Study Finds Teens Learn Important Life Skills Online

By  |  Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 9:43 pm

swingThe nation’s backyards and playgrounds might be eerily empty, but teenagers in the United States are actually learning critical social skills and technical skills while they are plopped in front of their computers, a new study by the MacArthur Foundation concludes.

Despite what their parents may think, social networking sites and other new media help young people to learn how to develop relationships, manage their public identity, and to learn basic IT literacy that can help them become successful in today’s world, the study found. Teens also use the Internet to learn more about topics that interest them, and frequently engage in peer learning.

“It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online,” Mizuko Ito, a University of California, Irvine researcher, said in a prepared statement. “There are myths about kids spending time online– that it is dangerous or making them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age.”

The report, entitled “Living and Learning With New Media,” is based on qualitative research that was conducted from 2005 until last summer. The research was financed by a $50 million dollar grant from the foundation to study digital and media learning. The study describes new media usage, but does not attempt to determine its effects.

I won’t dispute the fact that young people are learning through new media, but while compelling, it is just one study. That is why the peer review process exists, and there should be complementary studies into what happens when teens spent too much time online.

Common sense dictates that this study should not give parents license to allow their children to spent endless hours in front of a machine, and I’m certain that the researchers would agree. Call me old fashioned, but I do not believe that strong interpersonal relationships can form over the Internet – that is what real life is for.

The researchers, who were led by Ito, used a variety of research methods that including interviewing over 800 young adults, and clocked more than 5000 observation hours. More information about the study’s research methodology is available in a whitepaper.

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