual learners and that only a very small percentage of the general population prefers to learn by reading (Weiler. A., 2005). A study by Oblinger and Oblinger, quoted in the ‘Handbook of Online Learning’, defines the learning characteristics of those born since 1982 as:

  • > Multitasking rather than single task focused
  • > Preference to learn from pictures, sound and video rather than text
  • > Preference for interactive and networked activities


Hypertext Minds

The handbook describes the minds of millennials as “hypertext minds, craving interactivity, easily reading visual images, possessing good visual-spacial skills, and having the ability to parallel process (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010, Chap.4).” The author of Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world, Don Tapscott, outlines ‘eight norms’ based upon his research that he says unify the net generation. They include (Tapscott, D., 2008):

  1. Freedom – They want choice in ALL areas of their lives.
  2. Customization – Can’t accept mass-produced products and regularly customize their purchases and their jobs.
  3. Scrutiny – Instinctively scrutinize any information they encounter, exposing hoaxes and false pretenses.
  4. Integrity – They expect companies to display honesty.
  5. Collaboration – Grew up collaborating, it is natural for them.
  6. Entertainment – Expect to take regular breaks from work to relax and don’t see clear lines between work and play.
  7. Speed – Expect everything to happen quickly.
  8. Innovation – They expect change and want the best and latest toys.

Change is Needed

There are several who argue that a shift in pedagogy is required to keep up with changing minds. Tapscott contends that traditional education with its mass-produced information no longer works. He cites high drop-out rates as an indicator that education’s methods are outdated and that education must evolve to help students thrive in an information-based economy (Tapscott, D., 2008).

The Handbook of Online Learning authors agree and cite a report from Futurelab, Rudd, Sutch and Facer (2006) that highlights the importance of networks and describes them as the fundamental underpinnings of social organization. The ability to understand how to join, build, regulate, communicate and navigate these networks therefore, becomes increasingly important skills (Rudestam, K.E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J., 2010). We are required to ask “whether our current education system, premised not upon networks but upon individualized acquisition of content and skills, is likely to support the development of the competencies needed to flourish in such environments (Rudd, T., Sutch, D., & Facer, K., 2006, p.4).”

Another advocate of changing traditional pedagogy from ‘I teach, you learn’ or ‘sage on the stage’ to a more interactive approach is John Seely Brown. His lecture on Learning in the Digital Age stresses the social view of learning. He describes this as moving away from the credo ‘We think, therefore we are.’ to ‘We participate therefore we ARE’. The chart he developed below, characterizes the shifting role of professors, learning activities and student behaviors that is demanded in a Web 3.0 world.

eLearning and online learning 3.0 from John Seely Brown


He claims that professors have moved from being a ‘source of knowledge’ to an ‘orchestrator of collaborative knowledge creation.’ Student behaviors have shifted from being ‘largely passive’ to more of a ‘co-creation of resources’ including a strong sense of ownership.

Help or Hindrance?

Some have questioned whether technology can help facilitate the changes required to teach in a new way.  And others have suggested that the answer is to limit or ban students from using social networks and technological devices in the classroom. The short answer to whether or not technology is a help or hindrance to learning is ‘it’s complicated’.

Handbook authors Rudestam and Schoenholtz-Read argue that this is the wrong question and contend that students are already conditioned to use digital media and so educators need to adjust. Dana Boyd would agree as she has this to say in her research publication, ‘Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life’ (Boyd, D., 2007, p.21):

“As a society, we need to figure out how to educate teens to navigate social structures that are quite unfamiliar to us because they will be faced with these publics as adults, even if we try to limit their access now. Social network sites have complicated our lives because they have made this rapid shift in public life very visible. Perhaps instead of trying to stop them or regulate usage, we should learn from what teens are experiencing. They are learning to navigate networked publics; it is in our better interest to figure out how to help them.”

My goal as a teacher and media psychologist is to help navigate the rough waters ahead. I’m an advocate for change and choose to have an extremely optimistic view of the role of technology in our lives and more specifically how we learn.  Obstacles lay ahead but I hope to be part of finding innovative solutions, our future depends on it.


Boyd, D. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. MacArthur foundation series on digital learning–Youth, identity, and digital media volume, 119-142.

Brown, J. S. (2009). Lecture on Learning in the Digital Age. YouTube:

Oblinger, D., Oblinger, J. L., & Lippincott, J. K. (2005). Educating the net generation.   Boulder, Colo.: EDUCAUSE, c2005.1 v. (various pagings): illustrations.

Rudd, T., Sutch, D., & Facer, K. (2006) Opening education: Towards new learning networks. Futurelab. (

Rudestam, K. E., & Schoenholtz-Read, J. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of online learning. Sage.

Tapscott, D. (2008). Grown up digital: How the net generation is changing your world HC. McGraw-Hill.

Weiler, A. (2005). Information-seeking behavior in Generation Y students: Motivation, critical thinking, and learning theory. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 31(1), 46-53.