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Abstract

In June 2010, a survey was carried out 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. In total, 7000 people were surveyed, of whom more than 4000 responded. Nearly all these 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 time 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. In addition, regardless of their ages, students who had more positive attitudes to technology were more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and were less likely to adopt a surface approach to studying.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • • 
    Younger students have more access to digital technology and more positive attitudes to such technology than older students.
  • • 
    Students who have more positive attitudes to technology are more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and are less likely to adopt a surface approach.
  • • 
    Nevertheless, older students are more likely to adopt deep and strategic approaches to studying and are less likely to adopt a surface approach than are younger students.

What this paper adds

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    Students' use of, and attitudes to, digital technology vary monotonically across the adult lifespan, and there is no evidence for any discontinuity around the age of 30.
  • • 
    Students' age and their attitudes to digital technology are distinct predictors of their approaches to studying.
  • • 
    When they have similar access to relevant forms of technology, older students may be more likely than younger students to respond to online surveys.

Implications for practice and/or policy

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    Policy-makers and practitioners should reject stereotypes regarding younger and older learners, such as those reflected in the Net Generation and Digital Natives hypotheses.
  • • 
    Both younger and older students hold broadly positive attitudes to digital technology.
  • • 
    Whatever their age, today's students regard the use of digital technology as an integral part of their experience of higher education.