By Jim Shimabukuro
Even if the difference in learning styles between boomers and millennials is often ignored by educators in schools and colleges, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the world of business. Douglas Dell, in “Changing Times, Changing Education Strategies: Ways of Learning Have Changed, So Have the Students” (PropertyCasualty360, 10.31.11), says that by 2015 the millennials will overtake boomers as the majority in the workforce.
This shifting demographic has consequences for training programs. Dell says that “traditional” classroom methods that work with boomers “will not suffice for Millennials, who are eager to learn and are used to seeking knowledge on demand. They will not wait to be assigned to classes, as they are true proponents of real-time learning.” Learning programs must therefore have the following qualities:
- Immediate – offering access to knowledge nuggets at the point of application.
- Specific – targeted to needs and focused on practical application rather than theory.
- Validated – with user ratings and feedback to establish the value of learning.
- Multi-channel – providing content in multiple formats, accessible from multiple appliances.
- Collaborative – offering the ability to supplement information with additional feedback and observations.
Boomers, says Dell, prefer more group structure. They “have grown up with education that includes scheduled events and classes, supplemental materials and quick tests as the means for assessing knowledge transfer.” Their preferred learning style is:
- Structured – conducted through classroom or group settings, particularly for applications training.
- Supplemented – with printed handouts and laminated cards, for example.
- Repetitive – learning through layered and progressive delivery of information.
- Reinforced – including feedback mechanisms and continued support outside the classroom.
Even when their training is conducted online, “tools Boomers may be familiar with are really just variations of courses they previously took in the classroom. Just-in-time learning and searchable knowledge databases are solutions they are only slowly embracing.”
This report about workers in the business sector has implications for education. The millennials, as teachers and leaders, are arriving on school and college campuses in record numbers, and in four years they will be the dominant force. They bring with them a different style of learning that is being shaped by personal communication devices such as smartphones, tablets, and netbooks. They’re fully geared to learn independently whenever they want and wherever they are. The idea of a one-size-fits-all, time- and place-bound, face-to-face training program in a classroom simply doesn’t make sense to them. They want the answers they need when they want it, regardless of location. And they have the technology that nurtures this preference.
With this learning orientation, we can expect millennials to approach teaching differently from boomers. They’ll be much more flexible in their approach to maximize the immediate, specific, validated, multi-channel, collaborative style that’s a better fit for the technology enhanced world of today. The message for teacher training institutions — as well as teachers — is obvious: teach to the strengths of the millennials, who will be in charge of our schools and colleges in the not too distant future.
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