Teaching Today’s Child: Do Digital Natives Learn Differently?

Do your students have a shorter attention span than they used to? Do they have difficulty memorizing information, such as the names of notes? If this is your experience, you are not alone.

Technology may be the reason. In “How Technology Is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus,” a December 4, 2012 article for Psychology Today, psychologist Jim Taylor points out that the “frequent exposure by so-called digital natives to technology is actually wiring thebrainin ways very different than in previous generations.” Children who spend a lot of screen time learn differently than their predecessors. Even if they are interacting with educational games and apps, distraction is the norm, consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited.

While this might sound like a problem, the use of technology does bring benefits. Video games and apps increase students’ visual-spatial capabilities, their reaction times, and their ability to identify details among the clutter. Students are better able to read music by interval, can physically respond to the notes faster, and can use the music’s form to learn it more easily.

Today’s information overload makes it unnecessary for children to memorize facts, as they can simply use the Internet to look up whatever they need to know. Taylor points out that “knowing where to look is becoming more important for children than actually knowing something.” The good news? No need to memorize may allow for higher-order processing such as contemplation, critical thinking, and problem solving.

So, is technology a good or a bad thing? In a way it doesn’t matter. Children have moved on; as teachers, we need to move on with them. As Taylor says, “rather than making children stupid, [technology] may just be making them different.”

Giving children time to read books, play physical games, and spend time in unstructured and imaginative play are still important aspects of teaching. Yet, we shouldn’t be afraid of technology. Used wisely, it can make it even easier to guide them as they learn to make music an important part of their lives.


The Music of Teaching by Barbara Kreader Skalinder

The Music of Teaching by Barbara Kreader Skalinder

About the Author

Barbara Kreader Skalinder, author of The Music of Teaching: Learning to Trust Students’ Natural Development, has taught in her independent studio since 1974. One of the coauthors of the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library, she has given workshops in more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Asia. Formerly the editor of Clavier magazine, she is also a published poet. Kreader Skalinder received her M.M. degree from Northwestern University, where she studied with Laurence Davis and Frances Larimer.

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