Teaching the Millennial Generation

April 1, 2010 — Leave a comment

They’re called “echo boomers,” “the millennium generation,” and “Gen M.” We identify them with their ubiquitous gadgets-iPods, cell phones, DVD players, as well as their digital pastimes: Web surfing, text-messaging, blogging. But whatever they seem to be or however we identify them, the generation born after 1992 represents 70 to 80 million people in the United States, roughly 30% of the population. Meeting their unique educational needs is proving to be a tremendous challenge, as well as an opportunity.

“Our task as educators involves far more than teaching the content of our courses,” according to psychology professor Angela Provitera McGlynn. “We need to teach students how to become effective learners and guide them in honing their critical-thinking skills. The goals are the same for all our students-to foster academic success. The means may vary depending on many factors. One of these factors is knowing the cultural context of our students’ life experiences so we can maximize their particular strengths. For MiIlennials, that very well may mean engaging them with cooperative learning exercises, empowering them to be decision makers in the classroom, and getting them to analyze their own learning strategies.”

Members of the Millennial cohort, according McGlynn, share a number of key characteristics that influence their collective approach to learning and that set them apart from their predecessors. In the United States, Millennials grew up in a time of largely uninterrupted economic prosperity; they’re perhaps the most protected generation in history, in terms of government and safety regulations; and they’re used to being indulged and consulted on family decisions. As a result, they tend to exhibit strong bonds with their parents. According to one survey, more than 75% of Millennials said they shared their parents’ values.

Millennials are also better connected both to their parents and to each other, thanks to cell phones, text-messaging devices, and e-mail. (Some psychologists, according to McGlynn, see this bonding as positive while others view it as an obstacle to the development of autonomy.) Millennials display an increased proficiency in multitasking, but are also known for attention problems and an inability to delay gratification.

The Millennials, of course, were the first generation to grow up in the digital age. According to the 2005 Pew Internet & American Life Project, 87% of teens aged 12 to 17 used the Internet in 2004, up from 73% in 2000. In many ways, the World Wide Web (the largest component of the Internet) is itself Gen M.

“Millennials want to learn by working collaboratively,” McGlynn says. “They have a preference to learn in their own time, and on their own terms. They seem to appreciate structured activities that permit creativity. They want to be involved in ‘real life’ issues that matter to them.”

The challenge in teaching Gen M, according to McGlynn, is in keeping them actively engaged. She recommends a concerted “active learning” approach. “Learning and memory research points out that active learning facilitates long-term memory through the process of elaborative rehearsal (a memory process that involves the use of meaning rather than rote learning). The use of examples which students can relate to and asking students to develop their own examples are ways to create meaning between students’ life experience and the material which we want them to be learning.”

These are but a few of the strategies educators might use to reach the more-networked student body of today and tomorrow. But the first step, according to McGlynn, is acknowledging that different teaching techniques are often necessary for different generations. -Patrick Tucker

Source: “Teaching Millennials, Our Newest Cultural Cohort” by Angela Provitera McGlynn, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education (October 10, 2005). Web site http://www.hispanic outlook.com.

Originally published in THE FUTURIST, May-June 2006.

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