Schools, businesses must adapt to 'thumb generation,' study says

Classrooms need to adapt to serve students who are plugged in online as never before, and corporations will need to adjust to the "thumb generation" and its thirst for connectivity and numerous computing devices, consultancy Basex says.

Classrooms need to adapt to serve students who are plugged in online as never before, and corporations will need to adjust to the "thumb generation" and its thirst for connectivity and numerous computing devices, a new report says.

"Generation Y is wired with all 10 fingers," says Jonathan Spira, CEO and chief analyst of consulting firm Basex, which published the report "Technologies to Teach the Thumb Generation" (fee required).

"Young people are immersed in technology in a way that is different from earlier generations who grew up with calculators or even Apple II Plus computers. Their ability to access information is far greater than ever before, and their bandwidth, from a technology perspective, is greater than ever before," Spira says. The modern classroom needs to adapt into a "next-generation learning space" to serve the needs of students, the study says.

Companies also will have to adapt as Gen Y students begin to flood the workplace over the next three to five years demanding business conducted in an online, multitasking, interactive style, Spira says. He says a recent Gen Y opinion piece in CIO Magazine (a Network World sister publication) summed it up nicely with the observation, "Don't give me your tired old enterprise apps." Far from being the blathering of a spoiled and self-important student, Spira says, the message is clear that the availability of cutting-edge, high-tech tools will directly correspond to productive and happy employees.

The Basex study says the place to start is in classrooms. They should be equipped with such high-tech tools as classroom-capture systems, which digitally record lectures and material to be accessed later, and interactive white boards, which change the flow of information from a push model (teacher to student) to a pull model.

In that scenario, students can use the devices they know and trust to take a more active -- and hopefully more effective -- role in processing and retaining information. "Students are showing up to classroom with devices that have a screen, and given the way material is being pushed out to them, that screen is not being optimized," Spira says. 

The lessons of the classroom also will come home to roost in corporations, Spira says. "This is not a question of upending the organization. It is thinking about retention and what makes employees happy," he says. The end game is better productivity.

Just as the current generation of new employees influenced the adoption of such technologies as instant messaging, the Gen Y generation -- which the Basex report defines as those born from 1981 to 2000 -- will help define the importance of social-networking tools in the enterprise over the next three to five years, Spira says.

"There is a lot of business strategy you can derive from this and you need to not stick your head in the sand," Spira says. "Companies need to educate themselves on this [technology evolution]." That education will include security and employee training on the proper use of the technology in a business setting.

"For a typical organization, you can't say, 'next week we are going to change our tired old enterprise apps for 50,000 users.' That takes several years, but since it does take time, you need to take lessons from this Gen Y group and run with it," he says.

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