Digital natives do not exist.

Although the concept of digital native cannot be used as a definition of a specific group of people delimited by age, it can be said that anyone who today uses new digital technologies to their advantage can consider themselves a digital native regardless of their age. Although it would probably be more accurate to say that we are all digital immigrants who inhabit a new territory, which is the one that has appeared with the irruption of the Internet.

There is also a group that is called millennials and is pigeonholed in the period from approximately 1981 to 2000, which refers to those people who were born at the gates of the new millennium.

Any such temporal division is made with the intention that our cognitive system allows us to understand the time we are trying to cover, but making a division that covers a span of years to define a particular group of young people, such as the millennials, is inadequate, since the different realities within that group are strikingly different from each other. A young person born in Nigeria is a millennial different from one born in New York and at the same time differs from one born in China or Iraq, and all of them are different from those who, although born in the same territory, correspond to different socioeconomic and cultural strata or realities.

Another different option is to use the term “digital” or millennial to refer to a new type of mentality that implies a new way of thinking about the world and that has spread in recent years with the emergence of the Internet.

In this group we can find those people who approach this new century as the awakening of something different and who are not limited by any kind of frontier, since an innovative mentality can emerge from any corner of the planet and from any socio-cultural and economic stratum to make itself known today.

From information to intelligence.

If we want to talk about “digital mindsets”, we could base it on this new way of looking at the future that some people have, but they are not pigeonholed within a period determined by dates of birth, but there are those of all ages.

It is not the use of technology exclusively that makes you possess an innovative mentality, because the use of the available elements does not imply a way of dreaming something different for your time, but it is only using what you have, without any other look towards something different.

That is, not all those who use technology today have a digital, millennial or innovative mind.

There were many people who were ahead of their time throughout history and who made possible the advances of our civilization: inventors, philosophers, psychologists, scientists, artists, physicists, engineers, doctors, etc. And among thousands of names we could mention the most popular ones, such as Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Stephen Hawking and many others.

Having an innovative mindset means being able to be ahead of your time to bring the new, as all these people did, seeing what their contemporaries were not yet able to see and having the courage to capture it.

Edison, for example, managed to successfully commercialize the electric light bulb and this transformed people’s lives. But all those who today turn on the light in their house when it gets dark are not like Edison, even if they use electricity for the same purposes.

This is the difference between having a light mindset and being just an energy consumer.

The millennial generation is also called “generation Y (Why)”. And this name is key to analyzing the type of mind of human beings who are capable of being ahead of their time. Every being who belongs to this “why” group is a being who will always ask the why of all things and that curiosity is what will transform a common mentality into an extraordinary mind. It doesn’t matter what year you were born. If you belong to this group of people, you will be a discoverer in whatever field you are in, because curiosity is the first symptom of intelligence.

We are all born potentially curious and intelligent and we come into the world wanting to know everything, but over time, this curiosity is quenched when we understand that questions are a hindrance and that people, as they grow older, stop asking the why of all things. We gradually imitate the world around us and understand that obedient adaptation that offers no different options is the only way we can survive in it.

The questions, in ancient academic environments, make the questioner seem ignorant and unadapted to reality, because doubt in many of the ancient educational systems is associated with those who are unable to understand well the things established as certain and immovable.

Little by little we begin to block the doors of doubt, closing in turn the doors of reason, of thought and of search, and when these doors are closed you become a being fed on beliefs and easily manipulated because belief functions as the impediment of intelligence.

A community limited by belief will never promote intelligence in its young, but will interpret intelligence as the capacity for dutiful repetition of ancient concepts and will consider the rote learner intelligent.

Within these spheres, the antiquity of concepts serves as an excuse to justify their immobility. Concepts are considered to be correct because they are old. This promotes the mental immobility of people who, in an attitude of respect, sacrifice the possibility of becoming intelligent and creative beings, since they are incapable of questioning them.

These are communities where the past is always more important than the adaptation to new times and where innovation is condemned, sacrificing the intelligence of its individuals. A person blocked by beliefs can never become a truly intelligent person because belief will always be the barrier. And that is why it is not surprising that the most intelligent and creative people on this planet have always stayed away from beliefs.

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Today we have on the table an educational system in full change and to which the irruption of the digital world has brought new elements, among which are information and global connection. Thanks to them, today we need education to be much more than the mechanical training it has been until now, based on memory and the repetition of concepts inevitably forgotten in the short term, and to become a generator of new ideas inspired and motivated by the new wealth of information and communication available to us today.

Today we have a lot of information, but the question now is what we do with it. Information has never before been as available as it is today, but, although the intellectual path has already been trodden by many, it has shown us that it is inexhaustible and in many cases also insufficient.

The rich countries of the West are characterized by having traveled the path of the mind and, nevertheless, they have always found it incomplete, perhaps because they have noticed that intelligence is not a process exclusive to the mind.

The irruption of the Internet has not brought information as a novelty, but has made it massive, and this is in fact its contribution: the irruption of informative globality in a massive and instantaneous way, with all its benefits and its dangers.

Today, information no longer has limits of space and time and is within the reach of all those of us who are not excluded from access to it by the digital divide. It is at this point that there is an urgent need to channel information into a creative path.

We have always differentiated informed people from intelligent people and on some occasions we have met people who miraculously were both at the same time. Today the world is full of informed people thanks to inter-net, but intelligent people are still in short supply. Because in the process of educating themselves, there are very few individuals who manage to keep their intelligence awake and fed by knowledge, instead of being crushed by it.

Intelligent or informed?

Intelligence has to do with the process that information undergoes once it has been obtained. This information can follow two different paths: immovable retention or transformation. And it is in these two processes where the difference between two different types of absorption is evident. Retention will automatically turn you into an informed being and transformation of information will turn you into an intelligent person.

When we refer to being intelligent we are talking about the creative capacity that intelligence has. Creativity is not about how much information you access, but what you are able to do with it. It is your transforming quality that will make the information obtained valuable or not. The way in which you select what is valuable in each piece of information and discard everything that is not useful; as if your mind acts as a value selector and at the same time as a garbage collector.

Creativity is not something that can be given to you, as happens with information that comes from outside, but it is a quality that lies in every human being, as a potential that may or may not be developed.

Creativity is what you give to the information, your contribution. When information becomes an idea it is because your creative quality has appeared in action and has transformed the information into something different. The link between the information and the idea is you. Without your creative quality, the information will remain just information and you will remain just an unformed being.

Our goal in education should be to enhance the human being’s capacity for intelligence, taking into account all the new elements available to us today and asking ourselves again the why of all things.

The “absence of the whys” in our education seemed to be a trifle, but, nevertheless, it turned out to be a key element that we lost, since the why of things is the key to relate them all and, without it, we soon forget all that information that we acquire, because the data that is not related, inevitably, is lost.

When a person is taught that geography is both the cause and the consequence of a climate that results in a certain flora and fauna, and to this is added a film class with a wonderful National Geographic documentary, a search on Google Earth and applications that help him/her to relate all the geographic processes of the area, the individual manages to fix the knowledge forever because he/she has managed to relate everything.

The individual sees the film, concentrates, is moved by the beauty of the landscapes, the nature, the music, the sounds of the birds and the native animals, and saves that information forever. And this happens because emotion is the glue that fixes learning in the human being and the connection is what turns the information into something valuable. And we must not forget that teaching the principles of connectivity that govern the entire universe is really the goal of all teaching.

In this example, the student has not had to memorize the vegetation and fauna of the African rainforest because he has seen it, heard it, and experienced it as if he had been there. In this way, the new technological elements at our disposal are put at the service of education and, instead of continuing to promote the tiresome conservative stance that is always systematically set against anything new, we learn that the new is always fundamental when it comes to achieving learning that rides in accordance with the rhythm of the times.

Today there are many positions against new technologies and this is not new. In the same way that in the past they were against television and, instead of using it as a tool for growth, they wasted their time in condemning it, failing to take advantage of the opportunities offered by this dimension and limiting themselves to using it for economic, entertainment and mass distraction purposes.

Teaching should be a permeable process, open to the changes and progress taking place in the world, just as all other aspects of our culture should be. The new tools must be used for the benefit of education and not against it. The only important thing in any educational system should be learning, and the mechanisms used should be irrelevant in themselves to the one whose only parameter should be to generate intelligence and to achieve learning that will succeed.

In education there are also many egos vying for power by defending one system or another and many economic interests that impede the permeability of education and its essential changes, such as, for example, the interests of the publishing industries. And it is in these power struggles that we lose focus of the fact that what is really important here is to generate intelligent children for a world that will undoubtedly be very different from ours.

This will be a world where a large part of the labor market will be occupied by machines and where human beings will have to create new forms of livelihood. Only a human being educated in intelligence and creativity will be able to survive a world where the place of mechanical repetition will already be occupied by others. And where only the place that machines cannot occupy will remain free.

Education should not continue to create hard disks as in the past, simply because we no longer need them. In the past, it was extremely important to educate children who could remember because memory was the way to pass on knowledge to the next generation. And also the information lasted unchanged over time, because things did not change as fast as they do now and there was no need to update the data on a regular basis.

Today, technology has provided us with hard disks and computers that are capable of retaining all the information from the past that we might need in the future, so we no longer need students who are fundamentally memory-oriented, but rather creative beings. We need to educate intelligent people, who are capable of facing the future that we are not able to teach them how it will be.

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How do you educate for the future?

Thinking about how to educate for a world we do not yet know is like trying to trace a path blindly, and the only way to prepare a person for an unknown world is to educate him or her in all its dimensions. Only an intelligent being is capable of responding creatively to the unknown.

When one does not know what lies ahead, one must be prepared for everything, and that is why flexibility and the ability to connect become fundamental disciplines in educating people who will face an uncertain world plagued by ever-increasing speed of change.

We must first understand that the quality of change has also changed and the speed of change today is infinitely greater than it was a hundred years ago. The world is changing faster and faster and that is why it is intolerable to continue teaching according to the same techniques of hundreds of years ago, simply because scientific advances aided by technology today have refuted much of the information that was available to us and that remained static and unchanged for decades.

The explosion of knowledge today is so rapid and vast that it is no longer possible to write a book on science without having to correct much of the information you have incorporated into it, because discoveries are happening so fast that much of what we considered to be true until today is wrong or incomplete. That is why the study of science should now depend on publications and articles and not on books. And although we know the risks that the irruption of the digital world represents for the publishing industries, the bad news is that the advance will be inevitable, so it is time for them to start looking for a new business formula and diversification.

The role of the teacher in the classroom should also change and this will happen because he or she is no longer the exclusive vehicle for transmitting information. Today we have all the existing information just a click away, so the exclusivity of knowledge that made the teacher an indispensable element in the transmission of information in the classroom has disappeared, making him/her replaceable today, if we continue to maintain the possession of exclusive knowledge as the only criterion.

The new role of the teacher is to become a guide or facilitator so that the student can access information without difficulty. The teacher must guide the students in understanding and discussing the topics and must in turn update his or her own information on a daily basis, since, having been educated thirty years ago, much of the information on the topics he or she teaches has become outdated and unusable. The role of the teacher has to change urgently and go from being the transmitter of information that he has been until now to being the generator of tomorrow’s thinking.

There is now an enormous amount of information available to students on the web and this must be exploited, so that the teacher now has valuable time at his or her disposal that was previously used only to transmit information to students. Although it is still necessary for him to help find and discern what is relevant and what is not.

With the use of new technologies, the teacher now has new and valuable time to focus his work on awakening the intelligence of the students, giving classes that include discussion and questions, and that focus on the understanding of the topics, relating them to different things that evolve the concepts and foresee probable and possible future events.

The teacher should convey passion for what he or she teaches and should try to pass on that passion to his or her students, regardless of whether or not that subject is his or her preference. The concepts may not be important to the student tomorrow, but the perception that a human being must love what he does or teaches will be forever engraved in his learning. So the teacher will no longer tolerate the coldness of the computer in teaching. The teacher is now the vehicle for teaching the human, which is the only thing the machine is incapable of teaching.

It is important to remember, however, that teachers in turn have a – perhaps outdated – syllabus to cover and will also need training to be able to take advantage of these changes and use the extra time available to them in a different and creative way.

There is no point in filling classrooms with technology if teachers are not first trained in its use in order to carry out this new type of teaching. Without proper training, neither they nor their students will be able to take advantage of the benefits it offers.

Educating in all dimensions.

To prepare the human being for an uncertain world, it is necessary to educate him in all dimensions and this means to educate in all the aspects that constitute the human being; and to try to include all those features that compose us.

The first dimension is the intellectual and informative dimension and this includes informative subjects such as history, geography, informatics, grammar and languages. In this type of teaching, we can use computer programs, documentaries, films and all kinds of audiovisual material that is available today and that is of the highest quality.

Languages are essential to be part of a global world and the acquisition of different languages should be compulsory, so that these new individuals can communicate in the future in a world that no longer limits communication within physical borders, and the teaching of a language can be supported by computer programs that help solve grammar and pronunciation doubts.

The second dimension is science, where the human guide becomes more important because science is the dimension of questions and a good guide must know how to encourage those questions. This dimension should use the latest material that is required for scientific teaching to always remain contemporary, in addition to the new technologies that today also offer a great variety of courses and online classes and scientific applications that help to reinforce the understanding of some complicated topics.

The third dimension is art and creativity, where the student can choose and experiment among different creative disciplines, regardless of the technical conditions he/she enjoys and where he/she is allowed to develop the art, manual or sporting skill he/she likes the most. Every human being needs to feel creative in some specific aspect and that will help him/her to connect with the world, because the world is creative. Any art or manual or physical activity also serves as a way to enter into your own world and connect with the creative part that resides in all human beings.

The fourth dimension refers to the dimension of emotions and this should be a space where students can be aware, according to the needs of each stage, of all those doubts that are awakening in them and where little by little human issues can be addressed, where they themselves can expose their own experiences, their vision and their needs.

This will help the guiding teacher to go deeper into the issues that most concern the young people at each stage and will create among the students a growing sense of brotherhood, which is so necessary when building a more humane world tomorrow. A space where the partner is no longer a competitor but part of the same gear.

This human aspect has been tried to be covered many times with religious teaching, without success, since religion from the beginning divides human beings into groups, confronts them with those who do not share their beliefs and focuses its teaching on the differences between human beings and God, and between nature and man, breaking the basic principle of unity that is intended to generate in the formation of a global human being who understands the connection as the basic principle that governs the entire universe.

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To parents

It is evident that this new digital world is an uncertain path for many parents, especially when they see that their children use technology without taking any advantage of it, other than being permanently connected and at the same time disconnected from the world. This happens because technology responds to the same laws that all energy responds to, being always neutral. Technology will be valuable if we learn to use it intelligently and harmful if we use it ignorantly.

But within all this concern expressed by many parents, there is also a great responsibility on us, because our youth is often the result of the education we have given them, not only we as parents, but also our social environment and our community. We are the reflection of our children and we cannot escape this great responsibility. A young person who prefers to inhabit a virtual reality is a young person who escapes from his or her daily reality and the reasons for this absence are usually always very close to us.

We have fostered a world of inequality, of greed, of ambition, of people who only aspire to individual progress and who care very little about the general welfare and human evolution, and this is reflected in our politics and in our world situation, and young people feel it. Many rebel against this, mistakenly wishing to look for different and older models that inevitably destroy all the progress achieved so far with great effort, and many others simply yearn openly to become part of the group of the ambitious, whom our material-ready culture has taught them to admire and hold up as an example of progress.

Perhaps the time has come to start focusing on the importance of education and our example in everything that happens to us.

Education today is too often geared to educate ambitious and competitive people who aspire only to achieve economic success for themselves, people who choose their careers according to the salaries that await them and not according to the things they are passionate about. People who much later discover themselves living unhappy lives, even if they are economically profitable.

An innovative education is one that aspires to create a better world, one that is better not only for oneself, but for everyone.

To change the world is not to strive to fill the world with skillful and greedy entrepreneurs, but to educate human beings with the intelligence and sensitivity necessary to change the inhuman realities that surround us and to be able to face intelligently the future, where many current systems will soon be replaced because many of the structures that sustain them will inevitably be unsustainable.

Education for a global human being is unfortunately not yet available to everyone, although there are already many working on projects such as SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments), which dispenses with environments such as schools to generate intelligence in those areas where socio-economic needs cannot provide students with physical academic structures and which is carried out through computer systems that enable a very poor population to access an education that was unthinkable for them until now. Thus, they develop new formulas so that a population that until then had no access to education can gain access to it through interactive learning that is carried out by placing computers in the streets of towns in India. The children who have access to these computers, with no prior computer knowledge, are able to develop in an astonishingly natural way and, in addition to educating themselves, are also able to develop their creative potential.

The world will soon change its economic and social structure, and we will need people who are capable of creating new systems in accordance with the new times to come. For that, we will need those enlightened minds that have always been able to shed light on those things that most of us have been in the dark about.

This group of people who will design life in the future are now called makers. Today, our challenge is to provide them with the right tools to build a future that reflects a human being who wants to keep evolving.

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Note: The text you have just read is the first chapter of the second part of an essential work in the digital era. I wrote it together with JRueda and we share it now that we are very close to celebrating the first year of the launch of the book “Digital natives do not exist: How to educate your children for a digital world”. This work besides highly recommended has become of consultation by parents, teachers and adults in a world that seeks answers to new questions. You can get it here: https://www.amazon.es/Los-nativos-digitales-existen-colecci%C3%B3n/dp/8423426599

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