Examining Generational Differences

12 Jul

The following post is based on a writing prompt for BSU’s EDTECH597: As educational technologists, what did you take away from these generational differences readings?  How would you handle a colleague who bought into the notion of digital natives?

Jumping into the readings in week two of EDTECH 597 brought me to a comfortable and familiar place with the statement, “It is amazing to me how in all the hoopla and debate these days about the decline of education in the US we ignore the most fundamental of its causes. Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (Prensky, 2001).   After reading this statement and the rest of the article by Prensky I thought to myself, oh that was a nice review of information I already knew. Ready, set, go!  Time to continue designing lessons and professional development  based on the premise of students being Digital Natives and teachers being Digital Immigrants.

SCREEeeeeeccchh..sound of tires skidding to a stop.  Much to my surprise research does not support the notion of generational differences in learners.  I have heard so much of the inherent differences in learners through professional development seminars, at conferences, and in the media that I assumed it was true.  Reeves states (2008), “Generational differences are evident in the workplace, they are not salient enough to warrant the specification of different instructional designs or the use of different learning technologies.

So what are educators to do?  Reeves recommends (2008), “instructional designers and educational technology researchers working closely with practitioners and subject matter experts should begin by identifying the needs of any given set of learners, design the best possible prototype learning environments in situ, and then conduct iterative cycles of formative evaluation and refinement to optimize the solution and reveal robust design principles.

What this means for teachers that believe in the notion of generational differences is that they need to re-examine their students.  Best-case scenario would be working with an instructional designer to create a needs assessment to understand their learning community.  Keeping in mind that a multitude of variables go into how our students learn and that technology is a tool.  Technology is not and will never be a magic bullet that raises student achievement by itself.  Teachers are responsible for creating the best learning experiences for the students regardless of the use of technology.

I would also suggest that educators do more research after participating in professional development opportunities verifying the information presented.  Is there credible data that supports what was taught and might possibly be implemented in your school?  If not, question decision makers on what they based their decision on.  The culture of K-12 education needs to change and become more focused on sound research rather than cultural trends.

Stepping down from soap box…

Ultimately the reading makes me worry about an educational system that seems to be dominated by loose research and private corporations looking to sell their latest and greatest gadgets to schools.  The articles  caused me to come away with more questions than answers.

  • How did we get to this point?
  • How do myths such as these gain so much traction in a field that should be guided by reliable data?
  • How do we undo what has already been done with educators and society believing in generational differences?
  • How do we learn from this, and change the current and future climate of K-12 education?

If anyone reading the post has thoughts or answers to these questions I would love to hear from you!

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

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


Posted by on July 12, 2011 in EdTech


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11 responses to “Examining Generational Differences

  1. Kae

    July 14, 2011 at 1:50 am

    There’s something different and teachers know it. Prensky using the term – digital native and digital immigrant may have just found an easy heuristic that resonates with teachers.
    So for a K-12 teacher what are the differences between students they are teaching now and students they had twenty years ago.

    Students have access to more. I hesitate to claim more information because when you use that term there is an assumption that it is factual. So students have access to more.
    Students’ technical skills may be greater than that of the teacher.
    If you look at Prensky’s Engage Me or Enrage article
    – again something resonates.

    Are today’s student consuming more media, games and entertainment that is more engaging? Especially more engaging than lesson plans from ten years ago?

    • lmeinert

      July 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Students are definitely consuming more media and have access to more in terms of engaging content. Does this mean all lessons have to be delivered using multi-media or entertaining content? I agree that the terminology of digital native and immigrant are easy concepts for teachers to latch onto.

      • Kae

        July 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm

        Pedagogy before technology.

  2. swelty

    July 14, 2011 at 2:43 am

    I have to say that I, too, couldn’t help but connect to Prensky’s claims about Digital Natives. It all made so much sense to me as I was reading it and so many of the qualities he discussed are those that I see in my students today. I was shocked as well to find out that the research wasn’t there to back it up. But we definitely do need to look at our students and complete a needs assessment because they are different even from the kids I had when I started teaching 7 years ago.

    • lmeinert

      July 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      I am glad I wasn’t the only one surprised by the article 😀 How do you find your students are different than 7 years ago?

  3. trifsus

    July 14, 2011 at 4:38 am

    I also worry about trends in education being based on loose research. How can educators – those who work in a field which emphasizes the importance of research – accept work with no solid evidence to back it up? And for so many years! In my opinion, there needs to be some sort of review process that those who write about education should be required to follow before their work is publicized, before it is ingrained in people’s minds as “truth” and marketed to the rest of world. Exactly how it would work, I don’t know. Any suggestions?

    • lmeinert

      July 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      The million dollar question- turning the tide towards reviewing research rather than following marketing trends. I honestly don’t know what the answer is due to companies like Pearson throwing millions into their “research” all to show their products will help educational achievement How do individual researchers or even small colleges compete with that?

  4. Travis Begley

    July 14, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    It seems like at least once a week there is a new flashy headline that leads to an article that has absolutely no backing or research to support it. Teachers and the world of education has to be the most scrutinized profession around. I live in Ohio and we are currently seeing some outrageous claims by our state government about teachers and public schools, mostly from a governor that has no clue. It is frustrating to deal with. Nice posting.

    • lmeinert

      July 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

      The attack on our teacher’s and educational institutions is outrageous. I am sorry you are in a state that this is happening in!

  5. Sarah Begley

    July 14, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Ultimately I don’t feel the majority of teachers today have bought into the notion that they must completely change the way they teach. They realize that what they have been doing works but there is always room for improvement. There are different tools that can be used to help enhance the learning process and technology is a very effective one. But they realize that technology is just that, a tool to be used to help aid in their teaching and their students learning. I’m wondering how you might try and convince a teacher that thought they needed to start from scratch. How could you persuade them to not buy into the notion that their style of teaching is not the best for their students because it is not consumed with technology?

    • lmeinert

      July 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      Are you saying that for a teacher to be effective their lessons have to be infused with technology?


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