Teacher technology adoption: what’s age got to do with it?


Educators by design are innovators. Living and working in a constant state of beta, teachers bring to the classroom a natural desire to explore and better understand new practices and methodologies to support students in their search for knowledge. Guided by an internal drive to make the world a better place and powered by the rewards of working daily with the youth that can create that positive change, teachers collectively are part of a profession different from any other. Within one classroom on any single day, a teacher can become a scientist, a historian, an inventor, or a scholar. And, over time, whether in a one-room schoolhouse a century ago or in a technology enhanced classroom of the digital age, these defining characteristics of “teacher” have seemed to stay constant.

Today, as citizens of our digital and global world, we are in an extraordinary time where divides are closing and collaboration becomes standard – where differences are truly celebrated and associations are surpassing separations in society. As educators, this shift mirrors what we have long have proclaimed in our classrooms – however divisive terms such as “generational gap” and “digital divide” refer to us as teachers as worlds apart from our students. In reality, teachers and students are more and more speaking the same language of invention and inquiry. Instead of adhering to conceptions of an age-based divide on adoption of technology, many appear to move beyond labels of “digital immigrants” and “digital natives.” This is further reinforced by current research demonstrating that technology adoption in education has less to do with age and instead is based more on exposure and experience (Bennett & Maton, 2010; Bullen, Morgan, & Qayyum, 2011; Guo, Dobson, & Petrina, 2008; Helsper & Eynon, 2010).  As opposed to a focus on divides, this new evidence offers supportive pathways of possibilities to bring together older and younger generations in the process of learning in our world through exploration and wonder.

Moving attention away from a fixed factor of age to emphasising a continuum of proficiency based on exposure and experience enables teachers of all ages to identify as part of this digital age of education. And, though digital technologies are fixtures in the daily lives of many (if not most) of our students, the ways technologies are used by students are not always consistent. Students of today – like students of previous generations – continue to need the guidance of teachers in finding ways to take and apply their understandings of technology to effectively convey perspectives with the world, influence opinions of others, and contextualise and synthesise information in meaningful ways.

Teachers as innovators – young and old, tech-savvy and tech-novice – have extraordinary gifts to bring to their students, who also are navigating through digital environments. Though there are countless lessons teachers bring to students, here are several timeless ones that transcend any generation of teaching. Teachers guiding students to use advanced technologies to be…

…critical consumers

Today, students in our classrooms are bombarded with information at nearly every moment in time. With basic searches for information often leading students in multiple directions, research at every level has now become a highly complex and sophisticated process. Resulting, we now see learning practices shifting from finding answers to discovering more questions. Teachers, as adept content curators, can guide students to be discerning evaluators and critical consumers of information in their interactions with text. With a culture of transparency and sharing, teachers can support learners to consider context and source and, in turn, effectively reason with evidence and build knowledge.

…creators of rich content

As classrooms advance as blended learning environments with seamless integrations of technologies and innovative teaching practices, students have opportunities to transform from passive participants in learning to active creators of content. With countless offerings of digital tools available for content creation, students can look to teachers for guidance on matching the best tool to the particular communicative purpose. Teachers skillful in creating synthesised messages can show students ways to comprehend and compose with combinations of digital technologies. Less in a role of directing lessons, the teacher becomes a catalyst for learning inspiring students to work creatively and collaboratively to solve problems and respond to instructional lessons as producers of information.

…centered on relationships

A defining quality of a master teacher is the ability to create a positive learning community built on empathy and understanding. The focus on relationships in these classrooms serves to model the continued importance of valuing alliances and friendships. Soft-skills, such as joy, honesty, trust, and respect, become even more essential as our students continue to interact in a world that is highly networked and diverse. Balance, too, becomes a critical area for discussion as students look to divide attention, time, and social-emotional reserves between onscreen and in-person experiences. Within responsive classrooms and digital learning spaces that keep emphasis on the formation of relationships, teachers can offer opportunity for students to develop through collaboration, teamwork, solidarity, and conflict resolution.

…resilient in endeavors

Our students are looking out onto a world where anything is possible. Digital age technologies are empowering students to believe: “if you can dream it, you can do it”. The impossible is within reach and a mindset of grit and determination moves sparked ideas to a place of accomplishment and excellence. Through the creation of learner-driven classrooms centered on the student, teachers can help guide students to narrow their interests and ultimately find their passions. With relevance and authentic purpose, teachers can connect students in the process of learning through design thinking and trial and error – shifting the outlook from fear of failure to the resilience and ‘stick-to-itiveness’ to advance learning to a place of discovery and invention. And, it is this mindset – a position of inquiry and exploration – held by students and teachers young and old, that can show that great will come from risk. We all just need to be ready to try.


Bennett, S. J. & Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(5), 321-331

Bullen, M., Morgan, T. & Qayyum, A. (2011). Digital learners in higher education: generation is not the issue. Canadian Journal of Learning & Technology, 37(1)

Guo, R. X., Dobson, T. & Petrina, S. (2008). Digital natives, digital immigrants: an analysis of age and ICT competency in teacher education. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 38(3), 235–254

Helsper, E. J., & Eynon, R. (2010). Digital natives: Where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal, 36(3), 503-520

Share your innovation for a chance to win the Pearson ELT Teacher Award
We’ve just launched a new Pearson ELT Teacher Award! Aiming to recognise and celebrate teachers, the Award is open for any English teacher who has developed innovative ways of teaching in their classrooms. You may have used technology or digital tools in unique ways or re-invented traditional tasks. The Award encourages teachers to enter who can show that their ideas are not only unique but have improved learner engagement, motivation and success.

Prizes include all-expenses paid trips to IATEL or TESOL. Deadline for entries is 1st January, 2017 so enter or nominate a teacher today!

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