Monday, September 21, 2009

OECD New Millennium Learners' Conference

It is a refreshing change to be at a conference focused on the impact of digital technologies on education that is grounded in evidence rather than hype and speculation. As background reading for the conference, which started today (Sept. 21) and runs until Sept. 23, the OECD organizers released a number of reports based on the research being conducted by the Centre for Educational Research & Innovation (CERI) New Millennium Learner Project. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the OECD findings are consistent with the findings of our research. They clearly support the view that this is a much more complex issue than is portrayed by the futurists and pundits and that few of their major claims are supported by research.

What became apparent, though, as I prepared for my participation in a panel discussion on needs and opportunities for new millennium learners is that there are two related but quite distinct discourses around the digital learner. The one that takes centre stage in North America and which I have been most critical of because there no solid research to back it up, is the Net Generation discourse. It suggests, among other things, that the net generation has learned a new set of sophisticated technology skills by merely being exposed to the technologies since birth. The implication is that we don't need to teach this generation how to use the technology to make sense of the overwhelming and increasing amount of information available to us. In fact, we are told, they can teach older generations how to use the technology. The second discourse is the 21st Century Skills discourse that informs this conference. It argues that the digital, networked technologies have changed the nature of the world and work. Work is increasingly knowledge-based, and the technologies are making increasing and vast amounts of information instantly available to us. To cope with these fundamental changes, it is argued, we need new skills of information and knowledge management using ICTs. It is not enough to know how to send text messages, use word processing tools, post to blogs, use Facebook etc. We all need to be able to to use these technologies to locate, analyze, evaluate and synthesize information that is relevant to our lives and work. Clearly, this is a fundamentally different perspective than the one put forward in the net generation discourse and it is supported by some excellent research that has been undertaken by OECD CERI.

To read two contrasting perspectives on the 21st Century Skills discourse read An Operating System for the Mind and the position put forward by the Common Core group.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

OECD Report Calls for More Research On Net Generation

The OECD has released a well-documented review of the net generation (or new millennium learner) research that confirms what most of the other methodologically sound research has suggested: "there is not enough empirical evidence yet to support that students' use of technology and digital media is transforming the way in which they learn, their social values and lifestyles, and finally their expectations about teaching and learning in higher education."

The report does conclude that students in higher education are heavy users of digital media and that they favour the use of technology but that they value technology use in education for its ability to improve access, convenience and productivity, not to radically change teaching and learning.

New Millennium Learners in Higher Education: Evidence and Policy Implications recommends that higher education institutions invest more in empirical research to "elucidate ways technology can provide more than convenience and productivity, in particular learning benefits either by providing a more rewarding experience or better learning outcomes, or both at the same time."