That’s the title of a chapter in a new free e-book my Martin Weller titled The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. And the answer to that question is, in a word, “maybe.” It’s a pretty interesting look at the research on digital technologies in a learning context (or lack thereof) and the tensions of the moment when trying to figure out exactly what all of this means for higher ed with, I think, some useful applications to the K-12 world.
One conclusion that I totally agree with concerns the knowledge that kids have around these technologies from a learning perspective:
Overall, as Bennett et al. (2008) suggest, there is little strong evidence for the main claims of the net generation literature, which they summarise as follows:
Young people of the digital native generation possess sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information technologies.
As a result of their upbringing and experiences with technology, digital natives have particular learning preferences or styles that differ from earlier generations of students.
Weller makes the point that
There seems little real evidence beyond the rhetoric that the net generation is in some way different from its predecessors as a result of having been exposed to digital technologies. There is some moderate evidence that they may have different attitudes.
However, he also suggests that the influence of the Web on society is a large part of the reason schools need to consider changing:
But it is possible to at least conclude that there is significant activity online across a range of society, and the intersection of these activities (socialising, sharing, content creation, information seeking) has a direct relevance to education.
And one other interesting note. While dissatisfaction with schools is nothing new, Weller points out one big difference of this moment as compared to the past:
There is growing dissatisfaction with current practice in higher education – there seems little strong evidence for this. Probably more significant to the culture of education has been the shift to perceiving the student as a customer. There is certainly little evidence that the dissatisfaction is greater than it used to be, but what may be significant is that there are now viable alternatives for learners. Universities have lost their monopoly on learning, which reinforces the next point.
Higher education will undergo similar change to that in other sectors – there are some similarities between higher education and other sectors, such as the newspaper and music industries, but the differences are probably more significant. However, the blurring of boundaries between sectors and the viability of self-directed, community-based learning means that the competition is now more complex. [Emphasis mine.]
I’m really interested to see how those “viable alternatives for learners” play out. At some point, are we going to have move away from “college prep” and just make it “learning prep?”
Some interesting ideas to consider as we think about the scope and scale of change that we are considering.