Not only is the Internet invaluable for a child’s education and socialization, it provides a potential paradigm for education and socialization. That is what the new research from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation suggests. Spending time online, playing video games, and texting is not a waste of time for kids, says the study headed by UC Irvine’s Mizuko Ito. “Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society.”

The digital age presents children with new ways of learning the world. Not only do children gain technical and media literacy on the Internet, it allows children to participate in peer-based, self-directed learning. Youth are often more motivated to learn from peers than adults, the study says.

“By its immediacy and breadth of information, the digital world lowers barriers to self-directed learning.”

Time online can also strengthen and expand existing friendships, and can make them more open to experimentation and social exploration: they can explore interests beyond school and their local community, publish creative works, and gain visibility and reputation. With the Internet, children can navigate knowledge groups not available in the offline world.

“The digital world is creating new opportunities for youth to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills, and experiment with new forms of self-expression.”

The study concludes by saying that new media challenges ideas of the traditional role of education, suggesting that pedagogical focus should placed less on job preparation and more on participation in public life.

By Mark Alvarez