Digital natives: fact or fiction?

Samuel, 16, has just got into music college, helped by almost a year of Skype music lessons with his teacher Rosie.  At weekends he lives on a boat in Ancoats, Manchester, with his father Richard and accesses Wi-Fi there through his mobile phone connected to a laptop.  When I spoke to him he had finished with his audition piece, ‘Amelie’ and was now working on one of his favourite songs, ‘Stay Loose’ by Belle and Sebastian.  I asked Sam and Richard for their thoughts on the differences between Skype and face-to-face lessons.

Skype lessons for a semi-nomadic lifestyle?

Skype lessons –
a solution for a semi-nomadic lifestyle?

I was all set for comments on the different kind of attention required by screen, or about Skype lessons being a solution to a semi-nomadic lifestyle on the boat.  But in fact, neither of them made much of a distinction between learning through Skype and learning face-to-face.  ‘I don’t think there’s much difference really,’ says Richard.  ‘It always sounds like he gets through things and enjoys it.’  For both of them, the main advantages were logistic.  ‘It means we don’t have to get up and go anywhere,’ Richard says.  ‘He can do lessons in his pyjamas.  It’s Sunday so we lounge around a bit.’  Sam tells me: ‘It came in really useful once – I was in my GCSE music lesson and I’d forgotten what to play – my mind went blank; and I Skyped Rosie from my mobile so I had instant communication.’

"I Skyped Rosie from my mobile so I had instant communication"

“I Skyped Rosie from my mobile so I had instant communication”

Samuel is part of a generation of so-called ‘digital natives’, who have grown up with mobile devices, computer games and quick answers from search engines.  This generation, the argument goes, need a new form of education.  Lecture- or book-based learning is not suitable for young people whose behaviour (or even brain structures) have been fashioned by information-seeking habits demanded by the web.  One suggestion is to design lessons like computer games.

Others reject such a sweeping categorisation and say such assertions lack firm evidence.  ‘There is no evidence of widespread… disaffection with traditional forms of education or of a distinctly different learning style’ said researchers in this 2008 article in the British Journal of Educational Technology.

My own view is that the death of traditional education has been wildly exaggerated, not least because students themselves still want to learn through traditional media.  In addition, online learning may not be that different in content or structure to face-to-face learning – Sam’s lessons, after all, are structured just like  face-to-face ones and happen in real time. 

More on the subject in another post.

February 22, 2015