Thursday, October 2, 2014

Challenging Digital Natives to Become Better E-Learners

We accept the fact that students who live and learn in the 21st century have never known a period of time when they were not connected to the web in some manner. However, we need to ask a very important question which is this:

Are digital natives automatically good e-learners?

I am going to suggest to you that they are not and point to the following problems and suggest that the solutions lie with the learner, the educator , and pedagogy.

Problem #1 --The Need for De-Programming the Learner

Astounding as this may sound, from the time that young people enter school to the time that they leave they are "engineered" socially, emotionally and intellectually to fit a particular mold that was set many years before. Students acquire very specific understandings about education and what is expected of them by the system.

Some of these understandings, up to the point where the world wide web entered their lives in the late 1990's, are:

  • The teacher is the fountain of all knowledge and authority in the school
  • Students are to be compliant and follow directions given by the teacher
  • Always strive to give the "right answer" without questioning the validity of the question that was asked.
  • What happens in school, in the classroom, is not the real world. Thoughts have walls and are not to go beyond the boundaries.
  • To excel in school, you need to get good at telling teachers what they want to hear and expect. You need to follow the guidelines in every subject area in order to pass the exam at the end and graduate into the real world.
Now, add to this list the understandings that occurred when the world wide web grew exponentially in the lives of students. The following understandings arrived in the minds of students:

  • Everything on the Internet is true and free to use without boundaries
  • Teachers don't know everything and based on the Internet are often wrong about what they profess to know about their own subjects
  • I can learn more from the Internet that I want to know than I can from a teacher.
  • The education system that I am a part of is not relevant to my life
  • I am entitled to what I want in life and should not be hindered by others who are not really connected

These understandings and expectations of education are what need to be "unlearned" in the 21st century because they belong to a model of education that was never intended to function effectively in the digital age. It is this programming that students bring with them into the e-learning environment. It is for that very reason that not all students can be successful e-learners. In order for them to be effective e-learners they require instructors who are effective and in synch with the e-learning environment. This brings me to the second problem:

Problem #2- The Need for De-Programming of Instructors

Instructors are the products of their training! Many were trained that they were to be the "sage on the stage" and students came to them with minds that were "tabula rasa". It was their job to fill those minds with the required curriculum and they would be judged by the performance of their students and the school as a whole. They were to follow the curriculum to the letter, follow all procedures, test and re-test. Set aside defective students who didn't measure up for remediation. Students were to reflect their society and not cause trouble to make change as some of their instructors dared to do in the 1960's era of creative chaos. Maintaining the status quo was the mantra of the education system and use the bell curve to illustrate the effectiveness of the system. The right to create change rested with the social elites who paid for private education.

So, what were some of the understandings that instructors brought with them about education? More on this in the next post........


Alessandro said...

How can someone break the old way of education and prove that this new way is much more better?

Ken Turner said...

Great question! I think that first you have to recognize the growing problems with using the industrial model of education. It is a model that fit a particular vision and purpose in the past. In its time it reflected the desires of society. However, in the digital age society has changed but education has not. I would recommend reading a book titled:"Stratosphere" by Dr. Michael Fullan. In it he describes the research that indicates that students are disengaging with personal education because they see it as irrelevant to their lives. Change for the better needs to start with a better vision.