Frankly, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D seemed a bit of an odd book for me to get from the LTER program (whose “almighty algorithm” is supposed to closely match books with readers, based on their libraries), as it is very much targeted towards an “education” audience, examining issues which are primarily of interest to teachers and K-12 institutions. However, upon further reflection, it does make some sense as I am a father to two kids in the age group being discussed, and (as regular readers of these pieces will know) I've read quite a bit of new/social media material, as well as on-going looks at the technology involved. So, while not being part of the target audience per se, I'm at least an “informed outsider”.
This book is ultimately a “call to action” for the educational community to begin to adjust teaching styles to the learning styles of various “generations”, defined in Rosen's research as Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Gen X (1965-1979), Net Gen (born between 1980 and the early '90s), and the new “iGen” kids born since the mid-1990's. Rosen's primary thesis is that this latter group has never known a “non-wired” world, and that their uptake and facility with technology has been both faster and more substantial than any of their predecessors.
Another key concept is that “... most teens simply can't unitask. It's too slow and too quiet and too restricting.”, and Rosen argues that the traditional classroom modality is counter-productive in reaching these kids. It's not that they're just resistant to the classroom experience (what generation of kids hasn't preferred to be someplace other than in class?), but that their learning, social, and even perception styles are locked into a high-speed, technology-immersed, multi-tasking pattern which makes the linearity and “push” dynamic of the classroom nearly incomprehensible.
Rosen has a list of six aspects in which the “iGen” kids differ from preceding generations. They are strongly motivated by positive reinforcement, but this needs to be on-going, like achieving levels or goals in a video game and not in an end-of-semester assessment. They are, perhaps counter-intuitively, very focused on their family, and their connection with their parents. They are very confident, with figures from studies of this far surpassing previous generations (perhaps due to their mastery of available technologies). They are very open to change, flocking to innovations in huge numbers (the author attributes YouTube going from zero to fifty million views in a single year to their influence). They exhibit what Rosen calls “collective reflection”, which is the product of nearly constant on-line and mobile communications between them and their “friends”, who may be scattered globally. And, finally, they crave immediacy, the faster the information arrives, the better.
Rosen develops some suggestions of ways that educational settings could be more immersive, and cites research which points to structures of cognitive processing which could function as a basis to these approaches. Of course, the main obstacle to all of this is that the teachers don't “live in the same world”, and many are not only resistant to these concepts, but out-right technophobic, and are uncomfortable to having “roles reversed” to get process-specific “tutoring” from kids half their age or younger.They want to learn, but our current teaching models simply bore them to sleep. … This is a generation that learns differently, and unless we recognize and accept those differences, we will turn them off to education.
One of the areas that Rosen sees the most promise in is the Virtual World environments such as Second Life. Moving educational experiences into these spaces would allow for many of the information-access modalities to be presented, while not radically re-working the actual school environment. He presents a 12-phase “model of technology implementation” that, used in conjunction with assessment tools such as “The Technology Skills, Beliefs, and Barriers Scale” should allow educational institutions to at least take the first steps into this new world.
As Rewired is brand new, it is likely to be available via your local bookstore, however, given the relatively narrow focus, it might have to be ordered in. It's available (of course) online, with Amazon having it at about a third off of cover price. Since this seems to have been initially released in "mass market paperback" rather than in hardcover, the discounted cost is quite reasonable, so if you have an interest in education, information processing, generational differences, or cyber/mobile/virtual modalities, you might consider picking up a copy. While I understand that there is a certain level of controversy around this, it raises very interesting points, and I'm glad to have read it.