Mind the Gap?

Generational traits is a topic of interest given the new technological advancements over the past two decades. Generation X, Milennials, and now, even, Xennials are compared in the ways each learns, but IS there a difference REALLY?

From this week’s readings in 537, it’s clear that Prensky (2001) truly believes in a major “discontinuity” in learners, so much so that brain structures are changing. The processes through which information has been gained has altered the ways in which we learn, so how are educators to reach students of varying groups simultaneously? (insert eye roll) Now, I don’t know about you, but I seriously doubt ANY mode of instructional delivery can restructure the way my brain works. As an “Xennial” myself, I have been taught both in traditional ways as well as in a “21st-century” manner. Sure, I have a preferred delivery method, but this is not a preference I can expect all instructors to accommodate. In the end, I learned both ways. Sure the delivery was different, BUT the content was continuous, which ultimately would result in the dreaded NSD(No Significant Difference) if I were to comparatively study them. Like Clark (1994), I feel that “student achievement [isn’t influenced via technology] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22).  It’s all about the pedagogy behind the content. Why is a particular method or tool more effective than another? Or is it? Truly the difference lies within the teacher’s choices AND with the students’ response to instruction.

While McKenzie’s blog piece seemingly confronted Prensky’s work, I found that it just seemed to relabel learners as “immigrants” and “natives” of digital tools.  Much like other situations in life requiring abilities and knowledge, working/learning with technology is an acquired skill. Even Jem and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird confront this similar tremendous “discontinuity” in thinking over racism, and Scout makes the profound comment that “Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing” (p. 304). Immigrant or “native,” we all start somewhere. Prior to technology, some students in classes were better at math than others or reading, etc. Does this mean they were math, reading or anything otherwise “natives”? I think not, and yet I think there is something to the speed at which we can obtain knowledge via technology.

Reeves’ work most noticeably aligns the digital nativism theory to learning styles, which has still yet to be supported by conclusive research. It all seems to boil down to preferences. Don’t we all have preferences in all areas of life? Sure. So why wouldn’t we also have them in education and learning delivery methods? Like I mentioned previously, I have learned in a variety of manner, but much of this learning depended on my engagement with the material. Engagement depends heavily on the users and not necessarily the product of delivery.

So, to any colleagues who feel the need to cater to digital nativism, I’d simply ask why? That’s the simplest question with which educators begin lesson plans (or at least they should). Technology for technology’s sake will do little to spark learning. In fact, I’d dare ask proponents of digital natives to consider what new fangled technology will counter the new forms they so devoutly believe in. Won’t there always be new generations and new technologies which have become everyday fixtures to said groups? Yes, emphatically yes, but teaching a diverse population of learners with “new” strategies, devices, applications, and tools is not a new struggle. Despite new technologies and generational change (native, immigrants, or otherwise), we still struggle with reaching ALL students. From my short 14 years in education, I feel that the same old concepts have just been “upcycled”. There’s no magic bullet; there’s just good teaching and receptive learners.


Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21–29. doi:10.1007/BF02299088

Lee, Harper. ( 2006). To kill a mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 304.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently? On the Horizon, 9(6).

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions and digital deprivation. From Now On, 17(2).

Reeves, T.C. (2008, January 22-25). Do generational differences matter in instructional design? Online discussion presentation to Instructional Technology Forum.

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