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Does Gen Y get online learning?

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The perception of Generation Y is that they are very much the digital generation, living their lives online and with a degree of comfort with all things digital that puts the elder generations to shame.  A few studies might be debunking that legend however.

I wrote earlier this month about a study into enterprise social networking and its impact on knowledge management.  That study found that younger employees were not at all comfortable with using social media for professional means, and certainly not as comfortable as their older colleagues.  Instead, they preferred using more traditional methods of sharing knowledge, such as the telephone or face to face conversations.

The same may be the case for online learning as well.  A survey of college students, conducted by Internships.com and Millenial Branding, found that just 43% of respondents thought online learning would one day surpass that provided in a physical classroom.

What's more, 78% of them thought that it was much easier to learn in traditional classrooms than via online courses.

It's a view that is reflected in the user data that is coming through from MOOCs.  A study last year found that the average age of a MOOC student was 35, with the younger students by far the largest group of quitters on the course.

Dan Schawbel, founder of Millenial Branding, was nevertheless bullish about the results.

"Education should not be a one-size-fits-all model, because everyone learns differently, regardless of age, occupation and location. More online courses should be offered to cater to those who learn better in a virtual classroom." he said in a statement.

Is it enough?  For the last decade or so many have advocated the reinvention of the workplace and our education systems to cater better for the changing demands of the younger generation.  When this happens however, it seems that the younger generation are not taking advantage of the changing landscape as much as their older peers.

In the commercial world the idea of Rodgers Adoption Curve is well known.  Is it therefore more likely that the perception of Gen Y as being digital natives is in fact incorrect, and instead we have a more traditional bell curve, with a minority from that age group as comfortable with digital tools as early adopters from other generations, but the remainder having merely a superficial understanding of the current digital landscape?

A study published in 2008 believes so.  Writing in the British Journal of Education Technology in 2008, a group of academics led by Sue Bennett of the University of Wollongong found that there may be “as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations”.

So rather than propogating the myth that the younger generation are automatically getting all things digital, it may be worth stepping back a bit and looking at things on a more individual basis.

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