Thoughts on the Digital Mind

I have learned a lot from my daughter. One of the most important things that I learned is that she doesn't think like me.

When she was in high school, I worried how she we do academically. You see, my son was a great "traditional" student. A teacher would tell him to learn something and he would. A compliant learner.

Caitlin, on the other hand, would ask "why?" For her, if she didn't know the reason she had to learn something, she wouldn't. She would dig in her heals. It drove me crazy.

I knew that by the time she would get to high school this behavior would get her into trouble. Especially when she started taking more academically challenging classes.

And then along came AP Chemistry - a class not to be taken lightly. The textbook was big and heavy. And each chapter needed to be read slowly multiple times to be understood.

But, day after day, I would see her book go unopened. I worried, seeing a train wreck coming. When I would ask her how she was preparing for her tests, she would just blithly respond that she was just Googling the answers she needed.

Clearly she lacked traditional academic discipline, but it forced me to ask deeper questions. Why was it so difficult for her to study these chapters? Was she destined, as a child of the digital age, to suffer from some form of a learning disability?

I began to watch her closely. Could she learn? If so, how did she learn? And was the way that she was learning more common than not for her generation of digital natives?

I noticed that while my mind had been trained to go step by step through a serial collection of knowledge, such as a textbook, her mind would dart from place to place in a seemingly scattered and erratic way.

But then I began to noticed something quite remarkable. I would ask her questions, and after a typical deadpan look of a 16 year-old, she would go to her phone and start click away on its screen. Then, after a few minutes, she would turn to me and give me an answer that was surprising in the depth of its understanding.

What just happened there? How could she go from knowing nothing to knowing so much, so quickly? A fast Time to Smart.

I began to watch her finger movements on her phone more carefully and then later, ask her to explain her learning path.

Turns out that, after an initial search she would quickly jump through several related sites and then synthesize the information into an understanding, all in the matter of a few minutes.

I could barely keep up with her fingers on the screen.

So, while I might have a more disciplined mind for a linear sequential learning path, her's was much faster in a path of rapid triangulation. Something that might be called Dialectical Synthesis.

Turns out, my daughter is not that unusual.

Many teachers I have talked to have complained that their students don't learn the same why they did, and they are struggling to engage them in the classroom.

These kids are not dumb. But most are not interested in being taught in the same way older generations were. However, given a Higher Purpose to learn, they are astonishingly fast learners. They are Just in Time learners.

They think differently from previous generations. They have Digital Minds.