For the past decade educators and instructional designers have attempted to visualize how students who have grown up with regular access to the Internet function as learners and to consider the impact and the implication of this unprecedented access to information and to one another. Powerful and suggestive images, like the “new millennium learners” and “digital natives”, born between 1981 and 2000, have been used to develop a given set of expectations about today’s learners. It is often assumed that these students must have different skill sets than previous generations of learners and that their use of the Internet and other emerging technologies require that existing methods of instruction be reviewed and modified to leverage these new technologies. Descriptions of these students as continuously connected multi-taskers has struck a chord with many educators, as has the notion that millenials will force teachers to adapt by challenging old ways of teaching. “The traditional classroom paradigm is being challenged today, not so much by professors, who have by and large optimized their teaching effort and their time commitments to a lecture format, but by our students.” (Duderstadt, 2004).

Whether or not this level of technology adoption or dependence is having an impact on the way millenials manage knowledge, and therefore on their expectations about teaching and learning has been a continuous and contentious subject of discussion. These discussions often pit advocates for revolutionary educational change (Prensky, 2001)) against more traditionalist views who look at information technology in teaching merely as tools to improve on what educators have already being doing quite well for decades, if not centuries (Bullen (2011), Jones et al. (2010.)) The former see in the new generations of technology-adept students an opportunity to radically transform teaching and learning. The latter argue that technology simply be used to enhance current practices. There have been many articles and books which have been written on this topic within popular media; however, they often fail to provide the empirical evidence which could contribute greatly in developing institutional strategies and policies that would support integrating technology into the learning environment.

Join us at THE Performance Improvement Conference 2012 for an interactive and engaging examination of the current literature as we help to sort out the evidence based “wheat” from the anecdotal “chaff” surrounding how generational differences in the classroom and the workplace impact learning and performance.

Bullen, M., Morgan, T., & Qayyum, A. (2011). Digital Learners in Higher Education: Looking Beyond Stereotypes. Proceedings of the ED MEDIA conference, Lisbon, July 1, 2011.

Duderstadt, J. (2004). Higher learning in the digital age: An update on a National Academies study. Paper presented at the 6th annual meeting of EDUCAUSE, Denver, CO, October.

Jones, Chris; Ramanau, Ruslan; Cross, Simon and Healing, Graham (2010). Net generation or Digital Natives: Is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers and Education, 54(3), pp. 722–732.

Prensky, M.( 2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon 9 (5).

About the Authors

Brett Christensen MSc, CPT, CTDP has been a Training Development Officer in the Canadian Forces (CF) for the past 7 years. He has worked in e-Learning design, education research and program management at the Canadian Defence Academy.  He recently transferred to the CF Warfare Center supporting strategic level distributed mission simulation training and lessons learned after a year of re-designing aircrew training a 1 Wing Headquarters, the home of Tactical Aviation for the CF.



Remi Tremblay MEd, CTDP has been a Training Development Officer for over 18 years, performing in a variety of high profile roles including Instruction in Courseware Design, DL Technologies and Instructional Supervision. After completing his MEd in 2006, he was assigned as the Deputy Commanding Officer of the CF School of Aerospace Studies. Most recently he was the special assistant to the Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy before proceeding on a UN Tour in Sierra Leone.