There are two reasons this interesting story in The New York Times is important.
The piece looks at the replacement of text books with mobile technology by the Munster School District in Indiana. The most direct issue is that the use of mobile technology for education is a huge and growing business. As such, it will impact mobility in general. Billions of dollars heading from school districts to the coffers of all the links in the mobile infrastructure value chain. That can't help but change the dynamics for those companies as they deal with their business clients.
The companies will be differently - and better - capitalized, products will mature more quickly and all sorts of other subtle and overt changes will be felt. There is nothing like an endless army of young kids, tweens and teenagers to tell business how to improve their products.
The other implication of the story is a bit more subtle. If the generation of kids born during the past decade of so are getting accustomed to using technology at school so early and so thoroughly, it suggests that any resistance to unified communications, teleconferencing and other advanced electronic platforms is futile.
Of course, we all knew this to be conceptually true already. Millennials - who will actually be senior management by the time this crop of kids are ready to earn their keep - already have made the point that they expect these tools in the workplace. That message should resound an order of magnitude louder after reading about Munster.
Indeed, it seems that the faculty and parents play the role of IT, to an extent. They are the groups that have a bit of trouble with the transition from textbooks to tablets, which is reminiscent of the problems that IT has: Some hold on a bit too tightly to the old ways of doing things. Others are not gung-ho simply because the correction of glitches fall to them, not the end users. The kids and the workers both get what they want: shiny and cool gadgets. IT and administrators get headaches.
So far, of course, the millennials are the only high-tech generation that has reached the work place. It isn't even clear what the current grade schoolers' generation will be called. In this commentary at Federal Times, Gerry Gingrich and Robert Childs of the National Defense University discuss how to manage millennials. One point that comes across clearly is that the difference between them and older workers isn't just in the technology savvy:
Millennials expect to participate, to offer solutions and to be heard. They refuse to be passive. They question authority and believe that authority must be earned.
That's a far greater differentiation than knowing how to text quickly. The technology changes who they are at a fundamental level. The piece offers advice. A starting point is the acknowledgement that the group, as a whole, is "incredibly tech savvy" and "use that savvy to push the envelope on your agency's technical knowledge." Imagine what adjectives and characterizations the two writers will use when they meet today's fourth graders.
The takeaway is something that has been known for a long time: Sophisticated electronics - indeed, electronics that are in some cases more deeper than those found in business - are routinely used in the classroom. This is a good thing in the abstract, but certainly will be a big stumbling block to businesses that don't act proactively and continually update platforms to make these kids feel like they are at home - or back at school.