Talkin about: Y Generation

Update - fixed the link to the essay now - I hadn't published it as a post, only saved it as a draft. Shows how tech-savvy I am :)

I've been doing a little research about the possible implications of the Net Generation (a.k.a Gen Y a.k.a the Millennials a.k.a the iGeneration etc) on the design of interactive multimedia learning resources (as everyone does in their idle moments I'm sure) and it's actually been quite interesting.

(Hope you don't mind the extraordinarily dorky Gen Y image I found online - when you search, you either just get pictures of freshfaced young'uns or (for the most part) marketing oriented crap like this. (I thought about looking for a nice freshly scarred emo kid hopped up on Ritalin but this is funnier)

Anyways, I put it all down into an essay imaginatively titled - Implications of the Net Generation on the design of interactive multimedia learning resources - which you can peruse at your leisure. (It clocks in at just over 2600 words but the time just flies by).

In summary, the NetGen/Gen Y/Millennials are the children of the Information Age and were born between around 1980 to around 2000. (There's a bit of debate as to start and end dates but roughly then.)

Rather than rewriting what I've already had to say, I might just quote myself. (Is that wrong?)

The so-called Net Generation (Net-Gen) are the first generation to grow up knowing nothing other than this highly connected, information rich world. As “digital natives”, they “think and process information fundamentally differently.” (Prensky 2002). Their use of ICT and attitudes toward ICT and information in general offer us a set of ideas for a new approach to education which embraces the information age. Among these are an emphasis on collaboration, connectivity, flexibility and experiential learning.

Who are the Net Generation?

Alan Kay, a member of the 1970’s Xerox PARC team, has described technology as “anything that wasn’t around when you were born” (Frand, 2000). This means that for much of the Net-Gen, personal computers, mobile phones, digital audio, sophisticated computer graphics and even the Internet aren’t considered technology, they are simply a fact of life.

While it is obviously simplistic to ascribe any characteristic to a large group of individuals, there are a number of traits which appear common to many members of the Net-Gen.

Interested in technology: Having grown up with technology, Net-Gen students consider themselves far more Internet savvy than their teachers and report seeing better ways to use technology than they are offered in the classroom.(Oblinger 2003) “Every time I go to school I have to power down”, complains one student according to Prensky. (2001)

Emphasis on collaboration: They gravitate toward group work (Howe & Strauss, 2000) and want to work with people they click with. (Raines 2003) . Massively multiplayer online games popular with the Net-Gen such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft are strongly based on collaboration.

Need Connectivity: In some ways related to their preference for collaboration, the Net-Gen make heavy usage of a plethora of communications tools including SMS, instant messaging, email and particularly online communities such as MySpace to maintain connections with friends and family. This connectivity is 24/7 and the Internet in particular means that it isn’t limited by geography.

Another interesting aspect of connectivity in online communications is that the Net-Gen have “blasé attitudes about the loss of private space” and an “expectation of speaking to an audience even in personal communication” (Wikipedia:Internet Generation, 2007)

: Multitasking is considered to be the most practical response to the exponentially increasing sea of information we find ourselves in. (Frand, 2000). As highly connected digital natives more familiar with this environment, the Net-Gen are considered particularly adept at navigating a range of tasks simultaneously, which may include both work and play.

Goal oriented: Net-Gen learners are more focused on skills than knowledge. “In many disciplines, the half-life of information is measured in months and years. From this perspective, what a person can do is more important than what degree they obtained”(Frand, 2000 p.17)

Confident and optimistic: The Net-Gen are seen as highly positive, confident and optimistic. They expect respect (Raines, 2002) and, conscious of their power as consumers, will either speak their mind or vote with their feet if they don’t get what they want.

According to Saulwick Muller Social Research (2006): “Not only has this generation been born into a prolonged period of economic growth, but they have come too late to experience the severe economic restructuring brought about by globalisation and the information revolution.

They have grown up understanding and accepting that the future is all about mobility, adaptability and change. For the most part, they are preparing for it and they embrace it.”(p.5)

Seek instant gratification: The combination of a customer service oriented world and the immediacy of digital technology means that members of the Net-Gen are felt to have “zero tolerance for delays”. (Frand, 2000 p.22).

Marc Prensky (2001) sums most of these traits up nicely when he says that “Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work.” (p.2)

This of course is all of the nice stuff - it doesn't get into emo (not that there's anything wrong with that, I just find it funny and cute), Ice, Ritalin and Flintstones Chewable Prozac (which has led to another term - the Sad Generation), naivety, fame obsession, excessive trust in authority and so on - but it would be entirely too depressing if they were perfect and besides, any of these are most likely less a generational trait and more a matter of being young.

(For the record, yes I am GenX - although, of course, as a cynical slacker I reject the notion of such marketing generated terms entirely :)