Today’s middle and high school students learn much differently from students just a few years older—and that’s mainly because they’ve never known a world without the internet or cell phones, says psychology professor and author Larry D. Rosen, whose research could give educators valuable insights into the needs of today’s learners.
Children born in the 1990s, dubbed the “iGeneration” by Rosen, live in a time of rapidly changing technology, in which they are constantly connected to a number of mobile technologies. Rosen said the “i” stands for both the technologies these students use—such as the iPod, iPhone, and Wii—and the individualized ways in which students use these tools.
“iGeners are growing up with portable technology. Literally from birth, these children are able to grow up using mobile technology,” he said. “But I also look at the little ‘i’ as reflecting the individualized culture—reflecting our needs and desires.”
Rosen said teenagers’ desire for individualized experiences is something they expect will carry over into their education. Jody Steinglass, president of Empire Edge, responded to that need when his company designed Adapster, an SAT math study tool that differentiates and individualizes learning for its users.
Students take a diagnostics test to determine the areas in which they need to study, and the program creates a customized study guide based on those results.
“A study plan is developed with their strengths and weaknesses in mind,” he said.
Steinglass recognized teens’ connection to their mobile devices and created Adapster specifically for iPhones and iPods, though he is currently working to create an online version as well.
“People don’t want to carry SAT books around with them, but kids already have their iPods with them. So when they have five minutes to kill, they can pull up the [application] and do some problems right then,” he said.
Rosen agreed that iGeners are constantly connected to their mobile devices. He noted that iGeneration students don’t look at the technology as a tool, the way it’s viewed by older generations—even the so-called Millennial generation that preceded today’s teens—but as an expectation. And this affects the way these students learn.
“If we look at kids who spend their entire day online multitasking, in many ways teachers are still asking them to learn one task at a time and in an old-fashioned way,” he said.
Andy Petroski, director of the Learning Technologies Master of Science program at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania, said engagement is a key to connecting with today’s students.
“These kids are highly engaged and active in their personal world. Traditional school is so far on the other end of the spectrum for them,” he said. “More than any other generation, they are pleading, ‘Engage me,’ … because to sit and listen and do one thing for long periods is so foreign to their daily lives.”
Petroski agreed that designing multidimensional lessons that take advantage of how students live and work outside of school is a much-needed change in K-12 education.