Many education researchers have identified traits of today’s young students that differ from their predecessors and have suggested that these traits often are related to students’ exposure to computers and the web.

However, the author says there are many long-standing attributes of students that have not changed, and classroom activities—even computer-based activities—should reflect these tendencies, too. The author cautions that educators should not assume that the digital age has forever changed the act of learning or communication among young people.

Here are his examples:

1. Tortoise and the hare. Speed isn’t always better, especially for complex subjects. Digital-age students may seem like they’re learning faster because they can obtain and manipulate information quickly on computers. However, that’s not the same thing as understanding the subject. Similarly, kids who appear to be struggling to keep up with the class may be learning the subject or skill more deeply and ultimately may wind up better off for their delays.

2. Computer simulations. Computers enable science teachers to offer sophisticated simulations that were unavailable even a few years ago. However, simulations of the real world are not equivalent to the real world, especially because in the real world the unexpected can happen. A simple example: To study the laws of motion, students used to slide a block of wood down a ramp. On a computer, the block will slide perfectly each time. In real life, the block might fall off the side—and provide an additional lesson.

3. Style vs. substance. Don’t let the attractions of multimedia overshadow actual content. Students can get lost in choosing computer fonts and colors for PowerPoint presentations.

4. Sage on the stage. In this age of collaborative classroom work, there seems to be no place for the teacher as dispenser of all knowledge. The caricature of a droning lecturer, imprinted in all educators’ and students’ minds, seems even more undesirable than ever before. However, teachers are still the experts in the classroom. Depending on the activity and the setting, teacher-centered activities can be superior to student-centered activities.

5. Structure. The web enables a student to access huge amounts of information and to surf endlessly to related topics. But that’s not a substitute for linear thinking: constructing an argument and an essay, point by point. Students need to be able to think linearly, and they may find the multiple distractions of the web make that all-important task harder than it needs to be.

6. Learning isn’t always fun. Computer programs and web portals emphasize that they can make learning fun. Nothing wrong with that. But sometimes, learning is supposed to be a challenge and a struggle—and the benefit for the student is achieving despite the struggle.

7. Human contact. Distance learning has its place in the K-12 environment. But it’s not a substitute for seeing if students are paying attention, how they react to new ideas, and how they respond to challenges from their peers. Meeting in person, in a classroom, develops the full range of communication skills that all people need to be successful.