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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

These New Students of Our's

Over the course of this past semester, there have been a number of entries that I have read on other people's blogs that have got me thinking about who these students are that we serve in our classroom, and more importantly how they learn or how they learn best. Take for instance this entry posted at The Committed Sardine Blog entitled Early Start At Odds With Teens' Need For Sleep, which describes a research study that indicates that the time in which we begin schooling - which is getting earlier and earlier, particularly in urban and suburban areas - doesn't jive with teenagers because of the sleep patterns that their develop. Or an entry posted at Distance-Educator.com's Daily News entitled High school students study in virtual world which describes how today's teenager learns in a very different way than you and I did when we were in the K-12 system. In fact, this item argues that they learn in a very different way than what you and I learn even now, living in the same world with the same technologies available to us.

This isn't the first time that I have posted about this new generation of learners that we are seeing in our schools (see Virtual School Students, Generation M?, Do today's students think differently?, Will the virtual classroom redefine what it means to be a student?, and Students with neomillennial learning styles). And it appears that others are noticing now too, as evidenced in posts by DrAlb (see Millennials Go to College), elearnspace (see Millenial Learning), Teaching and Developing Online (see Teens, like, do lots at once and Life Online), and Stephen's Web ~ by Stephen Downes ~ (see Graham Wegner - My Mate, Tom - Teaching Generation Z).

If these students are in fact a different kind of students, regardless of the reason (i.e., they are socialized differently - n.b., Darren from Teaching and Developing Online points us to an interesting item related to this at What technology does to your brain?, their brains are wired differently - n.b., Darren also points us to another item related to this one at Getting to grips with learning styles, they are simply new generation with different quirks, etc.) we have to start to ask ourselves are we going to adopt the same methods of distance education that have proven effective for adults in correspondence and online learning environments and assume that they will work with this new and different generation? Or do we need to do something more?

If you look over at Most Recent Materials in MERLOT Teaching and Technology, they have posted any entry that looks at this very issue and provides some guidance on how to go about Preparing Students to Learn Online. Unfortunately this piece, like some many others that are out there still focuses upon an adult population - in this instance who are engaged in web-based training for the most part.

There is a great deal of new research on brain development and how that will affect learning based upon this new generation. The good people over at Online Learning Update alert us to one such item that examines this in relation to online learning (see Brain-Based Learning: Possible Implications for Online Instruction - Stephanie A. Clemons, Intructional Technology and Distance Learning).

Having said all of this, if you do a quick title search on Amazon.com there are only two books that many any reference to millennials in the title (see Millennials Rising : The Next Great Generation (Vintage Original) and Millennials Go to College: Strategies for a New Generation on Campus) - both by Neil Howe and William Strauss. I mention this because at the e-Learn conference in 2004 in DC, a keynote speaker from the Department of Education gave a presentation that largely focused upon these millennial learners and how we were going to have to make changes to the education system - at the time he was pushing for a more consumer driven, technology-based model - which is in keeping with the current conserative agenda in the United States. The following day, one of my co-chairs (Dr. Thomas C. Reeves) was the keynote and in his address, he took this Department of Education guy to task - asking about the research behind these millennial learner and such, because (like myself) at the time he could only find one book that even referenced them and this is a non-research based book.

I guess the point or the main question from this post... We keep hearing about these millennials inthe popular media. There has been new and, I would argue, exciting research going on with regards brain-based scans of children engaged in various activities. However, I have still yet to see much actual research (outside of a loose connection provided in the work of Chris Dede - see http://www.gse.harvard.edu/~dedech/) to these new learners.

Are they real or is this a construct of the media?

N.B., As a side note to this post, an entry entitled English Exams, the Medium, and the Message over at What is the (Next) Message? is an interesting read along side this one, as the author is caught up in the experiences of his daughter, much as what led Chris Dede to pursue this line of research in the first place.

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