They are not able to adequately learn material and be prepared for the workforce. Although much scholarship has been generated outlining various learning types or styles and learning needs, very little has changed in the way that we educate in the classroom. There remains a static and linear approach to education that still employs: uniform learning over customisation; upholds teachers or professors as the single source of information instead of promoting a diverse and interactive learning approach from multiple sources; continues to promote standardised testing and assessment over assessing in a specialised sense dependent on the learner; and focuses on an intellectual or mental acquisition and understanding of information over a physical learning by doing approach. Ultimately, the world around us has changed and the way that people relate, interact, take in information, and apply that information has all changed drastically. Put simply, our old methods are no longer effective for educating minds in our contemporary world. For each generation to be adequately prepared to succeed in an ever evolving, fast-paced world, the way that we present information needs to evolve along with it.
Dismantling the Student/Teacher Dialectic
One way that this needs to change in both the education system and workforce is replacing hierarchical dialectics with a one-directional flow of information to non-hierarchical flat systems with equal collaboration and authoritative weight. A one-directional flow of information is not only a system that is incredibly limited and narrow, but it does not reach today’s learners in the way that they process information.
In their paper “Negotiating the deal: using technology to reach the Millennials,” Raymond Papp and Erika Matulich explain that: “Millennials are visual and kinesthetic learners who need peer-to-peer interaction and hands-on learning to master concepts. Instructors who do not employ such methods risk losing Millennials’ attention” and who “prefer to experience the world through multimedia and not print” (2,3).
Millennials, in their adoption of constant connection and a technologically mediated social interaction design are predisposed to collaborative and social learning. Their over-arching argument of how to respond to this new way of learning is to incorporate technology into teaching methods.
However, the Baby Boomer and Generation X teachers that are responsible for educating the Millennial generation see technology as a tool, and often have an aversion to the complexities they don’t completely understand. Millennials, however, have grown up with technology being an ever present source in their lives; technology, then, to a Millennial is not a tool, it is the medium through which they interact with and understand the world around them. If this is how they understand the world, then how can a teacher reach a Millennial if the teacher does not incorporate technology into the teaching method?
Some scholarship likes to claim that technology has reduced human attention spans and has made it more difficult for children, teens, and young adults to learn and remain engaged. However, I would propose that this is not a decrease in attention spans and that children have “learning problems” but is actually a problem with the methods used to convey information to a generation who’s brains have been wired differently to receive, absorb, and understand information. If a child is not engaged with a teaching method and cannot seem to focus and remain attentive to the lesson at hand, that is not necessarily a developmental problem of the child, but instead a sign that the teaching method is no longer engaging and is outdated for the evolving minds it is attempting to reach. The problem is essentially that the instructor and those he or she is instructing no longer seem to speak the same language, and if you can’t speak the same language, whatever you are trying to convey will be lost in translation.
So what are our options for a new educational approach?
Educators tend to teach their students in the way that they were educated, which for the most of them was through lecture-based instruction and absorbing information through reading. These are education methods that are linear, logical, and sequential, but are outdated for handling this world of constantly swirling information that requires multitasking, spontaneity, and random access. Below are a few ways to innovate the instruction process.
- Anytime Access to Information
- Collaborative Learning Environment
- Multimedia Presentation of Information
- Non-standardized Assessment Methods
Course information should be accessible online in a collaborative format that can be accessed at any time of day from any point or location. There are actually good tools for this like Blackboard or Bitrix, or you can create a website for the course through one of several companies that offer website builders and web hosting services that are incredibly cheap and easy – see here for an example. Being able to access the information from an online platform allows students to learn on their own time and it also helps to reserve the time in the class room for discussion, debate, and dissection of that information as opposed to the delivery of it.
This in turn allows students to be active participants in their own education and in the learning environment. A truly collaborative learning approach goes beyond group assignments and group discussions, but expects that each student contributes to the overall presentation and discussion of the course information (replacing a talk-to-them lecture approach with a talk-with-them open discussion format). What the students expect to learn or get out of a course of this kind is completely dependent on what they are willing to bring to the group discussion.
Furthermore, information should also be presented in a visually appealing and interactive way, utilizing multimedia approaches. Utilizing visual information, video and audio, and presenting information through multiple mediums that engage in different ways. Moreover, the regurgitation of the information that has been taken in should be expected in new and various ways, as opposed to term papers and exams. Exams with multiple-choice questions and general standardized testing systems simply do not work, not to mention that the never test what a student actually knows, but how well they have been able to memorize the information that they have been presented. Once the exam has passed, the information quickly goes with it. More creative and engaging assignments, however, that require the student to put what they learned to use and displaying that they physically comprehend it over mere mental recall will actually assess what the student has learned. If they can design a website around the course content, for example, versus handing in a physical term paper, this not only offers more insight into assessing what the student has learned, but it also cements the information more into the student’s mind because of the level of physical involvement in the project.
Ultimately, the question isn’t about how we teach Millennials, as generations will continue to shift and then it will be the Millennials teaching the generations to come after them that all have unique and new learning affinities and continuously changing demand. So the question, then, is how to educate in a way that is constantly evolving alongside student evolution; the question is one of how to generate innovative educational methods as opposed to sticking to stagnant notions that will in their very job of progressing humanity, render themselves outdated and irrelevant.