09 10-29 hunting and gathering with digital natives
HUNTING AND GATHERING WITH DIGITAL NATIVESAre the natural and different multi-tasking capabilities of men and women being rapidly developedand homogenised by information communications technologies and if so, what are the implicationsfor learning ?As I am typing this article with my laptop at a crazy angle in the confined cabin space of an Air Chinaflight back from Beijing, I begin to question the wisdom of watching last night’s NationalGeographic’s TV programme on Air Traffic Accident Investigation’s analysis of a plane crash causedby the (male) pilot and co-pilot’s inability to multi-task in a crisis situation. Both men had been soabsorbed with the same instrument failure during a tropical storm that they failed to notice that theautomatic pilot had switched off and the plane was steadily banking to a point where it went into anuncontrollable spin from which the aircrew could not recover. The investigation revealed that bothmen should have been trained to focus on separate tasks in such circumstances but the stress of thesituation (and lack of training) caused them to panic and revert to natural instincts with fatalconsequences.Having regularly cited the male of the human species instinct for focused attention as an explanationfor my lack of ability and/or willingness to engage in conversation with my girl friend whilst I amworking or concentrating, I am happy to accept that the female mind has a greater capacity formulti-tasking than my own. It was never more clearly illustrated by our heated dialogue when I wastrying to assemble a new piece of garden furniture from Wilkinsons. I should have known when thestore assistant wished me luck as he helped me load the flat pack garden table and set of 6 chairsinto the back of the car that trouble lay ahead.Not for the first time in the world of flat pack assembly were the enclosed instructions not onlyunhelpful but physically impossible unless you had the fortune to be born with 4 pairs of hands, thestrength of Hercules and the precise dexterity of a brain surgeon. The first chair took over an hour toassemble punctuated by my girl friend trying to make conversation with a sweating, despairing malemorphing with frustration into a wild raging animal. This contrasts with her actually wanting me totalk to her whilst she simultaneously cheerfully cooks a complex meal, listens to iTunes and surfs theweb. Having decided for the sake of sanity and a happy home life to limit my chair construction toone a night, I was eventually able, by trial and multiple errors and growing biceps and thighs, toreduce the build time to 15 minutes (without interruptions).This fundamental difference in multi-tasking capability between the sexes is actually borne out byphysical differences in the brains of men and women. These differences arguably stem from thedifferent primeval roles of hunting by men (requiring focused concentration) and gathering bywomen (involving exploring, experimenting and social networking). These same physiologicaldifferences in brain structure and development are now being observed in Digital Natives, the so-called Generation Y who have been born into an age of embedded information communicationstechnology.
Digital Native Multi-TaskingThis rapidly developing ability to multi-task amongst the younger generations poses someinteresting new challenges for educators and trainers. Even baby boomers such as myself are notimmune from the Darwinian evolutionary effects of the Information Age. It is only a few years agothat I used to be almost offended by the sight of conference delegates typing away on their laptopsand PDAs whilst the presenter desperately sought their undivided attention. I wondered how theycould do the presentation justice if their attention was so divided. Today I find myself doing exactlythe same thing - surfing the web and checking email whilst following the presentation. I feel as if Ihave trained myself to be more multi-tasking whilst retaining the ability to pick out the key messagesfrom the presentation.My newly evolving multi-tasking skills pale into insignificance beside what is happening to the brainsof infants exposed to a full plethora of communications technologies at an early age. Today’s DigitalNatives seem not only naturally able manage multiple sensory inputs with ease, but also to demandthem as an essential part of keeping their interest. They are also able (and expect) to access relevantinformation instantly and on demand and appear not to value disciplined and structured learningfrom subject matter experts.The electronic games, virtual world and social network technologies researched and developed atthe Serious Games Institute may well provide useful pointers to the future of learning as apersonalised, persistent, exploratory, multi-disciplinary and self-directed experience. The question iswhether the youth of today will have the patience, focus and persistence to tackle the Wilkinsonsflat pack garden furniture assembly of tomorrow. Like the store assistant mentioned earlier, I wishthem luck !