Generational Differences

Generational Differences

This is post that has been in draft form for a couple of weeks. I keep coming back to it and rewording items. First off, let me say that I really like the Reeves article on generational differences in instructional design (I will actually use this article in my class along with the Prensky article).

I would be lumped into the Generation X group based on being born in the 1960’s. I can remember buying my first computer for grad school back in 1990 and deciding between the black and white Mac Classic for $2,500, or the $4,000 Color version. I can even remember thinking “why would anyone ever need a color computer”, so, I brought the Classic. Now 27 years later, things have changed just a bit. I would consider myself fairly tech-savvy since that is what I do. Most mornings I spend 20-30 reading about new technology developments and new tools. However, when I talk about many of these items with 19 year old college freshman I am often greeted with blank stares. Yes, it is true they have grown up with technology and the internet, but outside of a small percentage of them, they have some huge holes in regards to effective use or understanding of technology. Sure, they can rock at Snapchat, video games, Netflix and YouTube, but given a collaborative task using google spreadsheets or even PowerPoint and the gaps quickly show up.

I think we have this misperception (fostered by folks like Prensky)  that just because they grew up with it and use their phones on a daily basis, then they are tech wizards and much better it than us old Gen X’ers. Technology is a huge gamut of ever-evolving things that I really think is hard for anyone to be fully on top of. Yes, it is true that they might have a better overall grasp, but it’s really about what you use on a daily basis. My mother-in-law ( A women in her late 70’s) can kill me and about anyone else with her complete mastery of the cable TV remote and the DVR. It is an amazing thing to watch, but yet she struggles with any software update for her iPhone.

I really enjoyed reading the Reeves article. He seems to take a better approach by actually looking at the data to determine what the differences (if any) there are. Moderation is what I preach in life and I think it applies here as well. It is often very easy to get caught up in the generalizations of day and assume they are true. You hear enough about one thing and it seems to catch on (as the assumptions on learning styles proves).

If you have some extra time, I really recommend reading the Reeves article, it has continued to make me think about many things in regards to this generational debate.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants – Part II: Do they really think differently?,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

McKenzie, J. (2007). Digital nativism: Digital delusions & digital deprivation.

Reeves, T.C. (2008). Do generational differences matter in instructional design?

5 thoughts on “Generational Differences

  1. Your post is very insightful and I enjoyed reading it. Your statement, “Sure, they can rock at Snapchat, video games, Netflix and YouTube, but given a collaborative task using google spreadsheets or even PowerPoint and the gaps quickly show up” is so true. When I taught my high school classes I had to go back and teach basic technology items such as how to actually shut down a computer. And, I agree with you when you said it depends on what software they use daily.
    I am a “Gen Xer” myself and I think I grew up during a time where we had to learn, basically from scratch, how to use different software. Now, there are so many ways of figure stuff out, i.e. a YouTube video, it is all taken for granted with the current generation.

    1. Jaci, thanks for your comments. You hit it right on with the “now there are so many ways to figure stuff out”. I think it is really up to us to challenge them to really think about technology as best ways to use it. If we can tap into that problem solving mode and at the same time empower them to be creators as opposed to just consumers of content, then I think we are moving down the right path regardless of your age.

  2. Thank you for your post! I completely agree. I am pretty entrenched in the EDTECH world and the age range of the innovative teachers spans all these generational classifications. We can read study after study about the differences but what I have learned is that true innovation has nothing to do with what decade you were born in and what technology was present at the time. It takes an open-mind that is persistent and always focused on what is best for students. It is not an “age thing” it is a mindset thing in my opinion.

  3. I agree 100% as well with your post. I grew up not using technology, but it evolved as I was in school. I got involved in tech support in high school (I worked as an internet support technician in the dial-up days!) and then as a computing and networking services technician for my campus’ help desk. Oddly enough, I didn’t go into technology professionally, but I did use it extensively in business when I entered the post-graduate working world. Then, when I switched into the teaching arena, I recall being astounded by the fact that so many so-called “digital natives” didn’t know bunk about how to actually work with computers. Sure, they knew how to use apps and play video games, but saving files with proper naming conventions and extensions, relocating saved files, and uploading attachments was a challenge for them. Also, within specific programs, they were lost. Performing common edits or formatting functions within Word or PowerPoint, for instance, stumped them.

    Naturally, I have had some kids who know their way around a computer and can execute basic functions within various programs, but by and large, I find that “digital natives” shouldn’t be presumed to have the in-depth understanding of computers that many attribute to them. They have to be taught too!

    1. Kerri, I totally agree with your assessment. Maybe we should just get rid of the “digital natives” branding and move on to something else. How about just kids. Even though I am far from being a “digital Native” age wise. Much like you I grew up and found myself using technology long ago. No, it was nothing like what it is today, but I actually had to work at it to get something to function correctly and I did not have the expectations of technology that many kids place on it today. I guess I almost expected it to fail and then was happy it worked as opposed to the other way around, hmmm maybe that has something to do with it…

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