Blended learning, educating the digital generations

Formal education is based largely on practices that do not support the development of today's iGeneration, says Perry Correll

The exposure that today’s millennials have had to technology has made them the most ‘educated generation to date’. However, statistics also show that employment levels trail behind generation X, reflecting the emergence of a significant skills gap.

According to the 2015 Millennial Survey conducted by Deloitte, this generation (born between the early 1980s to around the year 2000) questions the value of their academic education. An overwhelming majority rated the skills they gained from their employer as much more effective in helping them fulfil their daily responsibilities than the skills they gained in college or university.

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

Our lives – both professional and private – have been reshaped by the pervasive adoption of mobile devices and it is clear ‘digital immigrants’ have reaped the many benefits that smart technology offers. The term ‘digital immigrant’ was coined to describe those born before the existence of digital technology, but who have adopted it to some extent later in life – they are, in effect, the last generation to know a world before the Internet.

The iGeneration of today… can work an iPad before they can tie their shoelaces, and have been dubbed ‘digital natives’; they have the opportunity to thrive in the digitised world

The iGeneration of today, on the other hand, can work an iPad before they can tie their shoelaces, and have been dubbed ‘digital natives’; they have the opportunity to thrive in the digitised world.

Research shows that early exposure to our interactive, rapid-response, multi-media environment has even altered the brain structures of digital natives. Their enhanced capacity to learn intuitively, multi-task and extract and analyse data requires a broad range of stimulation to achieve literacy. Yet if the skill gap between graduates’ capabilities and the expectations of the working world are so widely observed, one has to ask if the true potential of digital natives is being effectively realised and honed throughout their academic years. It is clear a new educational approach is needed, one that can translate the latent technological fluency of millennials into applied skills for the workplace.

Educating Digital Native 

Digital natives find themselves at an advantage in the Web 2.0 world. However, their cognitive propensities are not fully utilised and stimulated effectively in current academic settings – formal education is based largely on practices that do not support this generation’s development. 

This acknowledged divide between graduate-level skills and employer expectations has lead to the development of multiple schemes and initiatives. According to one source, the tools teachers use to share information must evolve to reach and inspire digital natives as children longer learn in a linear path. 

‘Blended’ or ‘hybrid’ teaching, is a widely proposed solution, which integrates online and traditional class activities in a planned, educationally valuable manner. 

In order for blended learning to successfully narrow the observed skills gap and hone digital natives’ abilities, technology shouldn’t be implemented just for the sake of it. Rather, it should be used in a way that not only maximises the multi-modal manner in which students have evolved to function, but eliminates the gap between ‘digital lifestyle skills’ and ‘digital workplace skills’; as research shows 60% of digital natives lack basic work IT abilities. Without a solution, we run the risk of creating an ironic dilemma whereby members of the most digitally savvy generation in history are the least adept at translating their skills into the world of work.

The success of blended learning also relies upon educators’ abilities to personalise and streamline the learning process. Blended learning has the potential to incorporate adaptive technology and real-time progress monitoring, providing recommended next steps teachers can use to customise Iearning for each student. This approach sees more targeted and time efficient teachers, who are effective in improving students’ overall abilities.

Blended Learning Requires a Well Planned Technology Strategy 

In order for blended learning to operate effectively, technology infrastructure and Wi-Fi capability will remain critical to the performance of any blended educational program. School and technology leaders will need to insert themselves into the process of designing and implementing blended learning models for this shift to occur successfully.

For example, the UK’s top grammar school, Wilson’s School in Sutton, once laboured under an inefficient network that was constantly crashing or slowing down. The network has since been transformed into an extremely reliable and fast IT delivery system that benefits all subjects and departments, all whilst adhering to a shrinking budget. According to Marek Poliniaszek, Head of IT at the school, “Reliability has to be designed at all stages. We ensure we provide ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage throughout the entire school with no ‘dead spots’. Reliability is everything – if just one pupil cannot connect to the network during class, this will impact the entire teaching session.” 

Discovering More 

Future efforts to harness the cognitive prowess of digital natives will increasingly rely on an effective blended learning methodology and reliable technology strategy. In order to successfully fine-tune and fully leverage the way millennials work, we must enable them to graduate with an understanding of the potential they can yield, as well as the practical skills needed to propel them into the digital workplace.

Perry Correll is Principal Technologist at Xirrus