Teaching the “On Demand” Generation

Remember waiting? We used to wait for our favorite song on the radio. We used to wait for a TV show to come on and watch simultaneously with millions of people. We used to wait for our kids to come home without being able to text them. We used to wait for phone calls. We even used to wait for the dial up modem to get online.

We don’t wait anymore.

My daughter is 4 years old. She doesn’t have to wait for much. If she wants to watch Doc McStuffins she can get six different show options on demand. Or she can play a game or access those same shows from an iPad. If my wife and I aren’t around to read to her, she can open up an ebook that reads to her as she turns the pages. That same iPad (or any other tablet) can let her practice ABCs, work on her numbers, or just give her a space to paint and be artsy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. She loves when I read to her. And would much rather do arts and crafts with my wife than an iPad. But that is not her only option. She is growing up and living in the “On Demand” generation. It’s a generation that has constant access to what we used to wait for.

So how do we go about teaching this generation? Does telling these students that they’ll have to wait for the dinosaur unit, or read one specific book at a particular time, or stop with addition when they are ready for multiplication work? How will my daughter feel about a learning experience not tailored to her interests?

I for one, don’t want her to be frustrated with school because it is stuck in the 20th century model. I don’t want her to “love learning” but “hate school”. And I definitely don’t want her to think getting “good grades” is all that matters.

In order to teach these students we need to rethink our practice from the top down. Too often we focus on WHAT we want our students to learn, instead of HOW they will be learning those skills, and HOW they will be assessed. The “On Demand” generation requires four specific answers to those questions:

How Will These Students Learn New Skills?

  • In an environment that allows for collaboration (with experts and peers)
  • By tinkering, making, creating, and failing
  • Face to face and online – in a space not restricted by time
  • Through their own interests and inquiries

How Will These Students Be Assessed?

  • Through products and presentations
  • In formative conversations and dialogue (online or in person)
  • By their grit and resolve, not the final result
  • In teamwork and collaborative situations

We can’t keep “preparing” our students for the next grade, or next test, or next anything. Quite frankly, we don’t really know what is going to be next. What kind of jobs is my 4 year old going to be vying for when she’s 22? Who knows!

But I do know that she’ll need to work with people at that job. She’ll need to communicate, collaborate, and share her thoughts eloquently. She’ll have to bring new ideas to the table, and connect the dots. She’ll have to persevere through tough times, and have the grit to keep moving forward. She’ll have to create and not just consume. She’ll have to work beyond the 9-5.

So let’s start preparing our students for that world. They are already living in it. They don’t like waiting, and neither do I.

We are running a 20% Time MOOC this July, because teachers around this world want to give their students the opportunity to learn about something they want. 20% time allows students to first focus on what their interests and passions are, and then find a purpose for their learning. Whether that is writing and producing an album, learning sign-language, building a Rasperry Pi computer, cloning carnivorous plants, or starting a “compliment” movement on Facebook…and yes those were all 20% project that happened this past year!

I’m excited to teach this “on demand generation” because they are pushing us as educators to do “new things in new ways”, not just “old things in new ways”. They are challenging us to inspire and motivate them, and I for one want to accept that challenge. I’m planning on teaching above the test for the foreseeable future…because they deserve that type of instruction, and because they’ll need it to succeed right now, and in the years to come.

If you’d like to join our 20% Time MOOC please go to Schoology and Join our Course using the Access Code: ZXQ2B-8CWMV

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  • Robin Ricketts says:

    I agree with your thoughts. This generation of students needs a new kind of “classroom,” different from the lock-step one many of us experienced growing up. This week, in Creative Computing Camp, I found myself allowing campers to go off in different directions with their programming projects. They did some amazing things I never would have dreamed of. I kept thinking, “It’s ok to let them explore because this is just camp.” But seeing how totally engaged and passionate they were with their own projects really drove it home to me that we should be doing this all the time.

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