Digital Natives ≠ Digital Learners

Over the past two weeks, a recurring theme has emerged. We tend of thinking of “Digital Natives” as being facile users of computers and communications technologies. We assume that they will be able to bring those skills into our classrooms to transform the learning environment, far outpacing the adult members of the community.

However, my experience is far different. What I will agree with is that “digital natives” are able to use their devices and networks both for entertainment and for social connections. In many ways, these devices, computers, smartphones, iPods have replaced the old one piece stereo system with 8 track player I had in my bedroom, plus the 13″ black and white television with rabbit ear antennas.  In their world, they have more access to a wider range of options and it is portable and always with them. Socially, they are able to communicate, plan, and stay connected with larger circles of friends, some who are connected mainly through electronic means. They are able to quickly create new media, audio and video and share it with a larger audience.

What they struggle with is leveraging these technologies and skills to support their learning journey. In many cases, they are limited in their ability to amplify the messages that they share. They need guidance to create a compelling narrative, either using text, audio, static images, and video. They are unable to leverage their learning communities to help push them towards new connections and ideas in areas in which they are passionate. They need to develop the voice and credibility to be able to promote new ideas and solutions building to solve real world issues through coalition building of new tribes of other passionate learners. The need to learn to push deeper and with greater focus, rather than flitting around from idea to idea.

When asked, what can we, the non-digital natives, can provide for these users, it is context and perspective. It is our collective experiences in learning and researching in a digital desert that allows us to be expert guides in this digital oasis. We have to learn how to channel and amplify their ability to make social connections into their ability to build a network around a cause or to promote their own learning.

That is our challenge. Are we ready to step up to it?


image courtesy of muzo189 ( under a Creative Commons License

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