These students aren’t programmed to sit quietly and take notes while a teacher lectures or demonstrates math problems on a chalkboard. They’re more amenable to an interactive environment where they can talk, touch things, and process information in multiple ways–ways of learning that were likely more effective than rote memorization all along. And more than ever before, students today demand a sense of purpose and control over what they’re learning.

“They want to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” says Rolin Moe, a creative writing teacher and doctoral student working toward an EDD in learning technologies at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

Students are no longer content to learn something because a teacher tells them they should. “Teaching to the test” doesn’t take into account the way kids learn. The most successful teachers are putting lessons into a context that ensures that students see their value in the real world, and that often requires additional effort to learn technologies that the kids have already mastered.

“This is the first generation of students who are more proficient with technology than their teachers are,” says Moe.

Teachers who fumble with technology may struggle to persuade students that the information they’re presenting is worthwhile. Still, what’s most important isn’t that teachers know it all; it’s that they create interesting situations and design better learning experiences than those in more traditional classroom settings. That means bridging the gap between kids’ digital and school environments–but it doesn’t mean leaving the traditional classroom behind. The best learning environments retain the most enriching aspects of teacher-student relationships.

Students still need the guidance of a teacher and still love smart people. Today’s kids, with all the inherent differences of being digital natives, are still kids. They still gravitate to interesting people and still want mentorship and someone to help them build skills–and they want to create more of their own learning and then go test the information for themselves.

It’s little wonder that a non-stop cycle of testing is failing miserably. Purpose-driven learning has much more promise with today’s “what’s in it for me?” students, who don’t typically respond to the concept of learning for its own sake.

Hybrid learning’s role in improving education

Placing a teacher at the front of a traditional classroom to dictate lessons to students is becoming an increasingly difficult proposition. But mention “hybrid learning” or “blended learning” to many teachers, and they think of online education versus the brick-and-mortar classroom. A well-designed hybrid curriculum is actually a blend of online tools and a traditional, teacher-guided classroom setting. And that’s exactly what makes it so powerful. Students appreciate the chance to explore and expand with online tools, but they still require the guidance of a teacher to put lessons in context and bring content to life for them. Hybrid education pulls the best from both of those worlds.