Education Myths: Digital Natives

By Jonathan Sherbino (@sherbino)

This week I recorded a KeyLIME podcast with Jason Frank(@drjfrank) and Linda Snell (@LindaSMedEd).  I chose, based on the recommendation of Geoff Norman an article from a journal that I don’t regularly scan –  Educational Psychologist.  The article was about education myths.

The article is a biting (but balanced and evidenced-based) commentary on the “intuitive” truths that too often get spouted (and reinforced) in education policy. Much like social psychology, education theory seems obvious, provided that the observer stays on the surface and looks no deeper.  Sadly, this can result in a steady encroachment of “common sense” opinions into the education literature that lack any evidentiary basis or, for that matter, any “sense.”  A good example of this is adult learning theory, originally described by Knowles.  Superficially, this theory seems correct (adults are goal oriented, internally motivated, practical, blah, blah).  Yet, there is no strong evidentiary basis for these blanket statements.

The article debunks several myths, including the myth that a new generation of learners possesses a superior aptitude with technology that permits greater educational gains.
These digital natives (aka Homo zappiens aka Net Generation) may not exist as a sociological phenomenon. While this generation owns every type of technological gadget possible (try getting plug space at Starbucks!), Kirschner and van Merriënboer cite research that demonstrates that only the basic functionality of the technology is actually used. For example, passively downloading information  (i.e. accessing Wikipedia, downloading pdfs of lecture notes) is the most typical function. Leveraging technology to promote higher level learning rarely occurs.

The authors cite additional research debunking the supposed multi-tasking abilities of digital natives. In fact, Homo zappiens are prone to the butterfly defect, “fluttering across the information on the screen, touching or not touching pieces of information (i.e., hyperlinks), quickly fluttering to a next piece of information, unconscious to its value and without a plan.” This presumed multi-tasking is, in fact, rapid task switching.  Neuroscience has long demonstrated that multitasking allows only a single task to be consciously controlled with other tasks delegated to automatic (unconscious) processes.  Consciously attending to tasks in a simultaneous fashion is not possible.  The problem with rapid task switching is that delegating tasks to automatic processes degrades learning when compared to conscious attention to a series of tasks. Frenetic fluttering between tasks is an impediment that CEs must limit in their learners.

Huh… you still with me or did you check your Pinterest account and Tweet an update while skimming this article?

Check out the article and see what you think of the supporting studies.

Coming Friday… Learning Styles – another myth debunked!