Study Shows Technology Is Creating a Fundamentally New Learner

Most people don’t need a study to tell them that students today have different academic and personal lives than students did even 10 years ago due to advances in technology. If you were to interview or even observe students, you would see that they are involved in creating, discovering, and connecting digital information on their own time as well as at school. However, a new study by the Pew Research Center goes beyond showing the obvious, and discusses the implications of the changing way students receive and create information.

In a recent article by The Journal, John Waters says the Pew study shows “broadband Internet connectivity, the popularity of social networking, and the new ubiquity of mobile computing is producing a fundamentally new kind of learner, one that is self-directed, better equipped to capture information, more reliant on feedback from peers, more inclined to collaborate and more oriented toward being their own ‘nodes of production.'”

One way technology has changed the way consumers get their information is through links. Since an online source has the ability to link to original sources used in their article, consuming information has become a nonlinear activity. Students are clicking through links and learning more from original sources and mixed media than they ever could with a flat textbook. This ability to “go deep” will serve students well as they learn through technology how to be finishers in other areas of their lives:  in person assignment that are team based, research projects in the world of work and decisions on college, career or even a place to live.

The Pew Research Center also found that students use social networking for more than connecting with friends. Social networking sites:

  1. Act as news environments, where information is shared about the world and their social lives.
  2. Act as evaluators, where students can ask if news is true or false.
  3. Act as an audience.

The Pew Center started tracking Internet use in 1999 as “the broadband revolution” began. As people moved away from dial-up and to broadband, many more students started creating content. Today, three-quarters of teens create and share content online, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. The Pew Center also found:

  • 95 percent of teens use the Internet, compared to 78 percent of adults.
  • 82 percent of teens have broadband at home, compared to 62 percent of adults.

Technology affords students today a voice. They can proffer their opinions, start movements like Occupy, speak out against the high cost of college and greatly influence the election that lies ahead. Through their voices, students can find a purpose for their lives, for their values and for the things in the world they want to organize to improve. Let’s look to students to actually create these things in the future. They are the ones who will be changing our lives with the digital tools we teach them.


“Broadband, Social Networks, and Mobility Have Spawned a New Kind of Learner,” by John K. Waters. 13 December 2011. The Journal. Accessed on 19 December 2011.

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