The digital divide generations
With the influx of digital natives in the labor market in recent years, a tech-skills divide between the generations is becoming more obvious. We see this rift reflected both in the schools and in the family unit. Consequently, the transmission of knowledge and digital learning from one generation to another has become a new challenge for society.
The most visible gap in digital skills is between the Baby Boomers and Digital Natives. A clash of generations is particularly evident in the workplace where the inter-generational transfer of knowledge is a real challenge for organizations. With boomers retiring increasingly early, the younger generations are arriving on the labor market with new tools and new ways of doing things that no longer correspond to the traditional methods of business.
This tech-skills gap still exists for nearly 65% of Baby Boomers, and over 85% of seniors who do not have Internet access, but it has been greatly reduced in the last four years. Since 2010, the most important studies confirm that the baby boomers and seniors show the highest growth rate when it comes to adopting the Internet and social media.
Retired (or semi-retired) Boomers now have the time and the means to catch up as digital immigrants and be closer to their children and their grandchildren (in terms of digital savviness). In addition, the new generations who are at the forefront of the digital revolution share many things in common with the boomers, who have experienced the great changes of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s. This promotes further rapprochement. In this context, it is often the young digital natives who contribute most to the digital learning of the boomers and seniors. (see also: Generation C – From the Boomers to Generation ALPHA).
At work, as at school and in the family?
If the arrival of the digital natives causes a generational clash in companies and organizations, the difference between generations is also seen at schools and within families. The gap of digital skills between parents and children appears even more obvious. The same phenomenon is also reproduced in regular classrooms where students often have a better knowledge of new technologies and social media than their teachers.
Certainly, much of the IT skills gap depends on family circumstances. In affluent homes where parents (younger baby boomers and Generation X) have mostly been to college, the tech rift is narrowing. In addition, where parents were taught to regularly use new technologies as part of their professional activities, they are familiar with the Internet and social media. The use of new technologies is best shared between generations. In better financed private schools, the situation is more favorable to the integration of new technologies in the learning mode.
However, the situation is quite different in many public schools. The professor and the students are left with overcrowded classrooms, and the digital divide is even more evident. ¨We’re treated like boat people; 42 peoples in the same room, with backpacks seemingly heavy enough for a three-day trip, littering the gaps between desks to the extent that it becomes difficult to navigate around the classroom. It is as if the young people come over-equipped with NASA level high-tech, while the teacher has an old TV that he has to push down the corridor to go plug it in. Contrary to what most think, young people who come to the classroom are very knowledgeable; when they leave home in the morning, they have probably already sent emails or SMS to their friends. When they arrive in the classroom, the day has already begun; they have already lived experiences outside. And, we have asked for their attention, so they are already over-stimulated…¨ said Lucien Francoeur, an old friend of mine, and poet-rocker who became professor of literature at college in Montreal in early 1980′s.
The difficult but necessary transition to adolescence
As Lucien mentioned, the human factor must also be considered in the equation. In adolescence, between 14 and 18 years (younger for some), it is clear that we live through great physical and physiological changes, which often lead to major psychological disturbances that are very difficult to overcome for many individuals. One feels a need to be free of this situation and the normal need of empowerment often results in escapism and withdrawal. For example, seeking to depart from the nest in order to learn to fly on his own.
It’s normal, it’s part of the development cycle and it must be understood by parents as well as by educators. As parents and teachers, we must avoid falling into the trap of adopting the supervisory role of big brother in trying to control their Internet connection. At this stage of their development, youth will normally turn to their peers to pursue their digital learning. Whatever we do, they will find a way to access it.
Rather, one should harness their natural curiosity and their innate creativity by allowing them to immerse themselves in their new digital learning tools. As the first generation of the digital age, they naturally hold the keys to change. In less than 10 years, new generations will account for over 75% of the labor force and they will have taken control. They already represent the future of society. Let us trust them, remain attentive to their expectations and needs, and together find the best way to make the transition to digital adolescence. This is what I wish us in 2015.
What do you think? Can we hand over the keys of the digital shift to new generations? Should we support, or better yet, mentor them? Share your comments and opinions with our readers.
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