Commentary #2 – “Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts”

Mabrito M. & Medley, R. “Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts”

In the article, “Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Text’s Mark Mabrito and Rebecca Medley  (2008) argue that Net Generation (Net-Gen) have a different learning style due to them being digital natives, and the education system needs to be responsive to their learning style.  According to Mabrito et al. (2008), the need for change in the education system is driven primarily by the new learning style of the Net Generation.  Mabrito et al.(2008) are correct to suggest that the education system needs to adapt to the changing realities – but they are incorrect to identify Net Generation learning style as the agent for change.  The change agent is the dramatic growth and influence of information communication technologies.  Siemens (2004) argues that the shelf life of knowledge is diminishing at an increasing rate.  The life of knowledge was previously measured in decades, whereas today it is measured in years and months.  This issue transcends a particular learning style, or generation of learners.  The need for the educational system to adapt to the changing realities of the world was acknowledged in the mid 1990s by a group of international researchers, known as the New London Group.  Their purpose was to rethink and revitalize literacy pedagogy, thus coining the term multiliteracies. 

Mabrito et al. (2008), argue that since the Net-Gen have primarily been learning in a digital world there is a disconnect between how they learn and traditional instructional methods.  Hence, educators need to learn the Net-Gen’s learning style and make instructional changes accordingly (Mabrito et al., 2008).  Undoubtedly, the Net Gen has had the most exposure to information communication technologies in their formative years, thus changing “how they read and write with words and images” (Williams, 2008, pg. 682).  The real issue however, is that there are rapidly changing social, cultural, economic, and technological conditions that present a pedagogical challenge to the education system which is independent of one’s generation’s learning or communication style.

 The New London Group (1996) stated  “generally the mission of education, one could say that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life” (p. 1).   Traditional literacy played an important role in the mission of education, therefore, for it remain relevant it had to be revitalized in respect to the twenty-first century (New London Group, 2006).  Proponents of multiliteracies pedagogy advocate for the formal education system to incorporate more innovation and integration of technologies into the curriculum and pedagogy (Cope et al. 2009; Yelland et al., 2008; Tapscott, 2008a). Meanwhile, informal education is leading the way in innovative educational practices (Brown, 2008; Tapscott, 2008b).   The beneficial outcomes of these innovations and of technologies are evident in the creation of open source education, for example, “students picking up the practice of writing software through open-source community of practice like Linux and Apache” (Brown, 2008, p.3.) 

 By primarily focusing on Net- Gen’s learning style Marbrito et al.(2008) fail to identify the real reason for reforming the education system – for the education system to remain relevant it needs prepare people to “participate fully in “public, community and economic life” (London Group, 1996, pg. 1).  Consequently, the authors’ rationale for change would not produce the desired goal of classroom adaptation and institutional support for change. 

The underlying premise of multiliteracies is that “teaching and learning need to change as the world is changing” (Cope et al., 2009, p.166).  This premise is consistent with Marbrito et al.,(2008) argument for classroom adaptation, however, the underlying impetus for change pertains to universal relevance .   In addition, multlliteracies pedagogy places an emphasis on process rather than merely subject content therefore it has relevance across all disciplines while serving the primary purpose of education as defined by the London Group.  For example, Haeryun Choi and Joseph Piro (2009), and Amy Jensen (2008) argue that multiliteracies expands the potential of the Arts and establishes a clear link with employment opportunities for students’  of the Arts.  In short, the emphasis on multiliteracies enriches the student’s learning experience and enhances their creative and technical skills for the labour market (Choi, H., Piro, J., 2009; Jensen, A., 2008).  The rationale for classroom adaptation and institutional support needs to be on the basis that multiliteracies pedagogy because it links the revitalization with the characteristics of the new economy – an environment of collaboration, decentralized control and meaning making.  Best Buy, for example, has recognized the human capital power of open and unorthodox communication by using collaboration (Tapscott, 2007).


I believe a more persuasive argument is to clearly link the purpose of multiliteracies pedagogy with student success in the labour market, thus establishing an economic rationale for the change in the classroom.  Government funding and educational institutions are far more responsive to industry and bushiness needs than they are perceived learning styles.  If making pedagogical changes will enhance the success of their students and their programs in the corporate environment they will be open to incorporating informal learning practices into the formal educational system, thus providing a link to the changing global realities.   



 Brown, J. (2008, October 17). How to Connect Technology and Content in the Service of Learning. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(8), A120-A120. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from Professional Development Collection database.

Choi, H., & Piro, J. (2009, January). Expanding Arts Education in a Digital Age. Arts Education Policy Review, 110(3), 27-34. Retrieved June 3, 2009, from Professional Development Collection database.

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “Multiliteracies”: New Literacies, New Learning. Pedagogies, 4(3), 164-195. doi:10.1080/15544800903076044.

Jensen, A. (2008, May 1). Multimodal Literacy and Theater Education. Arts Education Policy Review, 109(5), 19-28. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ797164) Retrieved July 2, 2009, from ERIC database.

Mabrito, M. & Medley, R., Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s        Text.  Innovate, Volume 4, Issue 6, 2008, pp. 1-7.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futuresHarvard Educational Review. 66 (1), 60-92.

Siemens, George, (2004) A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, Retrieved November 24th, 2008 from

Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. (2007). The Wiki Workplace. BusinessWeek Online, 15. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Tapscott, D. (2008a). The Net Generation Takes the Lead. BusinessWeek Online, 21. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Tapscott, D. (2008b, December). How to Teach and Manage ‘Generation Net’. BusinessWeek Online, p. 7. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

 Williams, B. (2008). “Tomorrow will not be like today”: Literacy and identity in a world of multiliteracies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(8), 682-686.     doi:10.1598/JAAL.51.8.7.

Yelland, N., Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2008). Learning by Design: creating pedagogical frameworks for knowledge building in the twenty-first century. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(3), 197-213. doi:10.1080/13598660802232597.


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