Sonny Taing, Victor Williams, Ryan Hetrick, & Kenneth Hays

Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation

– Don Tapscott, 1998

At first there were the baby boomers, a generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964, who did not grow up as quickly because "being young was to be part of something big".[1]

These baby boomers had a profound influence on how commercial marketing and policy was targeted. In short, the baby boomers become the target. The economic success yielded from marketing to baby boomers created a greater business interest in youth culture. This past development helped foster the political environment needed for the youth wave that supplanted the baby boomers. In essence, a new youth contingency rose to the marketing forefront at around the same time that the Internet became much more interactive. Enter the Net Generation...

…”technologically speaking, there has been a change in the way children gather, accept and retain information.” -Tapscott
The Net Generation (NG) is a major social force, strong enough to challenge the social dominance of the baby boomer generation (people born from 1946 to 1964). Members of the NG do thing differently such as:
  • Learn
  • Work
  • Play
  • Communicate
  • Shop
  • Create communities
This wave of youth coincides with a massive digital revolution transforming all facets of our society. N-Geners were between 0 and 20 at the time of Tapscott’s article, so they are now up into their mid-30’s on down.

Traits of N Geners:

  • Curious
  • Self-reliant
  • Contrarian (reject majority opinions)
  • Smart
  • Focused
  • Able to adapt
  • High in self-esteem
  • Global oriented
N-Gener Hard at Work.
N-Gener Hard at Work.

What Can We Gain From This?

  • Media delivery is no longer strictly hierarchical (top down), but interactive. There is shared or distributed power.
  • In much the same way, we must switch from “broadcast learning,” to “Interactive Learning.”
  • Computer Aided Learning (CAI) models can improve learning performance.
  • CAI can be interactive, text, graphic, audio, and video based.

Multi-Media Communication Environments

  • Multi-User Doman (MUD): a "place" where users create dramatic environments or mock simulations to learn and apply new concepts.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): tactile learning experiences to create simulations.
  • VRML= Virtual Reality Markup Language; the VR equivalent of HTML currently used to compose home pages; Tapscott hints at a full blown sensory experience driving the search and acquisition of knowledge.
  • Face to face projection (Skype).

VR: Tactile Learning Experience!
VR: Tactile Learning Experience!


1. From Linear to Hypermedia Learning:

In the past, approaches to learning have been linear, meaning they follow a sequential pattern. Books, for example, are linear. The reader starts at the begging, and progresses through to the end. TV Shows and educational videos are designed this way too. The must be viewed from beginning to end or else they might not make sense.

For N-Gen’s, access to information is not linear – it is much more interactive. For example, when children surf the internet, the information they gather is not gathered in a sequential order. They are move page to page using hyperlinks. If one page is not adequate, they move to another. In this regard, the whole process is more interactive, and better able to meet individual needs.

2. From Instruction to construction and Discovery
All of this emphasis on learner centered education seems to indicate a shift away from the traditional teacher based model. Does this mean that pedagogy, the art and science of teaching, is on the decline? Pedagogy can exist simultaneously with learner centered environments, and curriculum can be designed not just for, but with the learners it is designed for.

This approach is known as the constructivist approach. In a constructivist learning environment, students to not just assimilate information, the help create it. In other words, learners learn by doing, and by making their own individual discoveries, not just by listening to someone recite information. Those who create their own information and learn through discovery are more likely to retain the information than those who learn by memorization. For example, an instructionalist might make a computer game to teach students math, but a constructivist might have students themselves design the game. This gives students a greater sense of involvement and purpose, and makes the process more fun.

3. From Teacher Centered to Learner Centered Education.
Learner centered education improves a student’s desire to learn. But this does not mean the end of the traditional role of the teacher. A teacher must still create and structure the learning experience. The importance varies from subject to subject, as well. It would be hard to imagine someone learning how to read music and play the piano by just “discovery.” What learner centered does mean though is that education focuses primarily on the student, not the teacher as is common. In a real learner centered environment, the teacher would begin by assessing the needs of all students, in terms of ability, learning style, and social context. It would use software that could tailor the learning experience to individual students, and it would be a more active environment, with students discussing and debating.

4. From absorbing material to learning how to navigate and how to learn.
Students should learn how to synthesize information. N-Gener’s increasingly are able to engage with other people and information sources in the internet, then build higher level structures and mental images. Older generations, for example, might use an instruction manual to figure something out, signifying they ask questions when they don’t know the answers. N-Gener’s engage directly with the information, then make sense of it afterwards. Because information is not just “handed down” anymore, it changes faster and faster. For example, a popular metaphor is the engineering undergraduate student, who, by the time is finished with college, will realize half of the information they learned is obsolete.

5. From School to Lifeline Learners.
The old model to learning was based on following the school model of entering Kindergarten, progressing through high school, and then entering either a four year college or university. However, with N-Gen users, who are constantly in reach of information, are learning from birth, they are what we consider lifelong learners.
The Educational system can help facilitate this by teaching students how to obtain knowledge, how to do research, how to apply what they know to real life applications.

6. From one-size-fits-all to customized learning
The Education model is based on the basis that all students of similar age are grouped

together in one classroom, learning one subject. It is designed to reach all students in the most efficient time possible. But the traditional mode leaves behind those who do not learn at the same pace as required from the system, or those who do not fit the Optimal Learning Experiences. With technology, today, we can teach students more on an individual basis. We can assess their prior knowledge on a personal level, dictate what they need to learn, and allow much more peer group interaction, and instruction. It can allow every student to achieve their potential.
Example: Students taking a course ware allows students to learn at their own pace, and what they’re comfortable in achieving.

7. From learning as torture as learning as Fun.
The traditional teaching model focuses on information and teaching the subject. Instead, we should focus on applications that students would want to do, and yet learn the concepts we want them to learn. Playing Video games, building robots, learning new technology just to learn how to use new technology can be beneficial to learn.

8. From the Teacher as a Transmitter to The Teacher as Facilitator.

The days of lecturing in class for every lesson are now over. Now our job is to help set up the lessons, make sure our students understand the objectives and concepts we want to teach them, and allow them to make their own observations and learn on their own. We are facilitators, and it is our job to help guide them to the path of learning.

Grown Up Digital: Setbacks That Have Only Aged With The Net Generation

"OF THE terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded, ..." [2]

  • Learning is becoming a social activity...(Still a Work In Progress)
  • Everyone likes change until it happens to them: "resistance to change by some teachers".[3]
  • Many Schools Still Subpar [4]
  • Low Morale
  • Increased Class Sizes Means More Work
  • Teenagers are still they have technology
  • Technology often used to teach typing only or for students to take a break
  • State Mandated Education Excludes the Individualization Computers Offer
  • Rules Pertaining to Digital Ethics TBA
  • Students still assessed the same way
  • Total Freedom v. Structure
  • Is the user a better broadcaster? Do individual choices result in a better education?
  • Technology is changing because people are not always willing to.

  1. ^ Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. ^ "Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances by Walt Whitman
  3. ^ Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  4. ^