Teaching The Next Generation Of Digital Natives

Enabled by the multi-faceted capabilities of the tablet, mobile is poised to revolutionize the classroom in the near term. But with its new skill sets and hyper-personalization, it’s not just the classroom that will change, but teen expectations for marketing and our ability to deliver personalized and relevant experiences.

Tablets are rapidly becoming game-changers for mobile in the classroom. The large touch screen and flat design make it the ideal form factor for students to maintain eye contact with their teachers while still easily leveraging interaction with the device. Cost consciousness and social consciousness are also in alignment with the use of tablets because of the money that can be saved in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs. Generating fewer printed materials is also beneficial to the environment.

As schools embrace tablets (usually the iPad or the Kindle for now) they open a whole new world for the devices to:

  • Replace textbooks (which are often outdated before they are printed) with personalized set of books or excerpts tailored to class schedule
  • Allow students to highlight passages and notes (often forbidden on shared or school property books)
  • Aid with comprehension and research with built-in dictionaries and instantaneous Internet access
  • Bolster reading skills and comprehension with text-to-speech capabilities that can read text aloud
  • Study more efficiently for finals with custom test modules recommended based on individual student performance



The promise is of a completely custom experience, tailored to meet the particular student’s needs. And beyond just study aids, these digital devices support the process of learning by enabling direct correspondence with teachers, allowing students to digitally turn in papers and homework assignments, and permitting teachers to monitor and track student progress. Students can also preserve a record of their work in a digital portfolio rather than the box mom kept in the attic.

Pushing this concept even further is the crop of tablet-only courses. For example, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has an iPad-only Algebra course that includes video of the author solving equations, individualized assignments based on student performance and recommendations for practice problems. The approach allows a student to progress at his or her own pace, focus on the more difficult areas and digest concepts more quickly.

This customized experience is the edge of what we can expect more of in the future. Teens will expect marketing experiences to have this same level of flexibility.

While teen expectations may be higher, demands on them will be as well. In the information age, students will need a whole new set to be considered “literate.” Today’s kids and teens are confronted with more information than their parents were at the same age and will need the tools to efficiently process and use this information in order to be successful.

Tablets can be key teaching tools, helping students learn how to successfully cope and even thrive in the information age. According to The Reading Teacher by W. Sutherland-Smith, the survivors of the information era will master:

Screen literacy regarding graphics and symbols. Even younger students will have the ability to quickly determine which graphics are critical to the information or message and which are just decorative. For designers and marketers, this means increased thought will need to go into the use and value of graphics on conveying meaning within content.

Navigation literacy. Being able to navigate the Web to find key information within an environment is second nature already. What will be come critical is the ability to comprehend and weave a story out of information presented in a non-linear or non-sequential manner. Teens who master this skill will be even more critical of content or materials that do a sub-par job of delivering an easily accessible, streamlined message.

How to create content and build knowledge. The ability to create meaningful stories combining a variety of media formats combining text, sound, images and video has both positive and negative implications. It raises the bar on expectations for high quality multimedia content, but it also activates an audience that can do some of the content creation for marketers. In the past we thought of UGC as generally “junk,” or filler content, but increasing sophistication allows users to be viable and valuable sources of rich and desirable content that inspires advocates.

Search literacy. The ability to set clear purpose statements for search and then focus keywords or questions before searching. This includes breaking topics into manageable “chunks” for easier research.

Connections and context literacy. Connecting disparate pieces of information to derive meaning from not just text, but also context of content, is key to quickly filtering information to determine if it is relevant and should be digested more thoroughly or should be passed over.

Skepticism and critical evaluation. As many as 39% of kids today think all information on the Web is true. As information age literacy increases, teens will be better skilled at evaluating the credibility of sources and content. Raising the bar on these critical thinking skills will force marketers to apply more rigor to the crafting of marketing messages.

Personal information literacy. Teens often have wide filters for sharing personal information, but increasingly will set boundaries for themselves shaped around their own views of privacy, safety and decency related to their personal information. Marketers will need to adjust for new expectations to deliver value in exchange for precious personal information.

Ethical behavior in a new world. Teens will become more adept at translating “real world” ethics into understandable guidelines for digital behavior. Marketers will need to understand and adhere to this new set of norms, even though they may not wind up documented anywhere.

Our consumers of the future will have increased expectations for personalization and a critical eye to the form, function and format of the messages we place before them. We need to start honing our skills in creating marketing experiences that have an increased sophistication, that add value through personalization and leverage multiple forms, formats and functions to communicate.

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