The use of digital technologies across the adult life span in distance education

  • John Richardson, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

    Anne Jelfs, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK

    Younger students have more access to digital technology and more positive attitudes to such technology than older students. The increased use of digital technologies among young adults in general has led some writers to argue that they constitute a distinct population who think and learn in qualitatively different ways from older people. This population has been variously called the "Net Generation" and "Digital Natives". More positive attitudes to digital technology seem to be associated in turn with more desirable approaches to studying. Even so, older students are more likely to adopt more desirable approaches to studying than younger students.

    In June 2010 we carried out a survey to explore access to digital technology, attitudes to digital technology and approaches to studying across the adult life span in students taking courses with the UK Open University. The study involved a random sample of 7000 students, stratified by age.

    Nearly all the students had access to a computer and the internet, but younger students were more likely than older students to have access to other technologies, to spend longer using those technologies and to have more positive attitudes to digital technology. However, there was no evidence for any discontinuity around the age of 30, as would be predicted by the “Net Generation” and “Digital Natives” hypotheses.

    Older students were more likely than younger students to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying. Regardless of their ages, students who had more positive attitudes to technology were more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying.