What’s my learning future?

Here at Beyond Distance we’re currently working hard on our Learning Futures Festival Online and if you haven’t already registered please pop along to our website and sign up: http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/beyond-distance-research-alliance/festival/registration.

All this talk about learning futures got me thinking about my learning past. Picking up on Terese’s earlier post about ‘Digital Native, Digital Assumptions?’ it seems I fall into the digital native/Net-gen age group.  As I worry I’m getting old this seems very flattering! As a Digital Native or Net-gen I experienced in my learning past a single computer in my classroom from my very first lesson at infant school. By the time I left university virtually everyone had a mobile phone, easy access to the internet and their own computer.

All this does mean that I feel very at ease with new technology be it a new mobile phone or a new web application.  I might not necessarily be an expert straight away but going ahead and trying these things (and sometimes trying to break them just to be awkward) is all part of how I tend to use technology.   For my own learning which tends to be learning new and improving existing multimedia skills I find that I can pick and choose what works best for me.  For instance I tend to use a text based tutorial to learn about CSS (CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets which is used in web design) rather than a video tutorial. I find it easier to flick between screens, or have a dual screen, rather than have to sit and watch a video and pause it where appropriate.

The learning future for myself and others only seems, at present, to take advantage of further innovation, both in technology and learning.  The future, at present, could seem quite overwhelming, fast-paced and challenging.  For me personally it seems quite exciting and while I’m looking forward to getting there, I’m also enjoying the present and making the most out of it.  They say you shouldn’t look back too much as it can stop you living your life. I think it’s equally important to not forget where you are now and not constantly look to the future in case you miss the things right under your feet.

I realise that this might sound like a contradiction to a Learning Futures Festival Online but I don’t think it is.  Without an understanding of where I am now I can’t begin to understand my future.  I’m hoping you’ll all bring your learning present to our Learning Futures Festival Online and help us all discover the learning future.

Emma Davies
Learning Technologist

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The Post-Google Generation

Last April I attended E for Enhancement 2009, an all-Wales e-Learning conference in Cardiff. During his very inspiring keynote, Prof Stephen Heppell related some facts about the online behaviour of the very young. In one of his projects, Prof Heppell, in perhaps an excessive burst of trustful enthusiasm, handed out iPhones to young teens and set them to work on a series of tasks which took several weeks to complete. At the end of the project, the students reported that they had used every feature of the iPhone “except this one button which has something to do with work” — email. Prof Heppell also stated that for children younger than 10, the search engine of choice is YouTube. Indeed, as of January 2009, the number two search engine, after Google of course, is YouTube.

I don’t recall whether Prof Heppell used the term “the post-Google Generation” in his keynote, but it is most appropriate for the age group (probably those born after 1990) which does not even recognise the need to use the all-pervasive Google to find things on the web. Marc Prensky gave us the term “digital natives.” The “Google generation” has been used to refer generally to those who seem to know no other way of finding information than to “Google it.” But I find it fascinating that very young people, who have never known a world not just without the internet but without full multi-media, go directly to the multi-media offerings of YouTube. Indeed, until I heard Prof Heppell quote this statistic, I did not even consider YouTube to be a search engine.

But of course it is a search engine. Need a recipe for macaroni cheese? YouTube not only displays the recipe but shows just how the butter should look when it’s time to stir in the flour to make the sauce. Just getting started in Second Life? There are innumerable “Beginning Second Life” tutorials on YouTube, some posted by higher education instructors for their own university students.

The truly fascinating question for me is: why is it that very young people who grow up with digital multi-media seem to think differently about how to search, how to learn, and how to do just about everything? Why do they skip Google when older surfers can’t live without it?

My post-Google-Generation daughter decided to learn to play the piano – well, the digital keyboard. We were ready with a piano teacher and the traditional regime of “one lesson per week, then nag daughter to practice.” Daughter had other plans. “I’ll just teach myself from YouTube,” she announced. As a child, I learnt piano the traditional way, and after one or two years of lessons, I could still only play fairly boring pieces. Yet after only a couple of months of YouTube, Daughter can play a handful of fairly impressive pieces. Perhaps her relative success can be attributed to the fact she chose exactly what she wanted to learn to play, then just learnt it, and enjoyed it, and therefore got results more quickly. The downside is that Daughter has not learnt to read much music from YouTube. But in a very post-Google way, she achieved what she wanted: musical enjoyment for herself and her listeners through playing the piano.

In “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” Marc Prensky suggests that prolonged exposure to immersive digital multi-media actually results in fundamentally different thinking processes. The onus is on the educator, therefore, to be prepared with learning tools suited for the post-Google Generation, as well as with the research to inform and support the use of such tools.

Terese Bird

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