What’s Wrong with Kids Today?
By Ryan L. Schaaf
Many educators share great concern about their students’ lack of ability to learn the way others did in the past. Oftentimes, these concerns are expressed by teachers who have been in the classroom for a long period of time. Some complain their traditional teaching methods are just not as effective with students in classrooms today as they once were. All of this is creating quite the debate about current teaching methods and the ability of the digital generations to learn.
Some educators, researchers and politicians have expressed concern about the increasing amounts of time today’s kids engage with their digital devices. There are even some individuals that suggest these tools are dumbing down today’s children and diminishing their ability to think for themselves. While it is important to acknowledge that there are genuine concerns in overuse, adults must realize that the children of the digital age use these tools in a manner that goes well beyond the ways previous generations used tools like paper, pencils, dictionaries, encyclopedias, or chalkboards. They are oftentimes engaging in self-directed, just-in-time learning experiences. The challenge many educators face is understanding how these tools can be leveraged in a manner that interests and engages digital learners for authentic, engaging, and transformative learning.
So, what’s truly wrong with kids today? Nothing- they are just neurologically wired differently. Gary Small, John Medina, Larry Rosen, Judy Willis, David Sousa, and other researchers, thought-leaders, educators and doctors have explored how technology literally wires and rewires kids’ brains in a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity. Their brains are being altered by chronic digital bombardment, or pervasive exposure to television, smartphones, computers, gaming consoles and tablets on a regular basis. This exposure that is typically occurring outside of schools.
A New Digital Reality
And what type of digital world are people living in today? The popular infographic 2019 This is What Happens in an Internet Minute shares multiple snapshots of the new digital reality. Every minute of the day, YouTube users watch 4.5 million videos, email users send 188 million messages, Google receives over 3.8 million search queries, 1 million Facebook users log in, Tinder users swipe 1.4 million times, Twitter users tweet 87,500 times, Instagram users post over 347,000 new photos, and Apple and Google users download 390,000 apps. According to NASBE, in the United States on average, kids today spend more than 80 hours a week using one, two or more screens simultaneously – as opposed to about 25 hours a week they spend attending school.
The always-on generation go online to chat with their friends, kill boredom, experience the wider world and follow the latest trends. They use their devices to meet, play, date and learn. It’s an integral part of their social life. It’s how they acknowledge each other and form their personal identities. Exposure to this new digital landscape may be the first experience in their lives with empowerment. Digital technologies enable them to be heard, recognized and taken seriously. Perhaps that is why they migrate online for what many adults consider to be far too much time.
It is imperative that today’s children learn the need for balance in their lives. The digital generations must learn to engage effectively with both online and offline worlds.
But conversely, balance goes both ways. In the same way that we – the older generations have every right to expect the digital generations to respect, understand and engage with our world and our values, we must also take the time and effort to respect, understand and engage with their world and their values.
Digital culture is the new normal – not just locally, regionally or nationally, but worldwide. And this new world of digital immersion has affected virtually every aspect of our lives, from our thought processes and work habits to our capacity for linear thinking, to how we feel about ourselves, our friends and even distant strangers.
Digital bombardment has transformed today’s learners into digital learners. And because of this transformation, the digital generations have developed new preferences for learning. Jukes, Schaaf, and Mohan (2015) identified nine key learning attributes of the digital generations. In the next post of this series, readers will explore these new attributes of digital learning and learn about tools and strategies to use in order to align with their students’ learning preferences.
About this post: This post is a part of The Brief History of the Future of Education series. Based on the newly-released book written by Ian Jukes and Ryan L. Schaaf, this series will explore the TTWWADI mindset in schools, examine school’s challenges of teaching in the Age of Disruptive Innovation, traverse the new learning attributes of the digital generation, predict what learning will look like 20 years from now, observe the essential next-generation skills schools must cultivate in its learners to prepare them to survive and thrive in the future, and consider the new roles educators must adopt to stay relevant in the profession.
About the Author:
Ryan Schaaf is Associate Professor of Educational Technology at Notre Dame of Maryland University and faculty member in the Digital Age Learning and Educational Technology program at Johns Hopkins University. His passion is working with educators to explore the potential of gaming in the classroom, the characteristics of modern-day learning and learners, and exploring emerging technologies and trends to improve education. Follow him on Twitter @RyanLSchaaf.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.