Do you know what TLDR means? I didn’t until this week when I sat in on a webinar hosted by Mark McCrindle and Ashley Fell from McCrindle, the renowned forecast, strategy and research firm.Understanding Generation Alpha was the theme. Generation Alpha is the term coined for the generation of youth born 2010 to 2024 (our ten-year-olds and younger). TLDR stands for ‘too long; didn’t read’! What is the connection between Generation Alpha and a term that is used in online forums to predominantly insult a writer by indicating that their message, be it a post, text or article, is too lengthy? Relevance and consumption. How we consume information is changing rapidly. Our youngest are and will continue to be exposed to different platforms of knowledge that simply didn’t exist ‘back in the day’. In an information-rich environment, this generation, labelled Digital Integrators, are making decisions for themselves whether or not to invest in what they interact with. Digital platforms are rewriting the book (pun intended) on how learners consume and digest new knowledge. Twitter curtails its users to 280 characters to express themselves. While this is a 100% increase from its initial offering, only 1% of tweets reach this capacity, with the most common length of a message being only 33 characters long. Short-form content is here to stay. YouTube is fast becoming the preferred ‘go to’ over Google for information for young people as they look to acquire what they need to know in more visual ways. What ten-year-old searches for how to instructions any other way than in a video tutorial?
Within this webinar, Expectation Inflation was described as what Generation Alpha will expect to experience as learners. They will want: participation, transparency, personalisation, relevance and immediacy. I believe that these words don’t need unpacking and that we can all understand and appreciate that not all of these wants existed in our expectations as Gen X or Y students. Generally speaking, we were taught to listen, superficially participate when spoken to, absorb and regurgitate knowledge. If a student questioned a teacher on the relevance of what was being taught, or the validity of the source provided, the likely result would be their being labelled disruptive or even contemptuous. Luckily, today our students are being taught to think critically and question relevancy in order to make deep, long-lasting connections with new knowledge. We want our students to think for themselves. We want to teach our students to effectively question the world around them. However, if we don’t properly understand how young students engage with information, we risk them politely and respectfully letting us know that what we present to them may be met with TLDR.
How then does Education need to respond to understanding a generation that will expect seamless integration between their physical and digital worlds?
I am not suggesting that we succumb to the limitations of digital platforms and reduce our communication with our students to 280 characters for fear of being hit with a TLDR call! Nor am I suggesting that we accept responses from students in formal writing that adhere to social media acronyms such as ‘ur’, ‘b4’, ‘omg’ or ‘afaik’ (as far as I know, if you didn’t know!). As educators, we will always value the importance of strong foundational knowledge in key literacies. However, I strongly believe that we need to register that the world outside of school for our youngest students has and will continue to change rapidly. We need to lose the mentality that we must continue to stay the course because tradition tells us that education must look a certain way for it to be useful. In doing so, Education as an institution is in danger of becoming, in fact, quite the opposite.
Tradition is always challenged by change. Our system continues to believe that we must have a system that tests students’ knowledge in an examination and we must prepare our students for the ultimate test in the HSC. How else will a student be able to present themselves as ready for the workforce if not by a test result that ranks them against their cohort? While Education remains wedded to this thinking, we are less likely to fully offer our students what they need, because, as educators, we too are ultimately judged as successful or not based on these results. These are high stakes for all of us. And for the record, while these high stakes tests exist, I accept that as teachers we have a role to play in making sure that our students are prepared for this user experience.
So as not to come across as pessimistic, I want to state with strong conviction that I love teaching. I love that teachers around the world continue to work within the constraints of their system to seek out ways to engage their students and inspire their love of life and learning. I love working within a school that is doing its best to offer a dynamic and relevant education for our students. I love seeing students react to moments when they make connections with new learning. I love engaging in debate with students over all manner of topics. I am enthusiastic and energised by this conversation and see us and many other schools making tremendous inroads into addressing the diverse range of issues we face as schools. Education has a bright and exciting future and I am proud to be an educator.
As you can see, many times in life we will need more than 280 characters to express ourselves and we should run the risk of a TLDR response when we feel it necessary. Long live the role that schools play in Education!
For anyone interested in an engaging report on Generation Alpha, I can recommend visiting www.generationalpha.com where there is a free white paper and plenty of other useful information regarding our youngest generation.
(As a point of interest, 6049 characters have been used to write this piece, which equates to about 22 full capacity tweets. Thanks for hanging in there for the read!)
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