Teaching and engaging a new generation of learners


Over the last 15 years many colleges and universities have and continue to struggle with academically engaging students from the time they arrive on campus until the moment they graduate. The concerns surrounding student retention and graduation have become so critical that in 2009 President Obama created a 2020 College Completion Goal  plan  to increase American’s graduation rate. As a result, colleges and universities both two-year and four-year institutions have focused their attention, efforts, and resources on increasing the rate of student retention, persistence, and graduation. Of course 0ne of those focal points has  been on creating ways to better engage students in the classroom, especially through the use of innovative teaching and learning practices.

The concept of teaching and learning in school never changes. Whether we are discussing secondary or post-secondary education, knowledge is ultimately transferred from the instructor (subject matter expert) to the student (learner).  This is how education or schooling has been practiced for centuries and undoubtedly will not change anytime in the near future. However, those teaching methods and tools used to transmit that knowledge should adapt to a changing population of learners. As time ushers in a new generation of students characterized as being technologically savvy, confident, innovative and social in nature the classroom environment should be reflective of these traits.

In 2001 a new generation of students arrived on college campuses all over the U.S forever changing the manner in which higher education provides services, engage students, and develop classroom instruction. Millennials, those individuals born between 1982-2002, are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. They are considered special, sheltered, confident, achievers, team oriented, pressured and conventional. One of the greatest influences of this generation has been technology. Millennials are the only generation that has never lived without some type of technological gadget in their hands. These gadgets not only  include the latest computers but also BlackBerrys, iPhones, IPads, PDAs, Xbox, Hover Boards, Play Station, etc. On a daily basis, at least 6.5 hours a day, Millennials are engaged in some type of technological activity whether it’s surfing the internet, listening to music using a cellphones or communicating with friends via Tweeter, Facebook, instant messenger, Skype, Snap Chat, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Yesterday, while eating at a restaurant, I observed a young couple dining out. What struck me as being odd was that for 5 minutes both of their heads were buried in their cell phones, texting while not speaking a word to each other.  At the same time, a young woman, sitting next to me at the bar, was having a virtual FaceTime conversation with a friend on her phone. For Millennials technology is not considered an accessory to life but is viewed as way of life. Its as necessary to them as air, food, and water.

Unfortunately, if you visit most colleges and universities in the U.S their instructional methods and practices resemble that of a classroom from 100 years ago.  Many instructors still cling to the “lecture” style of instruction maybe accompanied by the occasional PowerPoint Presentation. Often they are rely on the same teaching methods that were used during their schooling. This is particular true for instructors from the  Silent Generation or Baby Boomers who can be a little apprehensive, resistant, and sometimes fearful of embracing new teaching and learning technology. Are instructors  using outdated teaching and learning methods to address a new population of students or using old solutions to address new challenges? Some consider the act of tailoring classroom instruction to students as a form of hand-holding or coddling which is thought to send the wrong message. They take the “it worked for me” approach which can be problematic when looking at how drastically different Millennials are from past generations. Additional a new generation of learners, Generation Z, is entering college possessing some of the same characteristics  of their predecessors. With the current state of the U.S. educational system, its not a matter of if but when instructional strategies will adapt to a new generation of learners.

10 key things to consider when developing teaching and learning for Millennials:

  • Provide ongoing and frequent feedback on performance
  • Create a collaborative learning environment
  • Incorporate experiential and real-life learning opportunities
  • Becoming a facilitator of learning; Instead of acting as a sage on the stage, practice being a guide on the side
  • Include modern media in the classroom and work assignments
  • Include a use of modern technology to increase learning
  • Course guidelines and expectations must be stated early and enforced
  • Create a learning environment that promotes an open exchange of ideas
  • Create a social atmosphere through the use of peer to peer, team, and group assignments
  • Instruction must be student-centered instead of content-centered






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