Handbook of Research on Practices and Outcomes in E-Learning: Issues and Trends

Save this PDF as:

Size: px
Start display at page:

Download "Handbook of Research on Practices and Outcomes in E-Learning: Issues and Trends"


1 Handbook of Research on Practices and Outcomes in E-Learning: Issues and Trends Harrison Hao Yang State University of New York at Oswego, USA Steve Chi-Yin Yuen The University of Southern Mississippi, USA InformatIon science reference Hershey New York

2 Director of Editorial Content: Senior Managing Editor: Assistant Managing Editor: Publishing Assistant: Typesetter: Cover Design: Printed at: Kristin Klinger Jamie Snavely Michael Brehm Sean Woznicki Michael Brehm, Kurt Smith Lisa Tosheff Yurchak Printing Inc. Published in the United States of America by Information Science Reference (an imprint of IGI Global) 701 E. Chocolate Avenue Hershey PA Tel: Fax: Web site: Copyright 2010 by IGI Global. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or distributed in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, without written permission from the publisher. Product or company names used in this set are for identification purposes only. Inclusion of the names of the products or companies does not indicate a claim of ownership by IGI Global of the trademark or registered trademark. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Handbook of research on practices and outcomes in e-learning : issues and trends / Harrison Hao Yang and Steve Chi-Yin Yuen, editors. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Summary: "This book includes a selection of world-class chapters addressing current research, case studies, best practices, pedagogical approaches and strategies, related resources and projects related to e-learing"--provided by publisher. ISBN (hardcover) -- ISBN (ebook) 1. Internet in education. 2. Information technology. 3. Virtual computer systems. 4. World Wide Web. 5. Online social networks. 6. Blogs. 7. Wikis (Computer science) I. Yang, Harrison Hao, II. Yuen, Steve Chi-Yin, LB H ' dc British Cataloguing in Publication Data A Cataloguing in Publication record for this book is available from the British Library. All work contributed to this book is new, previously-unpublished material. The views expressed in this book are those of the authors, but not necessarily of the publisher.

3 76 Chapter 5 Generational Learners & E-Learning Technologies Ke Zhang Wayne State University, USA Curtis J. Bonk Indiana University, USA ABSTRACT This chapter reviews the characteristics of learners of different generations. In particular, it compares their differences in terms of learning preferences as well as their typical skills and attitudes towards technology in e-learning. In addition, it discusses the impacts of these shared and varied learner characteristics on e-learning and provides suggestions and recommendations on how to address generational learning diversity in e-learning design and delivery. In responding to the emerging learning technologies, this chapter specifically analyzes generational learners preferences and characteristics regarding learning technologies, and the practical implications for designers and educators working on e-learning for highly diversified audiences representing various generations. INTRODUCTION The frenzied pace in which e-learning courses and programs have increased in K-12 and higher education settings as well as in training environments has attracted a seemingly endless stream of enrollments from a huge, diverse population of younger as well as more mature learners into the e-learning phenomenon. In many e-learning events today, it is common to see a wide range of diversity among the participants, such as, background, lifestyle, learning DOI: / ch005 preferences, and social and political inclinations. Of course, they also differ in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality, and personality traits. While such differences were also true in traditional, face-to-face settings, they are perhaps more noticeable when teaching online; especially the age differences in higher education settings. It is quite evident from the enrollment rosters that the learner base in higher education is no longer the highly homogenous year-olds. Unfortunately, however, e-learning designers and educators have yet to respond proactively to the changing learner demographics and their rapidly increasing diversity. Copyright 2010, IGI Global. Copying or distributing in print or electronic forms without written permission of IGI Global is prohibited.

4 In addition to the differences in students preferred learning styles (e.g., Bonk & Zhang, 2006, 2008; Santo, 2006; Zhang & Bonk, 2008), generational differences in the workplace as well as in education are increasingly apparent and are receiving increasing attention from researchers, educators, and managers (e.g., Appel, 2003; Dede, 2005; Dieterle, Dede, & Schrier, 2007; Kruse, 2004; Lippincott, 2006; Reins, 2002). Focusing on e-learning in particular, this chapter reviews prevailing generational differences with a special focus on their lifestyles and technology preferences. Such distinctiveness in how different generations of learners were taught or tend to learn, creates unique opportunities for the online trainer or instructor while simultaneously adding to the overall complexity of the encounter. GENERATIONAL LIFESTYLES With the increasing diversity apparent among online learners, it is crucial to understand their differences from a generational perspective; in particular, how they learn, how they prefer to learn, and how they would learn better (e.g., Appel, 2003; Dede, 2005; Oblinger, 2003). Current generations are typically placed into the following categories: (1) those born before 1946 are known as the mature or silent generation; (2) those born between (or 1961) are labeled as Baby Boomers; (3) those born from or are known as Generation X, or the Xers; and (4) those born in 1980 (or 1982) and later are referred to as the Millennial Generation, Generation Y, the Net Generation, Nexters, or the Internet Generation. However, such attempts to classify generations of people are never that simple. For instance, more recently, there is news about the Zippie or Generation Z (McKay, 2004). Zippies, or upwardly mobile youth (i.e., ages 15-25) of India who walk with a zip in their stride (Friedman, 2005, p. 184), were extensively spotlighted in Thomas Friedman s (2005) highly popular book, The World is Flat. With more than half of the population in India being under age 25, the Zippies are certainly a huge cohort group that deserve close attention in India, as well as in countries or regions with similar populations. The Zippie phenomenon in India (McKay, 2004), however, is more than a local occurrence, as it reflects to a certain degree the global trends regarding technology and mobility. In addition, with the ease of travel and immigration, such groups can be found anywhere globally, thereby impacting the design and delivery of e-learning throughout the world. Instead of only impacting younger audiences, this flatter world, now filled with myriad Web 2.0 technologies, has been drastically altering the means for learning, sharing, and communicating across generations. Not too surprisingly, even the baby boomers have their own social networking site, the Zoomers ( One such zoomer, Moses Znaimer, a media innovator and broadcasting visionary in Canada, created this online multimedia community for the 50 plus with a vision of aging with zip (Cravit, 2008). In this community, Zoomers may share photos, videos, life style tips, post blogs, organize social events, form groups, chat, play games, and participate in forum discussions established there. Lifelong learning is evident in social networking sites like this, and actively among online communities of practice on social networks such as Ning ( These communities of learning and practice are powerful in informal learning, lifelong learning, and professional development, benefiting all users across ages and generations. Gen Xer, Gen Nexter, Zippie, Zoomer, or millennial, each of these generational labels, to a certain degree, provide indicators of the most influential or representative characteristics or phenomena of that particular generation. Accordingly, such defining social events have shaped people with a set of shared characteristics, many of which relate to how we learn and gain experiences in the world at large. In effect, such events define who 77

5 we are, how we view this world, how we interact with our surroundings, and how we prefer to learn or be taught. For instance, do we prefer collaborative or individual learning pursuits? Do we like instructor-led or more personalized learning? Do we trust experts, peers, or our own explorations for our knowledge? The Silent Generation In the United States, the mature or silent generation has grown up in the aftermath of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War (more than likely, those in other countries experienced similar phenomena). This generation typically values law and order, shows respect for authority, and tends to be conservative as well as silent (hence the name). Given their respect for authority as well as their tendencies toward conformity, those of the Silent Generation typically expect to be told what to do and how to do it in both their work environments as well as in their learning-related ones. Now in the twenty-first century, those in their 60s, 70s, and 80s are increasing in numbers in the educational settings, especially online ones, due to job requirements, extended life-spans, and personal interests such as a desire to keep up with a fast-changing world. Given such trends, do not be too shocked to soon find centenarians appearing in your online classes. Instead of being surprised, use such individuals as mentors, moderators, and expert witnesses. Their rich store of experiences can excite younger learners into areas of learning they never previously dreamed of. As they increasingly appear online, the mentoring roles and possibilities of those approaching or past their one-hundredth birthday will likely explode. Myriad social, political, cultural, economic, and heath-related factors have emerged during the past few decades to place us in the midst of an explosion of more mature learners, which is not likely to ever subside; unless, of course, the definition of mature learner changes. These mature learners are simply catching up with their technology-rich and ever changing surroundings. And higher education institutions as well as museums, parks, and other informal learning centers are tapping into as well as fueling such interests with free and open access online courses, downloadable podcasts, videostreamed lectures, community-built wiki resources, and many other educational products and outlets (Bonk & Kim, 1998). While this generation did not grow up with computers or Web-based instruction, such skills are definitely being acquired by many of them, though this is not universal. Some in the Silent Generation may now use e-bay for buying and selling products online. They might also seek out CNN.com or Yahoo News to read much of their news in a digital format, use online mapping services like Mapquest or Google Map to calculate routes for their next trip, and even go online to electronically order their tickets for that trip. Interestingly, at the same time that e-learning is inching down to younger age learners, it is also creeping up to this Silent Generation who are just beginning to grasp how to take advantage of various online technologies for their lifelong learning pursuits. They may be silent or less vocal as well as hesitant to learn new technologies, but they will likely be among the hardest workers in the online courses and training sessions. Once they gain confidence and time for reflecting on their thoughts and ideas, they tend to speak up and pose weighty questions or contribute dazzling stories and other relevant experiences. Baby Boomers Just behind this silent generation are the baby boomers who are between early 40s and early 60s. In the United States, such individuals have experienced prosperity, the Vietnam War and its associated anti-war actions, the Cold War with then Communist Soviet Union, women s liberation, and the space race. These defining events have shaped this generation with optimism, teamwork, 78

6 and a love-hate relationship with authority. Baby boomers are now playing important roles in the workforce at executive, managerial, administrative, technical, and other levels, with many of them being in charge in the workplace. As a recent study by Capella University uncovered, most baby boomers are seeking, or would seek if time allowed, additional education aimed at a career change, professional development, better opportunities, and self fulfillment (Mbilinyi, 2006). As a result, baby boomers are commonly found in online Webinars, online degree courses and programs, non-degree programs, professional certificates programs, and other online learningrelated events. The rich life experiences they bring to online learning courses are highly valuable; yet, at the same time, they may feel overwhelmed and/or challenged by the fast-paced turnaround required online given the time-related constraints of their family responsibilities and careers. Generation X Positioned behind the Boomers are those from Generation X. At the present time, the X-Generation, or Xers are between their early 20s to early 40s. Their life experiences include the explosion of single-parent families, AIDS, the invention of computers, the end of Cold War with the associated tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and various highly publicized Wall Street adventures. They tend to be more willing to take risks and question authority as well as prevailing ritual and traditions. In addition, they are family-oriented, self-reliant, open-minded, and want to have fun. Gen Xers currently represent the most prominent group in many online learning situations, especially in training and development settings and post-baccalaureate educational programs. Compared to older generations, they are more into fun, family, creativity, and self fulfillment. And, their openness to diversity makes them more prepared for cross-cultural online learning collaborations and interactions. As the first generation to extensively use computer technology at work, home, and school, they are the technology literate, digital natives who come to training and education events with relatively high technological expectations (Prensky, 2001). Generation Y or the Millennials The millennials (or Generation Y, or the Nexters, or the Internet Generation) now include preteenagers, teenagers, and those in their early 20s who are just beginning to populate the workforce. Such individuals have grown up with computers, the Internet, PlayStations, ipods, Wii, and a plethora of other consumer technologies; many of which have fortunately found extensive use in educational settings. For Generation Y, technology is naturally part of their daily life. With Father Google and Mother IM (Windhem, 2005), such young learners bring fresh, emerging ideas, views, and expectations to the online learning world. They are widely open to and more acquainted with multiculturalism and are connected to the world dynamically via the Internet. Additionally, they are confident, social, optimistic, and seemingly ever changing individuals. As the first generation of digital natives, the millennials distinguish themselves from older generations in many ways. For instance, in terms of technology options, they make friends and connections with the world through the Internet and interactive communication technologies, such as Instant Messengers (IM), Google, Skype, MySpace, Facebook, and more. In their daily lives, online chat tools, blogging sites, social networking software, ipods, PDAs, and cellphones with Internet services and multimedia functions are essential. Their world or life space exists on many dimensions and within myriad communities thanks to the Internet. They may not go to the library very often, but they blog, wiki, Google, and IM everyday. Their lives are fast-paced, multi-faceted, and highly intense. This generation is known for its ability to intuitively 79

7 integrate the latest consumer technologies into their daily lives. In effect, their defining expertise may be in fingertip knowledge or finding the right information or learning resource when needed. Therefore, skills in critical reading and evaluation of such fingertip knowledge are critical for this generation. For Baby Boomer or Gen X online instructors, these young students may appear to be the most demanding, challenging, or hard-to-please consumers in the online learning business. In effect, they have extremely different expectations for their learning activities, whether it be online or face-to-face or some blend of the two. Given that this particular generation of learners is fast becoming the major consumer group for online learning, understanding their approach to learning is no longer an option. Millennial learners are inherently different. Instead of searching for books in a library, millennial learners may start their research with Google and Wikipedia. It is not surprising to hear such learners say that I respect myself more as a self-teacher, Learning that takes place in the classroom isn t as important as time studying on your own, or Online gives me something to do when I m bored with the professor (Dziuban, Moskal, & Hartman, 2005). As Dziuban and his colleagues found out, millennials spent more time pursuing their own learning paths, whether it be reading articles online, reviewing personal progress, or exploring a simulation, rather than waiting for an instructor or tutor to tell them how they are doing or what to do next. Neomillenials In his writings, Chris Dede (2005) from Harvard s Graduate School of Education has painted a picture of how technologies that might impact the development of neomillennial learning styles. According to Dede (personal communication, November 22, 2006), neomillennial learning styles can be acquired by someone of any age, since they depend on current media usage rather than what one grew up with. I believe that to be true of all media-based learning styles. So when neomillennial learners were born is meaningless. The idea of how technology might impact learning styles is apparent in the proliferation of mobile technologies and smart objects in mobile learning or ubiquitous learning (Zhang, 2008). The concept of neomillennial learning is a media-based learning style, and thus it is cross-generational and may address a wide range of ages. In addition, Professor Dede points out that international collaborations and mentoring via our desktops or laptops will bring learners to communities of practice which can better apprentice their learning than traditional schools. Third, massive multiuser virtual environments engage young learners in simulated worlds where they can quickly make decisions, solve problems, and share results with others sitting next to them as well as those they touch in their cyberworlds from other locales. Dede predicts that such technologies will nurture a generation of learners more used to knowledge sharing and co-designing their learning environments. According to him, such learners will prefer nonlinear learning pursuits, multitasking among disparate experiences, peer evaluation and feedback, and constant reflection on one s shared experiences. More specifically, the so-called neomillennial learning style (Dede, 2005; Dieterle et al., 2007) is highlighted with the following characteristics: Fluency in multiple media and appreciation of the communications, activities, and experiences these media empower; Preference for collaborative, collective, and discovery learning through multiple channels; Active learning that involves both real and simulated experiences and reflections 80

8 The use of hypermedia resources and associational webs of learning rather than linear or predefined paths or stories; Active seeking of information and ability to synthesize across it, rather than rely on or absorb a single best answer. Neomillennials differ quite noticeably from the other generations. Part of the reason for their uniqueness, according to Dede and his colleagues, is that the neomilliennial style is cross-generational. In effect, they can actually cross generations with a distinct media or technology preference. Whether a high school student, newspaper columnist, or corporate trainer, neo-millennials have keen interests in emerging communication media, nonlinear learning, and collaboration. They are adapt in using wireless and mobile technologies (Dieterle et al., 2007); thereby enabling them to be learners (as well as consumers) wherever they happen to be on the planet. Based on the characteristics of Generation Y learners, Dede points out that the emerging technologies, especially wireless handheld devices with Internet access, have great potential for promoting collaboration, authenticity, mobility, and learner-controlled learning. In a research study conducted during the academic year, Schrier (2006) investigated the use of wireless handheld devices with augmented reality games to teach higher-order thinking skills at school, such as collaboration, decision making, and critical thinking. She found that wireless handheld devices are vital cognitive tools. Their benefits as cognitive tools include: (a) increased opportunities for peer collaboration and reflection; (b) broadened access to real-world contexts; such tools further facilitate problem solving with task authenticity and enhanced contextual information; (c) improved participant engagement in the learning process as well as interactions and explorations between virtual and real worlds; (d) learner control over the navigation of games and discovery learning at one s own pace; and (e) engaging role playing among participants. The neomillemnnial learning style exhibits preferences for collaboration, appreciation for the authenticity of learning tasks and environments, learning mobility, and fluency in multimedia. In addition to traditional sensory-based learning styles such as the VARK model (Fleming & Mills, 1992), as well as personality style measures such as the often-used Myers-Briggs inventory (Pittenger, 1993) and aptitude-based styles such as Gardner s multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983), some scholars take into account experience including that with emerging media. For instance, as alluded to earlier, Dede (2005) proposes a learning styles approach or framework he calls media-based learning. He argues that media-based learning is a cross-age learning style. It is often agreed that the millennials are more comfortable with teamwork, multitasking, and collaborations and are accustomed to negotiating meanings through various media resources, especially the Internet (Oblinger, 2004). However, Dede and his colleagues (Dieterle et al., 2007) further propose that these characteristics are highly present in those who extensively use modern digital, interactive media, and thus represent a cross-age media-based learning style. Dede and his colleagues point out that this new age of learners want to be involved in codesigning their own learning experiences. They understand the technological capabilities as well as their own learning needs; hence, some argue that they should have a hand in designing their own learning experiences. Neomillennials prefer more personalized and active learning experiences which are customized for their particular needs (Kruse, 2004) rather than generic tasks meant to appeal to the widest set of learners possible. And when complete, they want some sense of accomplishment and collective reflection on such successes. 81

9 GENERATIONAL TECHNOLOGY PREFERENCES With the tremendous differences in generational lifestyles, generational learners bring varied expectations and technology preferences to their online learning experiences. As online instructors begin to understand the pedagogical variety that is possible online, learners who are quite savvy with multi-tasking and experimenting with the latest technology are entering college classrooms today and expecting their courses to contain more handson and interactive tasks as well as opportunities to stay connected electronically to the class, their peers, and their instructors. Given such backgrounds and expectations, there is much concern within the course development community that courses address the learning preferences of these more technologically sophisticated learners. For the younger generations, especially the millennials, computers are not technology, they are simply part of one s life. These digital natives that Marc Prensky (2001) spoke about are so technologically savvy, they prefer typing to handwriting (Oblinger, 2003). They use , instant messaging, and the Internet on a daily basis for life and research (Oblinger, 2003; Windhem, 2005). They surf the Internet all the time; they write and read blogs; they create, publish and download podcasts; and they communicate with friends online in several, if not a dozen or more, simultaneous IM conversations. Much of this is possible since they find ways to obtain the latest consumer technologies and then quickly experiment with new ways to communicate with the world. How do universities and corporations attract such digitally talented individuals to their campuses? Well, places such as Duke University and Drexel University have offered them free ipods to use in their classes. Duke s highly publicized initiative, announced August 19, 2004, entailed giving all entering freshman 20 gigabyte ipods (Calhoun, 2005; Dean, 2004). A year or two later, they decided to loan out such technology, rather than give it away. Of course, Duke and Drexel have by no means cornered the market on technologyrelated giveaways. The University of Maryland, for example, entices students to their MBA program with Blackberry handheld devices so that students can learn how to organize and prioritize their time, save and index valuable knowledge, and be responsive to requests; all skills needed by business executives. Some universities offer the iphone or itouch or MacBook Air laptop to incoming students. Still other colleges and universities have offered free or reduced price laptop computers and cell phones for needy students as well as wireless Internet access in their dormitories, academic buildings, and classrooms. Table 1 details the key differences of current generations of learners, including their birth years, common characteristics, learning and technology preferences, and defining events in their lives(appel, 2003; Hartman, Moskal, & Dziuban, 2003; Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005). For instance, the millennial learner prefers teamwork, experiential activities, some structure, and the use of technology for learning (Dede, 2005; Oblinger, 2003). In contrast, the baby boomers are used to working alone and simply following whatever directions the instructor may provide on what to learn and how to learn it. In terms of technology, boomers consider computers as nice to have tools, and often have to ask what would I do with a computer?, though this is becoming less of an issue with each passing year. Generation X and Y learners, on the other hand, consider computers as a need to have (Darling, n.d.). Boomers Versus X and Y Generations There are interesting contrasts between the baby boomer generation and Generation X and Y in terms of how they prefer to learn. Boomers are used to lecture-based approaches and being directly taught, while younger generations grew up in an 82

10 Table 1. Summary of generational differences Generation Silent/ mature Birth years 1946 or before Baby boomers (or 1961) Generation X, the Xers or Millennial, Neomillennial, Generation Y, New Learners, the Net Generation, Nexters, or the Internet Generation 1980 (or 1982) or later Defining events Characteristics Learning preferences Technology preferences Great Depression WWII Korean War Vietnam War Anti-war actions Cold War Women s liberation Space race Single-parent families AIDS Invention of computers End of Cold War Wall Street Fall of Berlin Wall Internet Wikipedia The dotcom bubble and bust Iraq War Terrorism Value law and order Self-sacrifice Respect authority Conservative Silent Optimism Teamwork Love-hate relationship with authority Workaholic Risk-taking Question authority and traditions Family-oriented Self-reliant Open-minded Want to have fun Can-do attitude Confident social Diverse Optimistic and hopeful Multitasking Fast-paced Determined Being used to be told what to do and how to do things at work and in the learning process Listening to authorities lecture Individual work Fun Creativity Open to diversity Open to multiculturalism Dynamically connected to the world via technologies Teamwork Experiential learning Catching up with popular consumer technologies Computer is a nice thing to have Technology literate Technology as a tool Father Google Mother IM Technology as a natural part of life Digital natives age filled with pedagogical experimentations such as cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and student-centered curricular ideas. Boomers have been brought up in a culture where they depended on instructors or someone in authority to predefine their learning and provide supports for such learning (Darling, n.d.). Another difference is that Gen X and Y perceive gaming is an essential part of there lives and their learning (Tapscott, 2009). In contrast, for Boomers, games and simulations can be seen as less serious forms of learning, and, in many cases, distracting from that learning. Xers grew up in a climate of immediate gratification fast food, remote controls, automatic bank machines, climate controlled cars, and digital cameras; such trends were even more pervasive for Gen Y learners. In their learning worlds, they crave stimulation and come to expect immediate answers to their questions, so Ask Jeeves, Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, and rapid fire searching in Google are tasks and technologies that they are immediately comfortable with. Instead of being directly taught or force-fed information, they look to be more involved, try things out for themselves, and control their learning destinies. Along these same lines, therefore, they want to see the end result of their learning tasks or assignments as well as understand the rationale or meaning for what they are assigned. With both parents often working, unlike most in the baby boomer generation, Gen X and Y are highly used to getting things done on their own (Brown, 1997). Such experiences lead to skills in independent problem solving and becoming self-starters of their own learning. They certainly appreciate external supports and aids, but, for the most part, they want to try things out on their own (Bresnathan, n.d., 2000). There is some research that indicates that older people (i.e., Boomers) prefer less interac- 83

11 tion in distance education than younger learners (Kearsley, 1995). In addition, they may prefer private learning activities (e.g., reflective journals and personal explorations) over more public ones with others (e.g., small group discussions, role play, simulations, ice breakers, skits, etc.) (Vampola, 2001). However, in contrast to Gen X and Y learners, when they do not know something, they ask questions. In terms of technology, Boomers are less comfortable with it, whereas Gen X and Y see it as part of who they are. Boomers are used to replying to prompts and following directions one task at a time. Gen Xers, on the other hand, attempt to handle multiple tasks at once. While much maligned as having short attention spans, in actuality, Gen Xers are perhaps simply coping with the vast amounts of information inundating each of our daily lives while utilizing the many forms of communication at their disposal to discuss them. As Douglas Rushkoff (1996) points out, the skill of the twenty-first century is no longer equated with the length of one s attention span or the ability to sit and listen to an expert pontificate; instead, it is the ability to cope with many tasks simultaneously as well as rapidly process the assortment of text and visual information that bombard us each day. As an example, one might envision a secondary student talking on a mobile phone, using a desktop computer as a foot rest, chatting with friends online in MSN, peering down on the book she has open for homework, playing music from her ipod or stereo, and watching a show on television located somewhere in the background. Amazingly, she can effectively managing all these activities simultaneously! A recent survey report from the Student Monitor s Lifestyle and Media Study revealed that ipods were the number one in thing on college campuses in the United States as indicated by 73% of those surveyed (Snider, 2006). For the first time in nearly a decade the top item in the list was not drinking beer, though it ran a close second at 71 percent. Other items rounding out the top five included the use of the social networking software, Facebook.com (71%), drinking other forms of alcohol besides beer (67%), and text messaging (66%). Perhaps some students might temporarily multitask many or even all such acts (Bonk, 2009). Other popular things on college campuses in 2006 were downloading music (66%), instant messaging (65%), going to clubs (63%), working out (62%), and drinking coffee (60%). While some might incorrectly contend that the cognitive processing of humans has somehow been reprogrammed or rewired within a single generation, there is no doubt that productive living at the early moments of this century are at times overwhelming and at other times extremely exhilarating. The latter is much more realizable when one has technology-related savvy as well as a high degree of confidence in such skills. And many Generation X and Y learners do indeed have both. Some of these same traits or characteristics apply when Generation X and Y individuals transition to the workplace. Unlike many in previous generations who might have worked for the same company or organization for life and patiently waited for a turn to climb up the food chain, Generation X and Y individuals will not typically grow old working at the first or second place that they land a job. Instead, they view their current work environment as a place for personal growth. In terms of learning and training, they believe that the right job is an ongoing learning process. They love opportunities to continue their education and make themselves more marketable. Instead of old models of consistency and control of some predetermined learning event (i.e., the tell me what I need to learn approach), Generation X and Y want control, they want more open-ended learning paths, and they want options (Tapscott, 2009). While Gen X and Y learners truly appreciate learning-related support and assistance, they beg for options. They are motivated by variety and control over their learning pursuits. 84

12 Fortunately, the Internet is situated to provide that. If the learner needs videoconferencing or finds synchronous training sessions to be valuable, they can be offered via Internet technologies. If the learning material is best offered on CDs or DVDs, or some other emerging technology, it can be manufactured. If self-paced materials are preferable, that too is possible. If radio programming or podcasts will be helpful, they can be designed. Instead of traditional lecture formats, podcasts are a form of lecturing at the learner s convenience they are a part of the mobile learning resources of a Gen X or Y learner. As Weinsten (2006) insightfully notes, this is an age where learning on demand, is in demand. The point is that younger generations of learners have increasingly wanted more flexible and open learning forms. Such technology-based learning options often found today might be best referred to as learning at the back door (Wedemeyer, 1981) or flexible learning. Nontraditional learning, in fact, may soon be traditional. In flexible learning, the learner is provided with the type of learning materials, resources, and strategies that best fits her needs. And, as a result, the instructional designers and support personnel helping pave their learning paths are called flexible learning consultants. In effect, the goal is to have the learning environment address diverse learner needs so that they can lead highly successful and productive lives in a global work and learn environment. For example, Hung and Zhang (2008) applied data mining techniques to analyze various patterns of online learning behaviors, and to make predictions on the learning outcomes. They were able to scientifically identify students behavioral patterns and preferences in the online learning process, differentiate active and passive learners, and found important parameters for performance prediction in online learning. With such types of technologies built in the e-learning environment, flexible learning would become more manageable for instructors or trainers. In effect, the e-learning system would be able to monitor, identify, and detect the various learning progresses and needs of different learners. As this happens, those learners are empowered to provide more personalized, flexible learning experiences. On a much larger scale, we must now begin to ask what resources, materials, tools, networks, people, policies, and other infrastructure can make the personalization of learning happen? We believe that online learning frameworks or models like the Read, Reflect, Display, and Do (R2D2) model (Bonk & Zhang, 2006, 2008), can be a part of such a personalization of learning initiative. Such models offer insight into the types of online activities and associated technologies can empower learners and maximize their learning experiences. TODAY S LEARNER Today s student is increasing wired or unwired elated when finding a connection to the Web in a café, bookstore, hallway, or empty room, and just as jubilant in getting a response from someone located far away (Bonk, 2009). Once done at a café, he might be text messaging his peers while listening to his ipod during a brisk walking across campus (Seligman, 2006). Entering an unfamiliar building on campus, he immediately begins searching for hot spots to connect to the Internet. As is evident, we are living in an age when learners are always online or at least attempting to be. In addition to communicating with family and friends, he might be ordering concert or movie tickets, checking the weather or sports scores, downloading instructor lecture notes or podcasts for the day, updating their e-portfolios, or finding out if a particular class is canceled. One s personal and professional lives, therefore, are seamlessly intertwined with mobile and wireless technology access. While someone from the Baby Boomer generation might consider computers and technologies, in 85

13 general, as nice-to-haves, someone from Generation X or Y views technology as a key part of who a twenty-first century learner is (Jayson, 2006). Technology is something that is required within their lives; a needed commodity, not a luxury or an option (Darling, n.d.). And, not surprisingly, the amount of money being spent on technology purchases is drastically rising. In fact, when a parent shows up on a college campus in the United States today to help move a son or daughter into a dormitory, if he does not have a laptop in hand, then something seems awry. Freshmen often arrive on campuses with better technology than their colleges have. Many first-year students moving into their dorms unpack brand-new laptops or desktop computers. Laptops, in fact, are more popular than desktops. In addition to powerful laptop technology, their cellphones have the latest features. And they don t just have an ipod, they have video ipods and iphones or some other types of MP3 players and smartphones. Students continue to spend more on electronic purchases each year, according to a report on the National Retail Federation s annual Back-to- College Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey. That s $10.46-billion, in a category that includes flat-panel TV s, video-game consoles, laptops, and, of course, digital music players (Chronicle of Higher Education, September 22, 2006). And, these technologies go out of date quickly; today is for older adults (i.e., Boomers), whereas social networking software is the province of Generation Y (Carnevale, 2006). Gen Y learners also dominate in the areas of text messaging, instant messaging, blogging, and Internet surfing. Universities such as Montclair State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston College, MIT, George Washington University, Stanford University, and Pennsylvania State University realize this. In response, they are providing their students with services as mobile phone alerts (e.g., campus related emergencies and sports information), capabilities for students to check on available laundry machines in their dorms, ability to order late night snacks electronically, university wikis that students can contribute to, mobile access to grades, instructor lectures, bus schedules, and a host of other personally relevant information (Bonk, 2009; Lombardi, 2006; Sideman, 2006). And, as the quote below indicates, local vendors now are getting in on the action. At DCsnack.com, students at George Washington University and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., can order Ben & Jerry s ice cream, DVDs, condoms or any other late-night needs with the click of a mouse. The items are delivered to their doorsteps in 30 to 45 minutes (Sideman, 2006). The United States is not the only place catering to Gen Y learners. For instance, in Korea, students can download their lecture notes, college test preparation programs, music, pictures, and videos to their portable multimedia players (PMPs) (Cho, 2006). Recently, the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) in Korea announced that it is providing free high quality broadcasting of its college entrance preparation TV programs to learner PMPs. Given the highly competitiveness nature of getting into the highest tier colleges and universities in Korea, this initiative has massive implications. Imagine when such services extend to other types of contents as well as to other countries around the planet. Learning will definitely move in a more mobile, and hopefully, more equitable direction. It may not eliminate the digital divide, but it will definitely change the discussion surrounding it. In this chapter, we have discussed many positive aspects of this trend toward connectivity and mobility. At the same time, there are many highly publicized negative impacts as well. For instance, there is the increased chance of Internet addiction and corresponding anxiety when one cannot get connected (Reuters, 2006). With the increasingly popular social networking phenomena via Web 86

14 2.0 technologies, some argue that problems associated with the Internet technologies include social isolation, potential depression, missed commitments, and missing out on a social life. Given the assorted positive and negative learning possibilities, it is vital to plan for online learning no matter how small or brief the learning event or course might be. Fluency in Multiple Media As reported by Roberts, Foehr, and Rideout (2005), over half of 7 th -12 th graders in the United States access at least one additional medium some or most of the time while watching TV (53%), reading (58%), listening to music (63%), or using a computer (65%). Lenhart and colleagues (Lenhart & Madden, 2005; Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005) investigated teenagers use of technologies such as IM, , and cell/mobile phones. They discovered many interesting aspects of technology use among teenagers; including those with obvious connections to online learning. For instance, (a) 87% of those aged 12 to 17 now use the Internet for some purpose, which represents 21 million youth in the USA; (b) 51% of US teenage Internet users reportedly go online on a daily basis; (c) 81% of teen Internet users play games online, representing approximately 17 million people; and (d) 76% (16 million people) get their news online. Perhaps more importantly, such tech-savvy users are not just consumers of the abundant resources available on the Internet, they are also contributors to the content on the Internet. In effect, they are becoming savvy Web 2.0 users who display their life to others in open online windows. According to Lenhart and Madden (2005, p.i): Some 57% of online teens create content for the Internet. That amounts to half of all teens ages 12-17, or about 12 million youth. These Content Creators report having done one or more of the following activities: create a blog; create or work on a personal webpage; create or work on a webpage for school, a friend, or an organization; share original content such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos online; or remix content found online into a new creation. Such individuals are using readily available content authoring tools to share self-authored content about themselves and others. Lenhart and Madden also reported that more than a third of them share their content online including personal stories, photos, artwork, and videos. A similar percentage indicated that they had created or worked on webpages or blogs for others including those developed for friends, school tasks, or workplace settings. More than one in five had a personal homepage and a similar number had designed an online journal or blog or had gained experience remixing or redesigning content found on the Internet for their own creative expressions. Clearly this is an age of student creative expressions with technology. In effect, the Web is a resource for creative expressive and knowledge production instead of passive reception of knowledge. Given these skills and experiences, it is important to ponder how to leverage such skills in online teaching and learning environments. Just how does technology awareness and use make them prime candidates for online learning? Various online learning frameworks (Bonk & Zhang, 2006, 2008) can play right into the cards of such generations of learners who desire flexibility, options, and personally empowered learning. IMPLICATIONS FOR E-LEARNING As tech-savvy young millennial and neo-millennial learners flood into online offerings, they not only expect the use of multiple media for intensive learning interactions but they want to simultaneously and dynamically feed resources back to the Internet. With the emergence of read/write technologies of the Web 2.0, they are authors of content on the Web. 87

15 With many online instructors being more technology-limited compared to some tech-savvy students, at least at the present time, online teaching is highly challenging and, at times, stressprovoking. With younger learners enrolling in online courses, course designers must consider how to design their courses for greater interactivity, visualization, collaboration, captivation, and technology-sophistication, thereby motivating learners and promoting more effective learning. As people become increasingly comfortable using communication technologies in their daily lives and work settings, the cross-age media-based or media-driven learning, mentioned earlier, may become more prevailing in online environments. While this chapter includes many examples for those in higher education, there is also a symphony of implications for training employees in workplace settings. For instance, Appel (2003) contends that Gen Xers in the workplace want to be involved and have their opinions asked. They also desire a focus on developing their skills since they are always gearing up for that next job or position (Tapscott, 2009). Other needs include flexibility in tasks since they want to have a life outside of work. They might also want a teamlike atmosphere to be developed to give them the family they might not have had at home. And, as with most others in the human race, they want to be appreciated or shown that someone cares about them. They long for feedback, meaningfulness, sincerity, fun, and the celebration of success (Bresnathan, n.d.; McClure, 1997). Unfortunately, corporate training departments tend not to focus on such motivational principles. Given the status of online training in the corporate world and the high attrition rates often experienced, there are vast implications for training departments in terms of the interactivity of the e-learning contents, the types of learning preferences that are emphasized, how the learning assets are made available for trainees, and how to recognize successful completion of an online experience or course. Online learning design frameworks such as R2D2 (Bonk & Zhang, 2006, 2008) introduce ideas to integrate emerging technologies to e-learning experiences for more engaging and effective learning for the diverse generational learners. Bonk and Zhang (2008) provide over 100 e-learning activities together with selection indices of each activity for instructors and instructional designers to help with their decision making in the design and implementation of e-learning. The key selection indices include risk level, time, activity duration, cost, and degree of learner-centeredness. With generational learner differences in mind, one may strategically choose one or more e-learning activities that would fit learners different technology skills and other preferences, There is no doubt that online technologies and associated learning opportunities will continue to proliferate. New generations of learners will appear with their own learning preferences and expectations. They will have experienced many types of learning formats and instructional strategies. Equally important, they will have learning-ready technology attached to their bodies. And they will want to engage in highly exciting and entertaining learning opportunities. Given such reality, online instructors and instructional designers who create online courses need to respond to the pressing needs for online interactivity, collaboration, and authenticity and purposefully integrate available media and technologies into their online teaching and learning activities. In addition to the various learning style inventories and instruments currently available (Santo, 2006; Zhang & Bonk, in review), there are scores of lists, matrices, and comparison charts related to how currently living generations of learners differ on a whole host of factors. In fact, it is difficult picking up any magazine or newspaper today without some mention, explicit or implicit, of how Generation X, Generation Y, and neo-millennials are different or how their technology adoption usage varies. While much of that data is collected for corporate marketing purposes, there are also 88