Generational Differences


“My students need technology to learn.” “If I didn’t have laptops in my classroom my students wouldn’t learn as well.” These statements reflect a growing idea in education that students of the 21st century should be taught differently than students from previous decades. Specifically, that due to the influx of technology use in everyday life, the way students learn has changed. Unfortunately for those with this belief, there isn’t any research to support these claims. What does that mean for technology in the classroom? Should I relinquish the use of computers and devices with students? Do I need to rethink my teaching philosophy and my decision to pursue a Master’s degree in Educational Technology?

Perhaps I need to pull back on the reins a little bit. First of all, I am still very satisfied with my decision to get my Master’s degree in a technology related field. Secondly, use of technology in education isn’t wrong. It needs to be seen as another tool and teaching strategy an educator can use in the classroom. Any extreme in education can lead to disengaged and unsuccessful students. 30 straight days of lecture might not be the best teaching practice. 30 days of watching “flipped” videos might not be the best teaching practice either. I would argue that both of those models are not good teaching practices. Finding a balance that works for you and your students is what’s important.

Have students changed due to the amount of technology they use in their daily lives? As a classroom teacher I can honestly say I have no idea. I’ve only been teaching for four years so my experience in the classroom is with students who have had this technology in their lives. For a teacher of 25 years, 30 years, or 40 years, I’m sure they see a change in how students act in their classrooms.  They would probably say that students learn differently, too. My dad, a high school teacher of 25 years, says, “I’m not sure students learning has change because of technology, but they sure do have shorter attention spans. I almost have to perform a show to keep their attention.” Is he right? Is he romanticizing the past with his statement about shorter attention spans? Maybe nothing has changed and he just thinks it has. He doesn’t have any research to back him up. He simply has years and years of experience and a strong feeling about what he sees in his students. His experience doesn’t qualify as research, but that doesn’t mean his experience doesn’t count for something.

According to studies, the learner in the classroom has not changed as a result of technology. However, it is still my job as an educator to engage my students the best I can. Do I have to use technology to engage my students? Do I use technology in every lesson of every unit? No I don’t. I choose to use technology, when appropriate, to engage my students because I believe they will be more successful in my class and their lives in the real world as a result. The way students learn might not have changed, but the world they are living in certainly has. Technology can be (and should be) used to prepare them for that world.


10 thoughts on “Generational Differences

  1. Tyler, I think you’ve made a comment that is at the crux of the issue here.

    I choose to use technology, when appropriate, to engage my students because I believe they will be more successful in my class and their lives in the real world as a result.

    The corollary of this is that there are times when the use of technology isn’t appropriate. You are implying that the choice that you make is a pedagogical one.

    • Pedagogy should drive technology use decisions. There are divisions amongst faculty in my school about how much technology should be used and how we should move forward into the 21st century. The focus on pedagogy should help to close that gap.

      • Very much so… Take blogging for example. Blogging is basically expressive writing in one form or another, You could also make a case for blogging as a form of discussion. Both writing and discussion can be done in your classroom without technology, but from a pedagogical standpoint what does the act of blogging add to that writing or discussion? If you can get that to be the focus of the conversation, I think closing that gap becomes quite easy. Not to say everyone will use technology more, but it should become a natural part of the conversation.

  2. Could it be that we as educators get caught up in trying to make things “cool” for the students using technology. It goes back to the entertainment factor. We (educators) are not there to entertain but teach and the students are there to learn.

    • I think it definitely happens that technology gets used to add a “cool” factor. In part it goes back to entertainment, but I think Michael said it best when he brought up pedagogy. When pedagogy is the focus, technology may still be “cool,” but it’s used with a purpose.

  3. Has the way that students learn changed over the years? No. Has the technology that is available changed and therefore giving students a preferred way to learn occurred? Absolutely. When lecture and repetition was popular within the education setting, I’m sure that students and teachers alike would have loved to have a computer program to run through basic math problems in a repetitive manner. I’m sure they would have loved to have a website to use flipped classrooms for students to view a power point at home and come into class with the knowledge needed for the activity. Student learning hasn’t changed, but the options available for them to learn in the way that works best for them has. And that is something that all educators can support!

    • I think it something that teachers can support as long as they are a part of the process and not forced to do things they aren’t comfortable with. If technology is “thrown” at teachers and they are forced to use it, they may not be as supportive as if they are a part of the process in implementation and given time to become comfortable.

  4. I agree with Catherine that teachers sometimes think that the only way toward student engagement is technology, or more to the point, computers. I think you are right that students are still learning in schools as they did in the past. Yes, they all have cell phones. I work in a 5-12 school. The 10 year old 5th graders have iPhones. So, they are comfortable with technology. They are used to getting immediate answers to questions. I have 11th graders who whip out their phones to search out answers to questions because they want immediate results. I don’t think curiosity is a bad thing in this case. I am unconvinced that technology is THE way to engage, motivate, and teach students. But I do agree with you that using it properly where it makes sense does motivate the kids and increase the breadth and ability of our teaching.

  5. In my classroom I try not teach in one style for longer than 15-20 minutes at a time. So on a given day I may do a 15 minute lecture with a PowerPoint followed by a writing prompt for 10-15 minutes with partner/group work to finish up the class. I do this because my 7th grade students have a hard time staying engaged at anything for longer than the 15-20 minutes. I think you’re right that technology is not the only way to engage, motivate, or teach students on its own. It’s finding the right approach in the right teaching situation that sets up for the most engagement in a classroom.

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