Net Generation, Google Generation and Digital Native are all terms which conjure up the image of a tech savvy youth whose integration with digital technology has made them a virtually different species than the older digital immigrant, who can barely read an email without printing it off first. These terms have become popular and formed the basis for several assumptions about the behavior and attitudes of young learners, however there are also those that reject the idea of a digital native as they can see that these assumptions are misleading.
” I don’t see a Google Generation or Digital Natives in the learners I work with. Some are using Facebook and other tools, many are not. Those that are, not all are using these tools for learning.” (James Clay)
I have my own understanding on the Net Generation and what this means for education, which is based on Chris Andersons Long Tail theory. First of all I would like to point out that I am using the term generation quite loosely as I don’t think it refers to age. I am talking about the latest wave of learners, no matter what their age. We have all ‘grown up’ with Google, although not necessarily in our childhood. At what age do you stop ‘growing up’?
Instead of thinking about a generic Net Generation as a generic individual, I see this as a generation of individuals and within this generation there are a wide range of different preferences, interests and characteristics. What the internet has done, has allowed differences to flourish in other parts of their lives. So thanks to Amazon, people can chose to read from a wider collection of books, thanks to iTunes and spotify people can choose from a wider collection of music. This doesn’t necessarily mean the most popular titles will change, it just means a number of smaller niches will flourish. In these markets people no longer expect the one size fits all approach of making do with what they can buy at their local shops.
Within education there will be an increasing number of niches as individuals find increasingly diverse ways to learn whether its learning teamwork via world of warcraft or Learning to play the guitar with youtube or learning a language via twitter. This does not mean that the most popular way of learning has changed from classroom participation; it just means that other niches are flourishing.
What does this mean for practitioners?
As many people have said before, the one size fits all approach no longer works in education, maybe it never did. Practitioners could take advantage of this by providing education in a range of formats, but what they can’t do is decide how the learners will learn, as the individuals within this net generation will find their own niches with or without the help of practitioners.