The Net Generation has grown up with information technology. The aptitudes, attitudes, expectations, and learning styles of Net Gen students reflect the environment in which they were raised – one that is decidedly different from that which existed when faculty and administrators were growing up. Individuals raised with the computer deal with information differently compared to previous cohorts. They develop hypertext minds and leap around. A linear thought process is much less common than bricolage, or the ability to piece information together from multiple sources.
Among other differences are their:
• Ability to read visual images – they are intuitive visual communicators
• Visual-spatial skills – because of their expertise with games they can integrate the virtual and physical
• Inductive discovery – they learn better through discovery than by being told
• Attentional deployment – they are able to shift their attention rapidly from one task to another, and may choose not to pay attention to things that don’t interest them
• Fast response time – they are able to respond quickly and expect rapid responses in return
The Net Gen are more visually literate than previous generations; many express themselves using images. They are able to weave together images, text, and sound in a natural way. Their ability to move between the real and the virtual is instantaneous, expanding their literacy well beyond text. Because of the availability of visual media, their text literacy may be less well developed than previous generations.
As long as they’ve been alive, the world has been a connected place, and more than any preceding generation they have seized on the potential of networked media. While highly mobile, moving from work to classes to recreational activities, the Net Gen is always connected. The particular device may change depending on circumstance (laptop, cell phone), but they are constantly connected and always on.
Whether it is the immediacy with which a response is expected or the speed at which they are used to receiving information, the Net Gen is fast. They multitask, moving quickly from one activity to another, sometimes performing them simultaneously. They have fast response times, whether playing a game or responding to an IM. In fact, more value may be placed on speed than on accuracy.
Most Net Gen learners prefer to learn by doing rather by being told what to do. The role having grown up with video games plays in this preference is unclear, but Net Gen students learn well through discovery – by exploring for themselves or with their peers. This exploratory style enables them to better retain information and use it in creative, meaningful ways.
The Net Gen displays a striking openness to diversity, differences, and sharing; they are at ease meeting strangers on the Net. Many of their exchanges on the Internet are emotionally open, sharing very personal information about themselves. The Net Gen has developed a mechanism of inclusiveness that does not necessarily involve personally knowing someone admitted to their group. Being a friend of a friend is acceptable. They seek to interact with others, whether in their personal lives, their online presence, or in class. (Sometimes the interaction is through an alternative identity. Significant numbers of teens assume an online identity that is different from their own.)
Net Gen learning preferences that impact education include the following:
The Net Gen often prefers to learn and work in teams. A peer-to-peer approach is common, as well, where students help each other. In fact, Net Geners find peers more credible than teachers when it comes to determining what is worth paying attention to.
The Net Gen is very achievement oriented. They want parameters, rules, priorities, and procedures. They think of the world as scheduled and someone must have the agenda. As a result, they like to know what it will take to achieve a goal. Their preference is for structure rather than ambiguity.
Engagement and Experience
The Net Gen is oriented toward inductive discovery or making observations, formulating hypotheses, and figuring out the rules. They crave interactivity. And the rapid pace with which they like to receive information means they often choose not to pay attention if a class is not interactive, unengaging, or simply too slow. The Net Gen may need to be encouraged to stop experiencing and spend time reflecting.
Visual and Kinesthetic
The Net Gen is more comfortable in image-rich environments than with text. Researchers report Net Gen students will refuse to read large amounts of text, whether it involves a long reading assignment or lengthy instructions. The Net Gen’s experiential nature means they like doing things, not just thinking or talking about things.
Things that Matter
The Net Gen readily takes part in community activities. Given a choice, they seem to prefer working on things that matter, such as addressing an environmental concern or a community problem. They believe they can make a difference and that science and technology can be used resolve difficult problems.