Conference on Research, Teaching & School Improvement
Online Community and Identity in Virtual Learning Environments

Gen Y: Digital Learning Styles

“Perhaps our generation focused on information, but these kids focus on meaning -- how does information take on meaning?" - John Seeley Brown

In the 21st Century classroom, the student wants to control the how, what, and when a task is completed. Social media and other web-based technologies are well suited to provide avenues for students to engage in a social, collaborative, and active dialogue in the online learning environment with their peers and instructor.

A study conducted by the UK-based NESTA FutureLabs (2005) reported that the education “should be reversed to conform to the learner, rather than the learner to the system.” Moreover, the NESTA found that social media should be used to enable learners to study and be assessed according to their own learning style (BBC, 2005).

Online learning theory and pedagogical practice also centers on the concept that learning needs to be situated in a social and collaborative context. Discussion among peers can make the often invisible community threads more visible and accessible, and may lead students to find others in the group who share the same interests.

Gen Y students are hard wired to look at the variety of available technologies and then construct their own learning path, and content based on their intrinsic learning needs. As students go through process of choosing, utilizing, integrating and sharing content it provides opportunities for them to be actively engaged, provide and receive feedback, as well as acquire, share, and make use of community knowledge.

More importantly, this new digital pedagogy emphasizes providing students with a broad range of technology tools then allowing them to use them as a means to construct their own understanding and knowledge. As a result, students are highly motivated to discuss content, solve problems together, and apply new concepts which relate to their own practice.

This approach also provides student’s with access to flexible, self-paced, customizable content, on-demand opportunities for learning, along with the ability to create and share student-generated content. The use of social technologies provides students with an opportunity to self-assess their understanding (or lack of) of the current course topic with their peers.

Moreover, as students utilize social technologies to share their thought processes and provide feedback to their learning community, they are able to help each other work through cognitive roadblocks, modify their perceptions, and negotiate their own views while simultaneously building a collaborative peer support system.

In addition, collaborative project-based learning environments help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills—both essential skills for students to compete in a global knowledge-based society.

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