Teaching the "Netflix Generation" #LT8keys

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"If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow."- John Dewey, 1915

The availability of content and the multitude of distribution platforms have grown exponentially in recent years. The explosion of social media, combined with the ability to stream content to virtually all types of devices, both at home and while on the go, has radically altered the way in which people interact with media. No longer does one have to wait until a scheduled time to watch their favorite television show. It’s available when and where they want it, often on various platforms and in multiple formats, with the click of a button. Users can even remove or ignore the media they don’t want, such as commercials. This “Netflix generation” of students (and all future generations) has no basis for understanding information that isn’t readily and immediately available. These students have come to expect high-quality content—on demand, anytime, and anywhere. This mindset puts our schools in an interesting position.

In classrooms where teachers view themselves as the key disseminators of information, content is primarily derived from a static textbook, and information isn’t meant to be consumed until a particular point during a larger scope and sequence. This model has become obsolete to the current Netflix generation. Such a learning environment is seen as completely irrelevant and unrelated to the world students experience outside the classroom walls. To avoid this, and in an effort to remain relevant in a digital world, many school leaders have been purchasing vast amounts of technology with the hopes that it’ll move instructional practices into the current century. Remaining relevant to a generation of students who consume and create digital content daily obliterates the perceived effectiveness of a traditional stand-and-deliver, regurgitation-based methodology. If your mindset is that a teacher’s main job is content delivery, then they’ve just been outsourced by Netflix and YouTube.

Fortunately, a recent survey indicates that schools are evolving in these areas to adapt to the Netflix generation. Project Tomorrow, an organization that studies trends in this area, produces the yearly Speak Up Survey and analyzed feedback from almost half a million students, parents, and educators from over 2,000 districts throughout the United States in 2015. Some of the key findings from this survey were the following (Project Tomorrow, 2016):

Over three-quarters of middle school students (78 percent) are tapping into online videos, and 6 out of 10 (61 percent) are playing online games, all in service of various types of self-directed learning goals.

• School principals (84 percent) are almost unanimous in their belief that the effective use of technology within instruction is important for student success. However, they do acknowledge challenges or barriers to meeting the expectations of effective technology usage.

• Five out of ten administrators note that the implementation of digital content resources, such as videos, simulations, and animations, was already generating positive student outcomes.

• Almost 60 percent of technology leaders say that one-quarter of instructional materials in their schools today are digital—not paper-based—and 26 percent say that their level of paperlessness is 50 percent.

• The top subject areas in which students in grades 6–12 watch videos to support their homework, research projects, or studies are science (66 percent), math (59 percent), social studies/history (53 percent), and English/language arts (45 percent).

School curricula and experiences are evolving, yet on the whole, the speed of transformation remains slow. As school leaders spark this evolution, they often rely on massive amounts of technology to “fix” traditional issues, which we believe has led to the current “educational technology fallacy," an issue that Eric Sheninger and I cover extensively in our new book, Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today.


A portion of this post is an excerpt from Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow's Schools, Today, which was published by ASCD in June 2017. Learning Transformed comes with a free study guide for school leaders.