Training the Digital Natives

Know about Digital Natives? They’re the ones who have grown up in the digital world, never knowing a time without computers and the internet. Being entertained by videogames, digital music players and YouTube. Communicating via smartphones, Snapchat, Instagram and other ways their parents have never even heard of.

According to research in the USA the average college graduate has spent less than 5,000 hours reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games – and 20,000 hours watching TV. It’s an integral part of the digital natives’ lives. As a result, research shows the brains of digital natives are physically different because of this.

The Changing Brain

Although most of us grew up thinking that the human brain doesn’t physically change based on stimulation it receives from the outside, it turns out that it does. Based on the latest research in neurobiology, there is no longer any question that stimulation of various kinds actually changes brain structures and affects the way people operate. You may have heard a few years ago that London Taxi Drivers’ brains are enlarged, compared to the population as a whole, in the area that stores and accesses information about routes. Going ‘on the knowledge’ changes your brain. A comparison of musicians’ brains with those who do not play an instrument showed a 5% greater volume in their cerebellums, which are the result of adaptations in the brain structure due to intensive training and practice.

And there is research from social psychologists showing that people who grow up in different cultures do not just think about different things, they actually think differently. The environment and culture in which people are raised, directly affects their thought processes.

So, what do we know about digital natives?
  • They are used to receiving information very rapidly.
  • They like to parallel process and multi-task.
  • They prefer graphics to text, or at the very least, graphics before text.
  • They like random access like hypertext.
  • They want to be networked and linked together.
  • They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards.
  • They prefer games to “serious” work.
So, what does all this mean for trainers of digital natives?

And come to that for school teachers and university lecturers? Well, one option is Digital Game Based Learning. As Mark Prensky puts it: “When you think of computer games, there’s lots of engagement but little content. Business has lots of content, but no engagement. Put the two together and you have a way to learn the business through computers that makes sense for this generation.”

So, what training or learning challenges do you have that might be better solved, even for present generations, let alone those just around the corner, with interactive game based learning?