The popular profile of the digital learner: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning DISSERTATION
Penny Marie Thompson, Michigan State University, United States
Michigan State University . Awarded
The purpose of this study was to investigate the claims made in the popular press about the "digital native" generation as learners. Because students' lives today are saturated with digital media at a time when their brains are still developing, many popular press authors claim that this generation of students thinks and learns differently than any generation that has come before. They urge educators to change their teaching to meet the needs of this supposedly unique generation, but the evidence to support their claims and recommendations is scarce. This study used a survey to gather data on the technology use of university freshmen, the degree to which they identified with the claims being made about their approaches to learning, and the productiveness (in terms of focused attention, deep processing, and persistence) of their approaches to learning. Interviews with a purposefully selected group of participants helped to further illuminate the findings from the survey.
Valid surveys were received from 388 freshmen at a large Midwestern land grant university. The self-report survey consisted of a Digital Characteristics scale (developed by the researcher based on the popular press claims about the digital natives), a Productive Learning Habits scale (developed by the researcher based on the popular press claims about the digital natives), and a measure of the frequency of use of 41 technology tools. The data were analyzed using a factor analysis to identify patterns of technology use, descriptive statistics, and analysis of correlations and extreme group t-tests to explore any relationships between technology use patterns, Digital Characteristics, and Productive Learning Habits. The findings indicate some positive correlations between use of digital technology and Digital Characteristics, and some negative correlations between some categories of technology use and Productive Learning Habits. The Rapid Communication Technology category, which included texting, instant messaging, and Facebook, had the strongest negative relationship with Productive Learning Habits, and therefore needs to be investigated further. The interviews revealed that some digital natives are very aware of the influence of technology in their lives and are strategic in how they balance its demands against the demands of their university coursework. Overall, however, the small to moderate relationships suggest a less deterministic relationship between technology and learning than what the popular press writers claim.
Thompson, P.M. The popular profile of the digital learner: Technology use patterns and approaches to learning. Ph.D. thesis, Michigan State University.
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