Three urban legends about today’s students

Merriam-Webster defines an urban legend as, “an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true.” In this era of rapid change and budding technology, it’s easy to latch onto myths about this generation of learners. Paul Kirschner (Open University of the Netherlands) and Jeroen van Merrienboer (Maastricht University) recently published an article in Educational Psychologist busting three common myths in education.

Myth #1: This generation of digital natives are capable of multitasking and creating meaning from information in the technological world. The authors describe today’s students as “butterflies” on the computer, “fluttering across the information on the screen…unconscious to its value and without a plan.” This builds a “very fragile network of knowledge,” which is perpetuated by multitasking. Kirschner and van Merrienboer believe students lose efficiency and effectiveness when performing two or more tasks at a time. It’s been shown that “rapid switching behavior” causes “poorer learning results in students and poorer performance of tasks.”

Myth #2: Good instruction is tailored to individuals’ learning styles. The arguments against this legend relate to how learning styles are determined. Styles exist along a continuum, and it’s unrealistic to give students one label. Learners generally self-assess to determine their learning style, allowing students to choose the method they prefer instead of the one that might be most helpful.

Myth #3: Students can and should self-educate themselves on the Internet. A wealth of information sources are available today, but “one must be able to search, find, evaluate, select, process, organize, and present information.” This generation needs to be aware of what they don’t know when searching for information on the Internet. Educators play a pivotal role in supporting students in this quest, monitoring students’ learning in comparison with the standards. The authors also believe sharing control by limiting, but allowing student choice, will give learners the autonomy they need.

For more on this topic, see Anya Kamenetz’s post on challenging the conventional wisdom of disruption, digital natives, and learning styles.

Photo: fox_kiyo