Alex reached out to the teens via Skype, the computer program allowing users to talk over the internet, and formed a friendship as well as a working relationship. His new friends—who, according to Alex, hail from California, Iowa, Canada, and everywhere in between—guided him through the product development process. Shortly thereafter, he launched the now-defunct Whoopee.

“I just needed to make something simple,” said Alex. “If I were to do a Whoopee Cushion now, it would take me like an hour.”

Alex and his friends exemplify a finding highlighted in the most recent Speak Up survey: the emergence of what Project Tomorrow calls “free agent learners”—students who increasingly take learning into their own hands and use technology to create personalized learning experiences.

“For these students, the schoolhouse, the teacher, and the textbook no longer have an exclusive monopoly on knowledge, content, or even the education process, and therefore it should not be surprising that students are leveraging a wide range of learning resources, tools, applications, outside experts, and each other to create a personalized learning experience that may or may not include what is happening in the classroom,” 2010 Speak Up report says.

The survey indicated that students increasingly are seeking out and finding technology-based learning experiences outside of school—experiences that are not directed by a teacher or associated with class assignments or homework.

For more on teaching the iGeneration:

eSN Special Report: Empowering the iGeneration

Author: ‘iGeneration’ requires a different approach to instruction

Report: Digital access, collaboration a must for students

Alex has gotten a lot of practice in programming: In the 18 months since creating the Whoopee Cushion, he has launched more than a dozen apps, including programs designed for iPhones, iPads, and Apple computers.

“I’ve had about 75,000 sales total,” he said.

He typically charges 99 cents per download, of which Apple takes 30 percent. In total, Alex’s business, iPowerStudios, has earned more than $50,000 since its inception.

“He’s going to have to file taxes this year,” Alex’s mother, Lisa Britton, said with a laugh.

Alex isn’t quite sure what he is going to do with his earnings yet; he purchased an iPad and some lighting equipment to help build his business, and he recently spent about $1,000 to hire a graphic artist from England to draw the characters in his newest app, Doodle Zombies.