Mobile Technologies and Changing Learner Characteristics and Preferences: Teachers’ Perceptions

Kwok-Wing Lai
Univerity of Otago, New Zealand

Lee Smith
University of Otago, New Zealand


In the last fifteen years, one of the myths in the field of ICT research is the notion that the current generation are “digital natives” whereas older generations are “digital immigrants”. The terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants” were coined by Prensky (2001a; 2001b) around the start of the millennium and consequently, different terms with similar meanings (e.g., Y generation, i-generation, Net-generation) have been used (for example, by Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Rosen, 2010; Tapscott, 2009) to characterise the younger generation of technology users. The idea of a whole generation are “digital natives” has been disputed by researchers on conceptual and empirical grounds (e.g., Bennet & Maton, 2010; Jones, 2012). For example, Bullen and colleagues (2011) developed an instrument to measure the learning characteristics of tertiary students. They found that there were little differences in terms of technology use by younger and older students in a Canadian higher education institution. Using the same instrument, similar results were found by Lai and Hong (2014) in New Zealand. While tertiary students in general had certain learning characteristics and preferences related to the use of digital technologies in the study, no significant generational differences were found between students of different ages. Most empirical studies to date that focus on learner characteristics have documented the learners’ own self-perceptions. It is therefore necessary to investigate whether university teachers’ perceptions of their students’ learning characteristics and preferences are similar. This is because teachers’ perceptions and understandings of learner characteristics have significant implications on their course design.

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