I know I’ve been posting a lot of my EdTech blog entries lately.  This is mainly because school work has been taking up the lion’s share of my time over the last few months.  I have, however, been trying to write my school assignments in such a way that they would be interesting to you, the readers.  With that in mind, here’s a little piece about what teachers need to do to accomodate students that have been raised in the digital age.

“And the help of, oh, sixty apprentices and journeymen from the Guild of Cunning Artificers. Perhaps there should be a hundred. They will need to work round the clock.”

“Apprentices? But I can see to it that the finest craftsmen-“

Leonard held up a hand. “Not craftsmen, my lord,” he said. “I have no use for people who have learned the limits of the possible.”

—Terry Pratchett’s The Last Hero

Introduction – Expectations

To understand the new generation, we must understand their expectations in learning. The purpose of this report is to discuss three areas of their expectations:

1) The expectation of interactivity

2) The expectation of discovery

3) The expectation of progression

The New Generation Expects Interactive Learning

One-way communication for extended periods of time is often lost on the new generation. Today’s learners have grown up with games, social media, and the internet. Their intellectual entertainment has been almost exclusively a two-way process, with them making decisions that lead them to the answers. They have an expectation of contribution to, not just reception of, information (Davidson, 2008).

I recently watched the Steven Johnson’s keynote address at the Handheld Learning Conference in 2008, and he suggested that children would do well to learn from the game Spore in their biology classes. He gave an anecdotal response that he once received following this suggestion: in learning in the conventional classroom environment, children learn the important lesson of “how to be tolerant of doing incredibly boring and dull things for long periods of time, because that is what life is all about.” (Johnson, 2008).

This anecdote was given as a joke, but the tragedy is that it speaks volumes about the difference between the generations. In past generations, there has been an expectation that students must adapt themselves to the inflexibility of the educator/employer/producer. As educators, we must adapt to the needs of the students/employees/consumers.

The New Generation Expects Opportunities for Discovery

George Patton once said “don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

The new generation does not want to be “spoon fed” lessons. They do not want to be tasked with learning a new technology for the sake of learning the technology. Rather, they want to be tasked with accomplishing tasks that require the new technology, and then given the latitude and information necessary to learn the technology along the way. The memorization of the individual facts will be a consequence of the pursuit of the goal, but not the goal itself.

We face an ever increasing degree of complexity in knowledge and media (Johnson, 2008). It is tempting to try to teach students how to learn in this new complexity, but the truth is that they already know. We need to step back at times and let them just play with the technology. Yes, they will make mistakes, but that is OK; each mistake chips away at the possible wrong answers, and guides the learner toward the correct answer. With that in mind, we must provide our learners an environment where they can safely make mistakes.

The New Generation Expects Progression

When I talk about progression, I am referring to the mechanism by which designers control the flow of learning objectives to keep the learner engaged, but not overwhelmed.

In order to explain this, I like to use the example of video game design. In video games, it is often necessary to initially limit the number of tools available to the player, and then slowly throttle out new tools when they are appropriate. If the player must take into account all of the advanced processes that happen late in the game, it can be overwhelming. One the other hand, if a player is given each new tool just as he or she masters the previous tool, that player will feel a sense of achievement and a desire to continue. When this is done properly, the designer is actually rewarding the lesson with another lesson.

An extension of progression is progressive expectations of the student. We need to take the information that they know, show the path to the various “next logical steps,” and then get out of their way. To put it another way, we should give them A to establish a baseline, B to establish a pattern, and then let them find C.


By adjusting our teaching styles to match the students’ learning styles (and not the other way around), we can provide our students with an environment where they learn in the ways that they learn best.


Davidson, C. N. (2008) Digital Youth and the Paradox of Digital Labor, HASTAC McArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. Durham, NC

Johnson, S. B. (2008). Keynote address. Handheld Learning Conference and Exhibition 2008. London, UK.

Johnson, S. B. (2006). Everything bad is good for you: how today’s popular culture is actually making us smarter. New York, NY: Riverhead Trade.