Learning in a Digital Age

I’m a modern-day 21st century college student. I go to a university with a heavy use of technology; a library full of Apple desktops and iPads in the classrooms. And let’s face it: the new digital age plays a huge role in learning. We, as modern-day students, retain information quite differently than our predecessors. We are visual leaners, quick-on-our-feet thinkers, and we speak a different digital language altogether. As Marc Pensky says in his article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” (link), “Our students today are all ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet.” He calls these modern-day, tech-savvy students “digital natives.”

However, Pensky argues, this new “native-speak,” this digital explosion, can be potentially dangerous to our learning.

“Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast,” Pensky claims in his writing. “They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to ‘serious’ work.” Students nowadays are always moving forward.

Digital Natives seek personal pleasure or entertainment when they learn, and they expect to find answers fast. Older generations (heavily-accented “Digital Immigrants,” Pensky calls them, who have dabbled in both the technological and pre-digitized past) are in trouble of not knowing how to speak the new language. For me, as a student I do think it is easier to have everything spelled out more visually and accessibly, such as books/articles and things. My latest tech-splurge was a Kindle Fire HD, for instance, and I LOVE it. However, as a nostalgic I do see the intrinsic value of print/”old school” reading. Plus there is nothing like the smell of a fresh new book.

The middle ground is no easy path, but it is possible with communication, adapting to change, and finding a way to teach the “Legacy” (traditional curriculum) with the Future. Blogger Henry Jenkins agrees with the prospect of moving forward for both Natives and Immigrants. He agrees that, no matter which generation we come from, we can all learn as teachers and students from each other. “In reality, whether we are talking about games or fan culture or any of the other forms of expression which most often get associated with digital natives, we are talking about forms of cultural expression that involve at least as many adults as youth… They are spaces where adults and young people can at least sometimes approach each other as equals, can learn from each other, can interact together in new terms, even if there’s a growing tendency to pathologize any contact on line between adults and youth outside of those familiar structures.” (link)

No matter how we look at it, the digital age (and our students) is our future, and we must adapt to it. Together we can learn from both past and present, moving towards our future–even if it is on a shiny new iPad.

– Allyson Escobar


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