The Net Generation college student works very much like the Internet itself. His mind resembles "hypertext," meaning that images, sounds and text link together bits of information. And that mind doesn't sit still for long.
Net Generation students are infamous for their multitasking skills and short attention spans. Growing up online, they're trained to quickly and simultaneously consume and process information from multiple media sources -- and to ignore anything "boring" or otherwise uninspiring.
As the Net Generation Survey found, 75 percent of students instant message while doing schoolwork. At the same time, the student is also playing and downloading music, watching last night's "The Daily Show" and talking on the phone, reports the survey.
The Net Generation quickly shifts attention from one project to the next, always putting a high priority on speed. Sometimes that speed comes at a cost. Educators and researchers have found that the Net Generation lacks depth in its research and critical skills. They'll often grab information from the first page that pops up on Google, without fully examining if the Web site is a credible source.
Research shows that Net Generation college students are strong visual learners and weaker textual learners. One study examined a library class at California State University - Hayward, where students frequently ignored lengthy text directions for homework assignments. When the assignments were rewritten using images first, student scores increased by 11 to 16 percent and refusal to complete the assignment dropped by 10 to 14 percent.
The Net Generation is not only adept at process information from multiple sources, but they are intuitively drawn to creating multi-media presentations. From a childhood spent watching MTV, movies and video clips online, they have a natural eye and ear for editing audio, video and text. And since they grew up around digital video cameras and simple editing software, everyone's a filmmaker. YouTube, anyone?
Net Generation students are also strong experiential learners. They prefer to learn by discovery, rather than simply being told that something is true. They're used to the online world, where Google answers every curiosity. They read and write customer reviews on books, games and gadgets, and they trust those peer reviews more than any TV commercial or "official" critic.
More than anything, Net Generation students are excellent collaborators. They're natural at networking and love to work in teams. For the Net Generation, collaboration can occur in the same classroom or with team members across the world. They're comfortable starting and maintaining online relationships and becoming "good friends" with people they've never met in person.
That's because, for the Net Generation, the lines between the virtual and physical world are blurred, if not invisible. Not surprisingly, the Net Survey found that 80 percent of college students have instant messaged someone in the same room.
Now that we know more about how the Net Generation student learns and works, let's explore how they communicate with peers, professors and even their parents.