The students entering higher education today are part of a generation raised online. Research indicates that they are smarter than students from previous generations, and that their brains function differently. Students raised in the digital age thrive best in a learning environment that incorporates online activities into the classroom and effectively addresses these students’ unique methods of learning. Though higher education is increasingly embracing the idea of online learning, the students who require these environmental changes are already enrolling, and the need for more online integration is greater than ever before.
Brain Function and the Digital Age
The brain is not fully developed at birth. As children grow, they form more synapses based on their interactions with the environment around them. For children born after 1992, that environment has always included computers and the Internet. Because of their frequent, ongoing interactions with these new technologies, students from this generation formed their synapses differently than students from previous cohorts. This leads to a unique learning style, an increased level of intelligence and a radically different way of interpreting information.
Understanding the Digital-Age Student
Students raised with the Internet constantly available are considerably different from those born previously. Below are several of the most notable characteristics of the digital-age student.
- Preference for dynamic media. The Internet is known for providing access to colorful images, exciting videos and interactive applications. Children of the digital age were raised with the Internet, so they learn best when they are able to utilize these familiar tools.
- Ability to learn independently. Children who grew up using the Internet have learned to explore their environment and learn by doing, thus a generation of independent learners who aren’t afraid to take initiative.
- Different research methods. Digital-age students didn’t go to the library to prepare research papers or read about interesting topics. Instead, they sought this information on the Internet by reading online reference materials, news articles and even blogs.
- No boundaries. Students with access to the Internet are open to diversity. They have spent their lives interacting with people from other cultures and locations, and they aren’t afraid to share information and experiences with others.
- Skilled at multi-tasking. Children raised online are seasoned multi-taskers. They are able to check their email, chat with friends and do their homework simultaneously.
Digital-Age Students in Higher Education
When analyzing characteristics of the typical digital-age student, it becomes clear that this student learns differently than those of earlier generations. To thrive, digital-age students must be able to interact with a dynamic environment and employ their own methods of learning. Educators must also make use of students’ desires to multi-task, perform online research and share information with other learners.
At this time, online learning is evolving as it makes its way into the higher education curricula. However, students born in the digital age are already entering higher education, and faster integration is a legitimate need. Without access to online activities and customized instruction that accommodates their unique perception of the world, these students won’t reach their full potential. For this reason, it’s essential for institutions of higher education to make online learning a part of instructional activities on a daily basis.
About the author
This is a guest post from Lindsey Harper Mac. She can be reached at Harpermac11 (a) gmail.com or @harpermac11.