Engaging Today’s Student

Graphic - engage studToday’s generation of students has grown up immersed in digital technologies such as video games, the Internet, and handheld electronic gadgets. One thing holds true: Today’s students have different learning preferences and expectations than their parents. When it comes to their preferences, the Net Generation (Kapp, 2007):

  • Ignores or does not embrace any hint of formal instruction; they are self-directed learners.
  • Approaches problems from different angles.
  • Relies heavily on learning from peers.
  • Holds a strong distrust of information from authorities.
  • Focuses on small, focused bits of information.
  • Creates their own knowledge to foster their own understanding.
  • Demands real--time information; they don’t want to learn about what they might need.
  • Does not focus primarily on books and reading as their only source of information.

Educators must alter their tried-and-true delivery styles to create an environment that fosters learning for these students. These teachers will need to adapt their teaching styles to hold their students’ interest and to provide them with the skills they need to be successful in a world filled with instant information, powerful handheld devices, and constant connectivity. Student engagement requires that students become “minds-on,” meaning the students think broadly and deeply, experiencing an appropriately high cognitive challenge. 

According to Charlotte Danielson (2009), engaging activities include the following characteristics:

  • Multiple correct answers and pathways
  • Student choice
  • Relevance
  • Collaboration
  • Rigor

Fortunately, your existing activities and assignments can usually be adjusted to accommodate the needs and expectations of today’s student. If your students have the opportunity to initiate or adapt activities and projects to enhance their understanding, the end result will likely yield an authentic and meaningful product.

Watch the video below addressing how today's student wants to be engaged.


Danielson, C. (2009). Implementing the framework for teaching in enhancing professional practice. Alexandria: ASCD.

Kapp, K. M. (2007). Gadgets, games and gizmos for learning: Tools and techniques for transferring know-how from boomer to gamers. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.