Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dealing with Digital Natives

I subscribe to the Breakthrough Briefing web newsletter from a group called the elearn Campus. It's a great group that offers regular interesting webinars free-of-charge (always a good deal for a hard working instructional desinger). But my jaw had to drop when I read the article preceding their last webinar, Engage or Enrage.

What got me was this :
Marc Prensky, author of Digital Game-based Learning, delivered a keynote address at this summer's Desire2Learn Users Conference titled "Engage Me or Enrage Me." He talked about the great divide between digital natives (the kids who have grown up in the digital age) and the digital immigrants (folks like me who came of age well before the dawn of the digital world as we know it). Prensky's thesis is that many kids are thoroughly bored and uninterested in school because the nature of schooling has not changed much in hundreds of years. (my emphasis) The digital natives face the same old rote memory approach to learning that we did. However, in their lives outside the classroom they are using digital tools (e.g. WWW, wireless text messaging, electronic games, MP3s, PDAs, high end software) to be creators and active participants in activities, not just passive receptors and regurgitators of information. Hence, their rallying cry at school is "engage me or enrage me."

While a great number of today's kids may be truly web-engaged I think it is a gross overstatement to assume they all have to be catered to by engaging them with games. They claim Prensky argued that "...many very bright and creative kids have to turn off their brains and slow down when they go to school because they are not challenged in the ways they are, for example, playing electronic games."

I got news for Mr. Prensky I went to school in the 1960s and 70s when computers were still mainframes and I still got bored at the teaching styles. It's not a matter of digital natives being turned off by the teaching that occurs in school. It is all kids who get bored with what passes for education and it's one heck of an indictment of our teachers--even with their new teaching styles--it's still boring. But kids will always be bored because they do not want to be in school. The trouble is engagement too often becomes entertainment and no learning occurs.

Sometimes we have to do something that seems boring in order to learn. It's just the way of the world. And sometimes, in the corporate world, elearning has to be a page-turner.

1 comment:

Karl Kapp said...


Yes, I agree that school has been boring for some time, however, I think the digital native/immigrant issues is making it worse. It used to be that for kids, the only place to gain knowledge was from school or parents, now kids can gain knowledge from anyone in the world.

They can learn about economics by playing Roller Coaster Tycoon, they can learn social responsibility with SimCity.

These kids are on cell phones before and after school, they are on computers at home but in school, "computers" is a seperate class that they attend once a week. Of course they are turned off and bored, the tools their parents are using, laptops, cell phones, blackberrys are not present in a classroom.

Many teachers are Generation X or boomers, people who are digital immigrants and no matter how hard we try we can never "get it" at the level that these gamers (as I call them) get it.

Schools are fundamentally flawed in terms of preparing these gamers for the new workforce.

Before, we could get by because the pace of change was a little slower but now if the kids aren't graduating with some tech-savvy skills (today mostly gotten at home), they are not going to have a chance.