How Net Generation Students Work

Essential Gadgets Image Gallery Net Generation students can text and talk on the phone at the same time. See more pictures of essential gadgets.
© Habur

Let's talk about the word "talk." If you're over 30-years-old, talking means speaking to a colleague on the phone or chatting face-to-face with a friend. To those born after 1982 -- also known as the Net Generation -- the word "talk" takes on a slightly different meaning.

A 10-digit cell phone text message now qualifies as "talking." So does an e-mail exchange, an instant message (IM) conversation and a message board discussion with complete strangers. That's because the Net Generation has grown up in a world so steeped in communication gadgets and software they don't even see these tools as technology.

The Net Generation focuses on the activity, not the specific technology, that enables them to do it. It's not text messaging, instant messaging and e-mailing. It's talking, collaborating and engaging.

The Net Generation is the largest in American history -- over 100 million and counting -- and its intuitive use of technology is quickly changing how teachers teach and workplaces work.

Right now, universities and corporate offices are still divided along generational lines, split between what Marc Prensky calls "Digital Natives" and "Digital Immigrants."

Digital natives include college students and young workers. They "speak the language" of technology fluently and spontaneously. They navigate the virtual and physical world seamlessly. Digital natives are as comfortable text messaging a question to a friend across the country as turning to the guy sitting next to them in class.­

On the flip side, most college professors and bosses are Digital Immigrants. They may share some of the characteristics of the Net Generation -- preference for e-mail, Google and buying tickets online -- but they'll always speak "with an accent." They'd never expose their daily thoughts and emotions on a blog. They can't write a sales report, instant message six friends and watch ESPN at the same time. And Facebook might as well be written in Greek.

For these two generations to communicate effectively takes real understanding of what makes the Net Generation college student tick. In this HowStuffWorks article, we'll explore how Net Generation college students learn and work. Then we'll explain how they communicate, how they view their world, and finally, how schools and companies are evolving to better take advantage of the unique talents of these multitasking, multitalented young minds.