The "On-Demand" Generation


By Dan Koch @danvkoch Think about the immediacy of how you consume or obtain information or content. The world hasn't just altered this for you. We are in a fundamentally different time than even ten years ago; a time in which Twitter was a cell phone service and people were still using MySpace. I don't think we've really come to terms with the full implications of having this type of access. Basically, we live in an “always on” society; a wireless orchard of fruit to pick, examine, consume, or discard at our whim. Don't like a channel? Change it. Don't want to watch commercials? DVR a show and fast forward through them--or better yet, skip this altogether and, like almost half of millennials (the generation born between 1980 and now), consume all of your content using a subscription service like Netflix or Hulu. In a recent Business Insider Article, studies found that "[since] millennials embrace streaming services and spend more time consuming video online, traditional pay-TV companies are forced to adjust their digital strategy to retain customers [link]." 

Colin Trevorrow, director of the 2015 film Jurassic World, was asked during production what the theme of his film would be. People had seen dinosaurs rampage a park. They’d seen one rampage San Francisco in the sequel. His idea was to make the film feel contemporary by examining how a dinosaur theme park would actually operate in today’s world, and the public’s perception of such an attraction in a world where "we've become numb to the scientific miracles around us":

"What if, despite previous disasters, they built a new biological preserve where you could see dinosaurs walk the earth…and what if people were already kind of over it? We imagined a teenager texting his girlfriend with his back to a T-Rex behind protective glass. For us, that image captured the way much of the audience feels about the movies themselves. “We’ve seen CG dinosaurs. What else you got?” Next year, you’ll see our answer."


What does this have to do with education?


Students today can choose what and when they want to learn about anything they want. The content they consume (and create) is not limited to what we are willing to offer them. As teachers, how do we deliver on the demands of a generation born and raised with on-demand access to information, media, and learning? To simply deem their behavior as narcissistic or claiming all students are afflicted with attention deficit disorder and “unable to concentrate” in class is unfair. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves as teachers is, “how can I use my students’ natural thirst for media in meaningful way in my classroom?” Maybe, to our students, we are the dinosaurs in the above analogy--full of old-school knowledge and wonder, but simply presented to them in ways they could have just looked up on YouTube. As teachers, I believe we owe it to students to try to separate ourselves from this stereotype.

Think about what students expect from school: To attend their classes, be fed information they do not necessarily want (or in some cases, need), and “just get through it” until they can leave. Is this the mindset we want to impart on our students about school? Is it how you felt about it?

When planning for our students’ learning, I believe part of our job as teachers is to be cognizant that they are, in fact, capable of ravenous consumption of information without our help. They do this in spite of school. To simply be the “sage on the stage” is something very few students have the need for. Any Google search bar on a phone or computer can act as their terminal window to the world’s information orchard. In the age of Google, it’s more important to connect the dots on a page than it is to be able to locate them ( has an excellent article on this about how teacher planning should adjust to the Google Generation here).  One of my favorite quotes from the article is below:

Have you ever had anyone force you to listen to a song? And then stared at your face the whole time waiting for your reaction? Then asked you to write a cause-effect essay about it all? Horrible, right? That’s the process traditional curriculum maps encourage.

Here are some steps you can take to incorporate backwards-planning for the “On-Demand Generation” in your classroom:

  1. Make your classroom global. Don Goble, an awesome journalism teacher and advocate for everything Media related, started a website for his class called GSNN, or the Global Student News Network. He posts monthly themes on Twitter using the hashtag #GSNN and the entire site comes from submissions from other schools. Users submit student-created videos and he will embed them on the site. Here’s the description from the GSNN website: “Every month, our team will tweet out a new theme using the hashtag #GSNN. The rest is up to you! Students K-20, all over the world, are encouraged to produce a multimedia project relating to that month’s topic. Once you submit a video, check our website to see if your video gets featured!
  2. Plan for and expect Googling. I’ve said many times before that if your entire lesson comes  unraveled because a student can Google the answers, something is missing. Plan backwards, and even search Google yourself using terms you think your students may use to spur discussion about why a certain article or answer may not be as reliable as they think.
  3. Foster self-directed, self-paced learning. Like I mentioned earlier, students are used to finding content themselves. They do this on a constant basis. Instead of trying to fight against the tide of the times, plan for students to demonstrate mastery of your standards and learning goals in any way they choose, assuming the role of “guide on the side.” That way, you can have meaningful discussions about the direction they’ve chosen to take.

We owe it to our students to be more for them than dispensers of information--we need to be champions and experts at connecting that information and content to the larger, connected world.


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