21st Century Learners
Veronica Rodriguez and Theresa De Hoyos
University of Texas at San Antonio
July 14, 2009
The goal of this brief
is to provide educators with
useful and applicable information for
21st Century Learners
in grade levels 4 – 12.
• The following are labels used to identify “new”
learners: generation Y, net generation or net
geners, loophole generation, helicopter
generation, and digital natives.
• The reason for the names is that they target and
identify the new way today’s students learn, their
exposure to or experience with technology at a
very young age, and their actions toward
• Eric Chester refers to 21st century learners as
“Generation Y” primarily because they are
skeptical and ask "Why?"
• These learners have grown up in a media
saturated environment and have become
desensitized and critical.
• They find it easy to multi-task and want to be a
part of the experience that new emerging
technology brings while craving the limelight for
Net Generation or Net Geners
• Barnes, Marateo, and Ferris refer to 21st century learners
as the “Net Generation” or “Net Geners” because these
learners are “net savvy” from their exposure to and
experience with digital and cyber technologies.
• By the time a Net Gener reaches 21, he or she will have
10,000 hours playing video games,
20,000 hours watching TV,
10,000 hours on cell phones, and
under 5,000 hours reading (Bonamici et al. 2005).
• Summerville and Fischetti refer to new learners as the
“Loophole Generation” because they spend their time and
energy looking for ways to negotiate their online
assignments. This is “… influenced by the ease of online
communication, hovering parents, a limited sense of
intellectual curiosity, and a lack of experience in solving
• The hovering parents have made way for yet another term
to replace “millennials” (those born before 1980). The term
“Helicopter Generation” refers to learners whose parents
hover and participate in their student’s learning.
• Marc Prensky calls the “new” students of today “Digital Natives”
because he believes they are all “native speakers” of the digital
language of computers, video games and the Internet.
• He also believes that everyone else prior to this new generation
of learners are “Digital Immigrants” because they were not born
into the digital world but have at some point within their lives
become fascinated and adopted many of the aspects of the new
• Prensky's naming of these two different types of generations is
very interesting as it relates to education. He describes how the
digital natives often feel like their teachers are immigrants, with
heavy accents and unintelligible because they can not
understand their lectures and bland concepts.
• There are unique characteristics of the Generation Y that have
implications for teaching and learning.
– Generation Y (or Generation Why?) are future-oriented and trend-
– Generation Y is skeptical and demands honesty, integrity, and
– Generation Y is numb to the over-whelming technological stimuli.
– Generation Y wants to experience learning.
– Generation Y requires teachers to learn about rapidly advancing
technology and then using it to demonstrate and present their
– Generation Y wants to be recognized and rewarded with what they
(Chester & Friedmann, n.d.)
• There are unique characteristics of the Net Geners that have
implications for teaching and learning.
– Net Geners are very oriented towards education and want to learn.
– Net Geners are assertive in the way they search for information and learn
and are aware of learning techniques that help them learn best.
– Net Geners prefer more than one type of communication for learning and
– Net Geners have an “…independent learning style that has grown out of
the ingrained habits of seeking and retrieving information from the
Internet...” that provides instant results.
– Net Geners’ net savviness can interfere with learning because students
will text, surf the net, play games during classroom instruction.
– Net Geners prefer conversation over lectures and learn by doing;
therefore, teachers’ should modify their lessons to include discussions and
(Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007)
Loophole & Helicopter
• There are unique characteristics of the Loophole Generation and
Helicopter Generation that have implications for teaching and
– The Loophole Generation does not effectively channel their time and
energy to learning. They would rather spend their time on “… exploiting
gaps in class policies or assignments—sometimes spending more time
than would be necessary to complete a particular project in the first place.”
– The Loophole Generation consists of four types: excuse maker, the bully,
the cheater, and the plagiarizer.
– The Loophole Generation sees no harm in casual borrowing: plagiarism is
an issue brought about by the ease of accessing another person’s work
from the internet.
– The Helicopter Generation receives more attention and participation from
parents in their school work that can interfere with their learning and
(Summerville & Fischetti, 2007)
• There are unique characteristics of the Digital Natives that
have implications for teaching and learning.
– Digital Natives have their own language composed with a
– Digital Natives do not relate to or understanding traditional
educator’s tools and perspectives.
– Digital Natives biggest obstacle is that today's teachers are
speaking a pre-digital age language that the students are not in
– It is crucial for today's teacher to learn and use technology to meet
the students’ needs and to make learning relevant.
Web 2.0 Tools
• Web 2.0 tools support the "new" learner by providing
platforms for communicating, collaborating, creating,
presenting, and sharing.
• Web 2.0 tools entice today’s learner with the power to:
generate, produce, own, interact and socially construct, as
well as control over the openness and collectiveness of
use and information, which make these tools extremely
Design and Development
• If Web 2.0 tools facilitate learning for this new generation of
students, the implications for learning and teaching also rests
on the design and development of Web 2.0 tools while
incorporating the capabilities that the new learner
• The three primary design and development principles that
make Web 2.0 more effective are:
1. Keep it simple
2. Make it social
3. Offer alternate navigation
Examples of Web 2.0 Tools
That Appeal to New Learners:
• Introduce material to gain attention/limelight:
– Voicethread offers a platform to publish and a forum for
• Present material for expressing, illustrating, and
– Joggle allows the learner to create slideshows with
audio to further explain their understanding and
demonstrate their net savviness.
Examples of Web 2.0 Tools,
• Support the learner and process material:
– Skrbl is an online whiteboard suitable for comparing,
contrasting, collecting as well and inquiring because
learners can write, share and compare their
• Assist the learner in constructing knowledge:
– Whyville is a social networking tool that would appeal to
new learners because of the fun and informal
environment in which learners gather to create,
collaborate and discuss various topics. It encourages
learners to contribute their own ideas and opinions as
opposed to searching and “borrowing”.
Examples of Web 2.0 Tools,
• Demonstrate learning:
– Tikatok is ideal for constructing, illustrating and
explaining. It allows children to create storybooks to
share and print as a real book. Story prompts help
guide the process.
• Create New Knowledge:
– Yoursphere is a blogging tool that is ideal for
collaborating, building consensus, negotiating and
The new generation of learners, in spite of what they are
labeled, all share common learning styles from their
exposure to and experience with technology.
21st Century learners do not respond to traditional instruction
and require their learning needs be met in a variety of
ways that use technological tools in the learning process.
As a result, there are many Web 2.0 tools that are designed
and developed to address the need to change instruction
for this new population of learners.
We would greatly appreciate your comments in reference to
21st Century learners.
We welcome you to share Web 2.0 tools that you have found
to be effective in your classroom.
Please post your comments and feedback in the comment
- Veronica and Terry
Barnes, K., Marateo, R. C., & Ferris, S. P. (2007). Teaching and Learning with the Net
Generation. Innovate Journal of Online Education, 3(4).
Chester, E., & Friedmann, S. A. (n.d.). Generation Y: What Exhibitors Must Know About this
Group Retrieved July 14, 2009, from http://www.generationwhy.com/articles-and-
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
Summerville, J., & Fischetti, J. (2007). The Loophole Generation. Innovate Journal of Online
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