Generation Alpha

Teaching and learning with post-Millennial students.


CREDIT Nexed.pngDuring my years as an elementary school vice principal, I had the opportunity to wander in and out of all the classrooms in the school—ranging from junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.

I was always struck by the time and care quality teachers put into their individual classroom setup; from the bright colors and play-based activity centers of the Grade One classes, to the beanbag chairs and ‘contemplation corners’ for the Grade Sevens.

No one classroom looked the same, and the changes in the ‘look and feel’ as students grew older and matured was no random act.

So how do we move forward to build an LMS that engages its youngest users? There are platforms becoming available that do just that.

It was done by informed educators backed by sound pedagogy.

As educators, we have always known that children of different ages live and learn very differently.

What is meaningful, relevant and engaging to an eight-year old is far removed from what inspires a 15-year old.

And the classroom environment in which these children learn reflects this.

Gen Alpha

In 2017, elementary schools educators are now teaching what is known as ‘Generation Alpha’—the children of Millennials. These are children born starting in 2010. This was the year the iPad came out; Instagram was launched—it was know as the ‘Year of the App’.

Our Generation Alphas has lived and learned with technology since the day they were born.

FETC link.jpgLearn more from Mark Wu and other leading analysts, thought leaders, and educators at the 2018 Future of Education Technology Conference, January 23-26 in Orlando, Florida. 

We are now living in an age where the technology we are using with our students—the types of physical devices and the kinds of software applications we choose—represent yet another environment in which children are expected to learn.

And so enters the Learning Management System.

The Big Business of LMS

An LMS allows for the delivery of ‘online’ courses and materials.

An educator creates a course, adds students and content. They can hand out and grade assignments and keep track of marks and other student data.

Often, they have a social component as well, with text chat, and ‘Facebook style’ posting and commenting.

LMSs were first developed for corporate and post-secondary institutions. This is still where LMS use is most prevalent, with Blackboard, Moodle and Canvas being the most commonly used.

But slowly they have became adopted by secondary and now elementary schools, with platforms like Edmodo and Schoology being developed more specifically for younger students. In 2016, 75 percent of K-12 districts in the United States used an LMS.

LMSs are big business.

With a market predicted to be worth well over $7B by 2018—and with K-12 just a portion of that.

The question that must be asked by educators of our Generation Alphas then, is: are we keeping the learning needs of our younger students firmly in mind when a district chooses an LMS? Are we using sound pedagogy?

A ‘Facebook for Education’

Early in 2017, the K-12 LMS Edmodo had 75 million worldwide users: teachers, students, parents and school administrators—and has been called ‘Facebook for Education’.

Founded by two Chicago school district ‘IT guys’ and launched in 2008, it brought K-12 teachers and parents into an interface they were comfortable with, knew and understood.

So while it was one of the first LMSs to address the unique needs of K-12, the design focus was clearly not on younger students.

There are not a lot of Generation Alphas using Facebook.

In fact, the age group of 13-17 is the smallest percentage of Facebook users. The Edmodo user experience was certainly not created with the elementary school students’ experience in mind.

Moving Forward

So how do we move forward to build an LMS that engages its youngest users? There are platforms becoming available that do just that.

Using game-based and quest-based learning strategies, they are blurring the lines between games and learning management; taking the necessary features of an LMS—but blending them with gaming elements.

Emerging platforms such as Rezzly, originally developed at Boise State University, are partnering with forward thinking districts like Fullerton—a K-8 district outside of Los Angeles.

Together, they have created a quest-based learning platform called iPersonalize where ‘students participate in self-paced, personalized individual and collaborative quest-based learning experiences.

They team up, earn experience points, and level up.

As Fullerton Superintendent Bob Pletka puts it:

“Education is experiencing an engagement crisis where students are increasingly tuning out of traditional educational systems. The focus on proficiency rather than mastery has also taken a toll on students’ passion and desire for learning. One argument might be that it’s just this generation, but when we look at statistics in other areas, we see that these same students are spending on average fourteen hours a week in gaming environments, sacrificing time and energy on systems that seemingly have no real value and yet they are engaged and passionate about learning in these gaming environments.”

Evolving towards game-based learning management?

Good news for our Generation Alphas—and perhaps a glimpse of what’s to come for Learning Management Systems in K-8.

Mark Wu is the co-founder of Nexed, a virtual world enabling authentic learning. He has been working with diverse groups of students for more than 15 years as a classroom teacher, special education resource teachers, and school administrator.

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