Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts

I chose to do a commentary on “Why professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts”, by Mark Mabrito and Rebecca Medley. In their essay, they compared the learning styles of the Net Generation (born after 1982) to the way these students are presently being taught by their older instructors. This comparison brings to light what is called the information-processing gap.

The Net Generation students are the first real generation of virtual learners. It has been suggested that the highly technological culture in which they grew up has influenced their strategies for processing information and affects both how they think and what they think about. There are indications in brain research that suggests that when the brain is exposed to the same stimuli repeatedly for a prolonged period of time it will actually undergo physical changes. This means that students are literally wired differently than previous generations (Mabrito & Medley 2008).

N-Gens learning is dynamic and all of the things that they do naturally do not mesh with the static way in which they are likely being taught. They interact, compose, blog, share, multitask, collaborate, edit, create, update, change, compose, constantly edit and yes, they write. They integrate words, graphics, sound and video presenting ideas visually rather than through text alone. They share, edit and publish in a non-traditional way (Mabrito, 2008) and they have no need for editors or publishers. They decide, what the community accepts, what to publish. They value the creation of a visual presence on the Web and they like to share using sites such as Flikr and YouTube. In fact, N-Gens are 1.5 times more likely these two sites than the average Web surfer (Bausch and Han, 2006). Even bookmarking has changed and social bookmarking using sites such as Del.icio.us allow users to tag and write a short description of their favourite websites. This allows sharing with like-minded people and having the influence over people’s choices rather than having an authority to decide what the description should be (Alexander, 2006).

The changes in communication have been substantial and have improved the accessibility for people to collaborate and contribute to not only their own work but also that of others. Traditions are being challenged. It only makes sense to take consider redefining the traditional cultural norms of today (Bolter, 2008).

The information-processing gap exists because most faculty members do not fit the profile of the Net generation. While professors may be technologically literate they do not share the same learning styles as their students. They still teach in text based linear fashion rewarding knowledge that is stored in the head and learned independently (Mabrito 2008). Their professors do not live the same kind of lives, nor did they grow up surrounded with the same degree of interactive technology. Education in their time was content heavy and treated as an individual activity. It was centered around printed text and had its fair share of its traditions, hierarchies and a unidirectional flow of communication (Bolter 2001). It is not easy for professors who have not grown up in a digital world to be able to fully comprehend and evaluate the N-Gens different learning style. In fact, the N-Gens may appear to be lack the necessary skills attributed to someone who is academically successful in the traditional sense (Mabrito, 2008).

Mabrito and Medley suggest that today’s instructors should study the online texts of N-Gens to gain a better understanding of how they processes and interaction with information (2008). The Net generation’s social gathering places need to be looked at as alternate classrooms where e-texts are created, consumed and reshaped.

Within these classrooms students learn skills, considered to be of a social constructivist nature. By replacing slideshows with collections of images on Flickr and inviting students to tag, post notes, and comment on the images the presentation immediately becomes interactive, collaborative and closer to their learning style.

Mabrito and Medley emphasize the idea that it is not enough for educators to be technologically literate. In order to understand the learning methods they must immerse themselves into the environment and study the online texts of the N-Generation (2008). In reality, instructors generally do not have the same interest in creating, sharing and updating profiles. Even if they were immersed I am not certain that they would really get the same out of it as years of growing up with technology.  For example, all age-ranges are on Facebook but it is not used in the same way across the generations.

Mabrito and Medley make full use of hypertext in this article, linking both the cited articles and exhibits, which were examples of the topics about which they were writing. This is not conventional to the regular practice of showing them as inset pictures. However, I am not certain that this is such a useful tool. What once took a gaze to see the example is now a full click away. This is definitely a shift in the “look and feel” of reading and writing as suggested by Bolter (2001 p 24)

The emphasis of this article is definitely focused on the need for educators to “live” the technological way of the Net-Generation. In reality there is always a generation gap but now it is more apparent because of the advances in technology over such a short period of time. Their ideas of immersion are interesting and valid but are not practical, nor realistic.



Alexander, B. (2006) “Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?” Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44. Retrieved, October17, 2011, from http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume41/Web20ANewWaveofInnovationforTe/158042



Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.


Mabrito, M., and Medley, R. (2008). “Why Professor Johnny can’t read: Understanding the Net Generation’s texts”. Innovate 4 (6). Retrieved November 1, 2011 from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=510


Net Ratings Inc. (2006). “Youtube U.S. Web Traffic Grows 75 Percent Week Over Week, According to Nielsen//Netratings”. Retrieved November 8, 2011, from http://www.webcitation.org/5YyEP9Rsy







This entry was posted in Commentary 3 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply