EDTECH537: The Digital Generational Gap: Does it Affect Learning?

This week’s prompt regarding digital natives and generational differences in learning has forced many an edit on this blog post – many an edit!

On the one hand, I don’t buy into the assertion that modern students (“digital natives” – those raised with technology) absolutely need to have instruction altered to accommodate their learning needs, as Marc Prenzky almost demands in this article. After all, learning styles is a thing of the past. On the other hand, I am a fan of modernizing the curriculum and keeping lessons realistic – it’s best practice in my field. So if having my students format written responses as emails rather than traditional essays means I’m speaking the language of my digitally native crowd, then pat me on the back. However, though I might alter the format of an assignment, the essence of what I want learners to demonstrate is still there (in this case, communicative reporting in the formal German voice), and sometimes I get the added bonus of a modern, relevant skill (here: writing and formatting an email in German).

Also, when utilizing technology in my lessons, it’s not the focus; it’s just the most convenient medium by which to convey the lesson. For instance, though I often present beginner-level German learners with crazy comprehensible-input based stories via PowerPoint slides, these stories are based in the centuries-old tradition of storytelling and using repetition for learning, not technology. And though I may introduce myself to new classes via a creative Animoto video, the technology isn’t the focus, it’s just the means to an end (an entertaining hook to begin the new school year) that has the added bonus of adding a bit of pizzazz to the lesson.

So I suppose you could say that I am amenable to keeping my students engaged and motivated to learn by allowing them to practice skills in meaningful, interesting contexts. Technology is sometimes a great channel by which to do this, sometimes not. Therefore, on the whole, I don’t believe teachers or instructional designers must bend over backwards or jump on the techie bandwagon to design tech-laden instruction and accommodate today’s plugged-in generation of learners. Creating video game after video game to motivate digital natives to learn – a practice Prensky (2001) practically elevates to cult status  – doesn’t always apply (in fact, many of his suggestions are delusional according to Jamie Mackenzie who published this post in refute of Prensky’s bogus claims).

If instruction engages learners by giving them opportunities to explore, debate, discuss, examine, defend, and experiment (moving all around Bloom’s taxonomy tonight!) with the concepts and skills they are learning, then we teachers have done our jobs and helped our digital natives emerge from their narcissistic cesspools to truly experience and learn from the world around them – using technology as the carrot or not.



Gray, P. (2014). Why is narcissism increasing among young Americans? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201401/why-is-narcissism-increasing-among-young-americans

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2). Retrieved from http://fno.org/nov07/nativism.html

[No author]. No evidence to back learning styles (2017). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/12/no-evidence-to-back-idea-of-learning-styles

[No author]. What is comprehensible input? Teacher Vision. Retrieved from https://www.teachervision.com/learning-disabilities-month/what-comprehensible-input

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6). Retrieved from  http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf



11 thoughts on “EDTECH537: The Digital Generational Gap: Does it Affect Learning?

  1. I agree curriculum needs to be modernized and lessons should be realistic. For example, last year, I had a student read a book from one of our reading programs and in the story, the main character was developing film. Of course, a third grader did not understand what that meant. Just like we change and adapt readings and textbooks to be more relevant to students living in today’s society, we should do the same with technology. Technology allows us to provide more real life opportunities and authentic learning, within the constraints of our four walls. For instance, in your class, students can skype with a classroom in Germany to practice their conversational language. Yes, students could practice with one another, but what is more authentic than talking to a native German speaker? We are not changing how or what they learn, just how we present the information to students or the artifacts of student learning.


    • Amen, Kendal! Although it’s sometimes hard to give up old ways (I can see some teachers thinking it valid to keep lessons with references to older concepts, such as film development), it’s much more interesting – therefore engaging – to the students when focus on what’s relevant to their learning. My predecessor, for instance, was stuck on using overheads and the slide projector, and though I tried his methodology when I was first hired and faced with 5 preps, I was thoroughly bored, which made me wonder how much more bored my students were. I can say that through the modernization of the curriculum, the students are much more engaged and using their language for realistic purposes.


  2. I like what you said about technology being the tool, but not the lesson. It is true that having your students write an email in German is a fun and cool way for them to practice a skill, but the lesson isn’t structured around the email, it is structured around practicing the language. I think this is really important to remember when discussing the use of technology in the classroom. It isn’t there to replace a teacher, only to enhance a learning opportunity.


    • I’ve learned the hard way not to structure lessons around a certain technology, or I spend all my time teaching the tool instead of German, which for me, equates to a lost lesson.


  3. Hi Kerri,
    I think that you are spot on with your assessment of curriculum redesign. I think that all schools should be looking at their curricula to see how they fit with both federal/state standards but also how they fit with ISTE standards. It is simply unavoidable to acknowledge that students in the US will need to know how to use technology to some extent in their lifetime. While I don’t think that a change needs to be abrupt, I think that schools should be gradually using the ISTE standards to improve their course structure and incorporate the soft skills that students will need for their future. This change doesn’t need to be painful, and I refuse to use technology simply for the sake of using it. Unless it really changes the way that I teach or my students show their learning, I don’t see the purpose. I think that foreign language has a great opportunity to use technology, and those in my school who teach foreign language are often the first to use a new tech tool.
    Thanks for sharing!


    • It’s interesting you bring up ISTE standards, as I doubt even one-quarter of our staff know about them (if any, really). We’re not a 1:1 school, and even if we were, our district is provides no guidelines as how to best integrate technology into the classroom (unfortunately). It’s a “to each their own” mentality (plus we have no district tech plan to guide us, and there will purposefully be no movement toward one, or so I was recently informed).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thankfully for us “foreign language” weirdos, no one seems to understand what we’re about, so we get to go about our business and try out quite a few tools before others discover them (usually, because we’re the first to find them out of need).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post! Count me in, for the technology is only a tool camp. I agree with you about the whole mythical “digital natives” thing. Yes, they have grown up with technology but that in no way implies that they can use it effectively or even efficiently. Good teaching is the key and I think the core principles of engagement by using a taxonomy such as blooms still makes as much sense today as it did in yesteryear.

    I do instructional technology for a school and am well aware of the tools and try to keep abreast of new tools in the field. However, if a teacher comes to me wanting to engage students more or have them “create a movie”. The first question i ask them is what exactly do you want to accomplish, what are the learning goals and outcomes. Way to often I see students (and faculty) struggle with the technology and lose sight of the larger learning goal.


    • Hi Dan – you have my ideal job! I’d love to get the teachers (and admin) at our school on board with technology integration done the right way. Since we’re not a 1:1 school, and technology has come in waves to us as the district office approves, there has been no one to properly integrate it, which means we’re left to our own devices. To each their own, really. And though I’m sure many teachers are doing what they believe to be “helpful” in terms of using technology in class, what I see and hear about their issues with the technology itself (i.e. lessons ending up as tech-based trouble-shooting sessions) proves otherwise.

      Do you have a protocol you go through when a teacher comes to you wanting to use technology? Perhaps a set of questions you always start out with to analyze their needs? Are there other instructional technologists in your district you are able to collaborate with? I’m hoping our district creates a few positions, but it seems they are looking to get free help from within schools by setting up “tech experts” (teachers) from within who, instead of having a traditional duty (study hall), will use that hour to help others with tech needs. Not a great idea, in my opinion, particularly as the role is its own profession.


    • P.S. A side thought: I kind of have to laugh at the “digital natives” argument, because I often find that though students are online a lot (Snapchat, Instagram – social media, mainly), they lack basic tech skills one would assume they have (how to upload a file, how to create a .pdf, how to alter an image, etc.). I worked in tech support prior to business and then teaching, so perhaps I know a tad more than the average Joe, but nothing I first thought “digital natives” didn’t know. Boy, was I in for an eye-opener!


  5. Kerri,
    You are in a tough spot. I think many schools face your same situation in which they know technology is a big thing but are really unsure (or don’t have the funds) on how to implement it in the right way and give the teachers the support and encouragement they need to succeed. It comes back the wrong assumptions that just because they are digital natives the students already know about technology.

    You are right on with your assumptions that this is not the best way to go about it. I have seen schools that have gone your route and are struggling. You will have those few teachers that seem to push forward but in the end it creates a tough situation for the students as well.

    Here is a TED blog on questions to ask: http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/05/26/3-questions-to-ask-before-using-new-technology-in-the-classroom/
    And my guest blogger – an instructional technologist where I work posted this: http://kachoo.com/2017/07/25/4-things-to-do-before-starting-a-11-initiative/
    Still thinking about these articles, i am now in the notion that Prensky is doing way more harm than good as we try to integrate technology in a effective manner in the classroom.


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