iGen And The Rise Of The Self-Directed Learner

Can we define the classroom of today? With all of the cultural and economic differences that are inherent when looking at a global institution, we should identify any similarities that can focus our attention. In 2018, what is the constant connective tissue that holds the world together?


The use of technology or even the absence of technology in a classroom is a defining, inescapable trait. Kids use technology. They check updates when they wake up, they tweet on the way to school, they snapchat on their lunch breaks, they post photos on their way home. And this is just social technology. Streaming, gaming, constant content creation.

Should this technology inform the classroom? Should the way that children interact with the world today be embraced or inhibited? Well, before we make any rash decisions, let’s explore who the children of today are. Let’s determine what they want and where they want to go.

Wibbu is here to guide you through the possibilities and pitfalls of technology in the classroom. We’ll look at the combination teaching techniques that can revolutionise your classroom. But first, let’s meet a new and strange generation…

There’s a new generation of learner on the block and they have some fancy gizmos to help with homework. Let’s explore what it means to be a digital native in the classroom.

A quick history lesson:

The Silent Generation – Born before 1945. Enjoyed a shared vision. Kept very busy with world wars.

The Baby Boomers – Born 1946 – 1964. Free love and flower power. A world of possibilities and affordable mortgages.

Generation X – Born 1965 – 1976. Capitalism and the existential crisis. Pre-internet and looking for things to do.

Millennials – Born 1977 – 1995. Pushing technology forward while longing for the past. Hopelessly nostalgic.

Generation Now/Generation Z/Centennials… iGen – Born 1996 – today. Communicative, self-educated, motivated, engaged. And selfies.

What does it mean to be self-educated in the 21st century?

If young minds are a sponge for knowledge, then the internet is a tap that won’t stop running. Incidental learning is the process of absorbing information without a specific learning goal. It is achieved through conversation, through song, through play. It is about forming a connection. And there has never been a generation as connected as iGen.

Breaking it down; if you are the oldest of the iGeneration, you would have been born in 1996 at the earliest. As a toddler you notice the proliferation of mobile phones. People are in contact, all of the time. By the age of six, Wikipedia is established. By the age of eight, Facebook arrives. A year later, YouTube is launched. As a teenager, smartphones assist living in innumerable ways.

iGens are digital natives. They don’t remember a world before the internet. Being online is as essential as air.

The second brain that lives in our pocket.

How does unlimited access to the internet change the way a generation engages with education? Well, for the first time children have access to answers, immediately, and in many different forms. And so the job of the educator subtly shifts.

Teachers can’t compete with the internet, and they shouldn’t try. Google may be able to generate millions of pages of content, thousands of classic novels, countless tutorials, all in under a second. But it is just another tool for learning. A tool that can be harnessed and directed.

So teachers cease to be the gatekeepers of knowledge and become more like the friendly welcome wagon. There to spark, inspire, and send their students on a learning journey with all of the skills needed to navigate information critically, emotionally, and collaboratively.
And collaboration is where iGen really excels in the classroom…


– PBS infographic

A culture of sharing (not just selfies)

iGens are content creators. Taking photos. Making videos. Writing for hours and hours to friends. Text, email, messenger, whatsapp, twitter and beyond. Compare the amount of words an iGen writes today to the average teen of twenty years ago. The difference would be staggering. Young people are writing a novel’s worth of words to each other every month. And if learning is doing, then that is great news for literacy.

Students are engaged with the world, and they are engaged with each other. This is an upward trend and it isn’t stopping. But are students engaging with their schoolwork?

Test scores are up. But the jury is still out on the role technology has to play in structured learning. For every forward-thinking educator with dreams of integrating VR into their history lessons, there are valid counterpoints centred around distraction, confusion, and worst of all…laziness.

Does the internet make students lazy?

In a word? No.

Does it require less effort to acquire information in the internet age? Yes. Is that a bad thing? Anyone that thinks so is at best a victim of nostalgia and at worst a culprit of snobbery.

The internet has created a new User Interface for education. Now, students can find facts about sixteenth century royalty in the same place they can read about their favourite footballers. They can watch videos about algorithms on the same sites they watch their favourite cartoons. Young people are putting education and entertainment into the same spaces for the first time. iGen are factfinders, first and foremost. They don’t want to be out of the loop. And if they are, there’s a handy Reddit page to get them up to speed.

What motivates the students of today?

The young people of the 21st century are ambitious. They want to travel, they want to catalogue their experiences, and, for better or worse, they want status.

The concept of status – the status update – is integral to a young person’s day to day. The old idea of ‘keeping up with the Jones’ takes on a new dimension in the digital era. Young people like to telegraph their wins. In relationships, in games, in learning. #Life goals.

Above all else, iGen engage in gaming culture. Accept a challenge, reach a checkpoint, catalogue and share. Positive reinforcement. Of course benchmarking is not new in education, but through gaming culture, children are more used to challenge progression than ever.

Is competition in education healthy?

Here is where iGen truly excels.

The spirit of competition has evolved with gaming culture. The target is to beat your personal best. The goal is to blaze new trails and share with other players the correct route forward. We have what is called a co-op culture.

Co-op gaming requires collaboration, good communication, and an understanding of a group’s shared strengths and weaknesses. And this kind of culture can be nurtured in the classroom through game-based learning. If a fellow student/gamer is struggling, it is the responsibility of their fellow students to slow down the pace, help them out, and keep things moving forward.

By externalising the challenge of learning into a game format, where the opponent is the task itself, and your learning peers are your closest allies, the spirit of competition is shifted. Suddenly, the concept of ‘healthy competition’ has never seemed so healthy.

How can teachers properly externalise learning as a challenge, a game, an adventure?

It’s time to flip the classroom with the Wibbu way…


Truan Flynn, Educational Game Writer