What a difference a week makes.

Over the past month, as I’ve been writing about disruptive innovation in education and the particular impact of online technologies, the higher education landscape continues to evolve rapidly. Just last week, Harvard and MIT entered the fray with their announcement of a $60 million venture called edX.

This has prompted a flurry of commentary about the future of the university, and promoted New York Times columnist David Brooks to liken the coming changes to those that have gripped the newspaper industry. His metaphor of choice: tsunami.

Will the waves hit secondary education? Yes.

While we can expect the technologies and business models used by colleges to flow down to the secondary market, equally important are the changing expectations of students swelling from below. Simply put … if there is an innovation tsunami coming from above, there is a user volcano bubbling from below. (I promise, no more natural disaster metaphors.)

In a recent show, Jon Stewart made a humorous reference to the aging and somewhat out of touch Generation X, using a picture of a woman in large shoulder pads as the punch line.

Those Generation Xers, once the source of so much handwringing in the media for being the self-absorbed offspring of the Baby Boomers, are now parents themselves. Their children are most often referred to as Generation Z – the first fully digital generation. Generally born after the millennium, those students are now in elementary and middle school. They have only known a world with car seats, bike helmets, and organized recess. They have only known a political world with one superpower and have no direct memory of 9/11. They communicate via text messages rather than email and have not known a world before Google.

These students interact with each other and their world in vastly different ways than their Gen X parents, and therefore they have significantly different expectations (even if they are unable to articulate them) for how they should learn.

One of the leading researchers into Gen late Y and early Z social expectations and learning theory is Don Tapscott. In my next post, we’ll look at his “Eight Norms” for the new generations.