For decades sociologist have been studying the differences between generations and making generalizations about how they learn, what they value and how they co-exist. In their article, “Effective Training for Millennial Students,” Eric and Loredana Werth explore the what these differences might mean for the workplace and for effective performance improvement initiatives, specifically training. By breaking up the current workforce into three generational groups, Baby Boomers, Generations X and Millennials, the authors made overall generalizations about the learning characteristics of each. However, the purpose of the article really focused on the most recent of these groups; the Millennials.
Noting that there are becoming less and less Baby Boomers in the workplace and that Millennials are arriving in droves, there are implications for those who work with these younger learners either in the workplace or in more traditional educational settings. Though, as Werth states, “the question arises as to whether educators who are part of Generation X can develop training programs effective for Millennial leaners.” (2011) Generation X members (of which I am one) tend to depend on themselves to create meaning where as Millennials are “…characterized as group/social learners and are more networked and civic-minded than their predecessors.” (2011)
This topic is especially close to my own work as I try to help teachers think about education differently, however, I have often stopped to question my own advice wondering if my own experiences and biases and clouding my understanding of what needs these students actually have. While I am definitely very progressive in my thinking around education and practice, I do wonder if my own paradigm is getting in the way.
The article continues to discuss the needs of the Millennial learners by addressing the idea of limiting lecture-based instruction because it doesn’t meet the needs of students who need engagement and collaboration as opposed to “getting through the textbook”. It also addresses technology as a vehicle to meet the needs of these students. Mark Prensky coined the phrase “digital native” over ten years ago in his article, “Digital Native, Digital Immigrant”, (2001) which became the catch phrase for many educators who almost used it as an excuse to not learn technology. I’ve never been especially fond of the term, but I do understand the need to define the difference between those who see technology as something that is simply a part of their lives as the Millennials do, as opposed to those who knew a time before computers and the internet. It seems that right now this is the trend known as the “Flipped Classroom”, where, through the use of video, teachers can record their lectures and students can watch/listen to them at home and then do the higher order thinking activities at school under the watchful eye of the teacher. While this can be a good model, in many cases it’s still very lecture driven. It’s just that the lecture is delivered differently. This is not always the case and I know that there are plenty of success stories around this approach, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s actually better, or if it’s just different and so it’s gaining attention.
After citing a number of online and software based tools that could enhance a lesson and make it less lecture driven, the authors ultimately switched gears to make a case for the research behind adult learning and what the similarities between it and the approach that is being researched for Millennials. Creating self-directed, student-centered environments where the instructor is more facilitator of learning than teacher are adult learner strategies, but more and more it seems that these can be just as effective with the youngest generation. It’s no longer accurate to assume that students will learn in the traditional ways we educate. We must reevaluate and recognize the how we as a society and the members in it are changing and change our practice accordingly rather than assuming that the way we’ve always done it still works.
- Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/prensky%20-%20digital%20natives,%20digital%20immigrants%20-%20part1.pdf
- Werth, E.P., Werth, L. (2011). Effective training for Millennial students. Adult Learning, 22, 12-19.