Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The New Millennium Learner

New Millennium Learner is the OECD term for Net Gen Learner. The OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) has an NML project that aims to "analyse this new generation of learners and understand their expectations and attitudes. The background paper published in 2006 for this project is one of the few papers on this topic that avoids going overboard with calls for radical transformation. Although a bit long-winded, the policy recommendations are measured and thoughtful and include:
  1. Bridging the gap between NML experiences of ICT-mediated inter-personal communication and knowledge management inside and outside classrooms by enriching schools’ range of available ICT devices and services, and by allowing room for using them in a variety of educational experiments and innovative practices.
  2. Making arrangements to better take into account NML voices regarding how education should be.
  3. Addressing gender and socio-economic imbalances.
  4. Creating incentives for the software industry to develop educational software for a vast range of devices (from computers to cellular phones) that try to apply the principles that make video-games so attractive and successful among NML.
  5. Engaging initial and in-service teacher training institutions in all these processes.
I do have concerns about this paper, however. Like most of the net gen literature it does not seriously question the underlying premise that this is a generational issue. In fact, the paper begins with the premise that there is a New Millennium Learner and that we need to define and characterize it. Although later in the paper the question is asked: is this "a generation-wide phenomenon: can the term be applied to cover all members of the generation?", the evidence used to answer it is sketchy at best: percentage of young people using computers and the Internet; the main uses of computers (information seeking, e-mail and instant messaging); and use of alternative devices such as cell phones. This kind of data says nothing about the impact on learning and does not support the many other claims that are made about this generation, some of which are repeated in this paper: preference for multimedia over text, expertise with multitasking, need for immediate feedback. The paper also repeats the claims about changes in social and personal values made by Tapscott and others: the NML is particularly hopeful, self-assured, determined etc. but then concludes, "there seems to be no empirical evidence yet to support this."

Overall the message of this paper is a bit contradictory. Unfounded claims are repeated and then dismissed but the basic premise of the existence of a distinct generation that needs our attention and requires policy responses remains unquestioned. On a more positive note, I was pleased to see a short discussion of socio-economic and gender issues. These are not often mentioned in the net gen literature.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Net Gen and Web 2.0

Here's more evidence that suggests the need for skepticism when it comes to the hype about the Net Gen and technology use.

This article in The Social Computing Journal suggests that the growth in use of social networking technologies like Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In is not among the Net Generation but among older users:

"Baby boomers... are embracing popular consumer technology applications nearly 20 times faster than younger generations. Compared to a year ago, Gen Y consumers between the ages of 18 and 24, are decelerating their use of consumer electronics and related services including social networking, blogging, listening to podcasts and posting video on the Internet. Yet, there was a 67 percent increase among baby boomers reading blogs or listening to podcasts."

The article suggests three explanations for this:
1. The Net Gen are not early adopters but rather followers waiting to see what the older, more experienced peers latch on to before they jump in.

2. The Net Gen has an innate sense that too much connectivity and too much time online is unproductive

3. The Net Gen is all about being cool, and these tools are no longer leading edge, and therefore cool.

But maybe the real explanation is that this isn't a generational issue. Bennett et al. (2008), for example, suggest there may be as much variation within generations as between. So perhaps analyzing technology use in this way isn't very helpful. Certainly making educational technology decisions based on generation is not useful.

Monday, May 4, 2009

TLT Conference Presentation - better version

Here's a higher quality version of my presentation to the Teaching and Learning to the Power of Technology conference. It is divided into several six minute segments. I have included the Power Point presentation below.

View more presentations from Mark Bullen.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Net Gen Presentation at TLT Conference

I presented at the Teaching and Learning to the Power of Technology conference in Regina, Saskatchewan this week. The topic generated a lot of interest from the audience. The conference was excellent and the organizers streamed many of the presentations. Mine is available for viewing and the Power Point can be downloaded.