Monday, May 25, 2009

Three Steps In Learning Brought To Us By the Digital Natives

John Palfrey, co-author with Urs Gasser of Born Digital, was on Book TV this morning. Palfrey had many fascinating observations about how “digital natives” — kids who were born into a digital world — differ from both “digital immigrants” who've had to find their way through it, and “digital settlers,” the pioneers who created the digital landscape.

He noted, for instance, that of the many hundreds of students he's observed working at the Harvard Law School library, he has never seen -- not even once -- a student with a book in hand; plenty of computers, yes -- but no books. In a library!

To paraphrase a common concern among parents and educators: How much can the information tsunami contribute to real learning? Palfrey made the first cogent argument I’d heard that digital can be better.

For example, with regard to “getting the day’s news,” Palfrey noted that the non-digital generation followed a process that began with morning coffee and the newspaper, followed that evening by some time spent with Walter Cronkite. In the digital world, news gatherers who choose to do so can have a much richer experience. “They can begin with grazing for information, which includes scanning headlines online, watching the quick newsfeeds on the bottom of the TV screen, and so on.” Some stop there, he noted—and that’s where the concern about “shallow” comes in. But for others, the learning process launches with grazing, and intensifies with what Palfrey calls the “deep dive,” clicking on links in the headlines. From the deep dive, the most energetic then engage in the participatory and creative “feedback” phase, which involves commenting on articles they’ve read, writing in their own blog, and so on.

Palfrey’s right: If you go through these three steps, digital learning is an amazing, mind-expanding, enriching experience. Marketing Brillo loves John Palfrey.

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