Hello and welcome to the Learning with Millennial Students workshop!
This workshop focuses on understanding our students and where they’re coming from. We often teach the way we were taught, which is not always in a way that appeals to or even fully reaches students of Generation Y, or the “Millennial Generation,” which is where the majority of our undergraduate students now fall in the generational spectrum. Sometimes there is a disconnect between what we do in class and what we expect of students, so how can we approach and fix that rift?
The research on the Millennial generation shows that it is very much one of the most studied generations, leaving us with quite a lot of information to review. And, many of the findings have been consistent, providing us with an overall “personality” of those people born roughly between 1980 and 2000. Some studies actually include people a little younger and a little younger in this group as well, within 3-5 years each way. Of course, it is important to remember that we are not trying to stereotype, and there are certainly many individuals who do not fit what the research says is the “typical Millennial”. This is true of persons in every generation.
Back in 2001, Marc Presnky originally coined the term “digital native” as another word for those in the Millennial generation. His primary argument is that students born between 1980 and today (even now, 13 years after his first article on the subject) have grown up in a world where technology is commonplace. They do not know a world with cell phones, computers, video games, or the Internet. Their conception of information and services as commodities are very different because their world is a different place – they live in a world where Facebook and Twitter have always been free and easy forms of communication, and where they have had the option to never pay to watch their favorite shows or movies, make a long distance call, or access important information. This, Prensky said, has actually wired their thinking differently, to the point where they are considered to be native speakers of “digital language.” The rest of us are digital immigrants, coming to the new world with remnants of the old world still in our thoughts and behavior patterns, and learning how to adapt. Some of us are really quite good at being digital immigrants and have adapted so well we’re almost natives ourselves – naturalized, if you will – while others have adapted slowly, or even put off adaptation entirely in favor of sticking to tried and true ways of getting things done. While there have been many critics of Prensky’s theories, there is at least some indication that he is on to something. Nicholas Carr recently wrote a great book on this issue called “The Shallows,” which is worth a read. It discusses how major technology innovations have changed society and way people work and learn over the course of history, including everything from paper to the printing press to computers. Consistently, what has been found is that over time, the technology is adopted by almost all of society, but the way society accomplishes certain tasks inherently changes to adapt, as well as how our brains function to absorb and retain new information.
So, with that in mind, there are some general characteristics found in the Millennial Generation, including the fact that they are very diverse, and include more ethnic diversity and multiracial members than any previous group. This means that learning styles, family backgrounds, and home and work responsibilities may be broader and present more challenges for students in college than ever before. These students are also noted to be somewhat “sheltered” – many have been well cared for (and are often still being cared for) by “helicopter parents” who have tried throughout their childrens’ lives to provide them with the best educational and social opportunities. These are the kids who have been shuttled between 7 different sports and clubs after school, after all, since scholarships and many colleges have begun to demand that prospective students spend meaningful time in extracurricular activities. These students are very achievement-oriented due to this as well, often to the point of being motivated most by external rewards such as grades, prizes, praise and recognition, and of course scholarships and promises of future employment. They tend to be optimistic and confident in their future due to this goal-oriented attitude. Another interesting characteristic is that many Millennials enjoy collaborating with peers in work and learning situations. They are, in fact, often used to working in teams and making decisions with a group. They enjoy the chance to discuss and work together, provided they are working toward a common goal, and they often have a low tolerance for group members who do not pull their weight. I have seen this up close and personal in my own classes – these students can be very demanding and hard on one another in group situations!
For the classroom, Millennials need clarity and structure when they’re learning, especially in online courses. Their lives, including their schooling up until college, have been filled with rules, and not often have they had the chance to think for themselves. Society has thought for them in many cases, and when they get to college, they are often shocked at how much independent learning skill they need in order to do well. This may not be very different from young people of previous generations, but then again, maybe it is if you consider the number of rules, regulations, and laws that have arisen around all kinds of routine parts of life over the past 20-30 years. Many of us remember when it was ok to smoke – anywhere – or take liquids on an airplane, but our students do not. Many of us also did not go to elementary and high school at a time when there were literally dozens of proctored, standardized tests happening over the course of each school year. Millennials also favor content that is chunked into “bite-sized pieces”, rather than being bombarded with every fact about a subject all at once. Reducing individual facts in favor of overall understanding of concepts is not always something we agree with as educators, but it is something that has been shown to be effective as a teaching strategy, and one that does not compromise overall performance in a field or program of study. Our world is filled with shorter, more concise messages that contain more images and visuals than ever, and as a result, many students do not have as firm a grip on text comprehension as those of previous generations. We also know that students are achievement-oriented, which means that they will often do whatever it takes to reach their goals. If that means cheating, so be it. Cheating and plagiarism are means to an end for many students and they have a hard time recognizing the problem if it gets them to the goal of satisfying the objectives placed in front of them. Because of this, ethics training built into a course is crucial to help them understand the issues, and hopefully help them see the value of learning for its own sake rather than simply as a means toward getting a grade to move on to the next course and eventually get a degree. Millennials also appreciate a lot of variety and flexibility in what they are asked to do. They have grown up in a world with dozens of choices for everything from ways to watch TV to places to eat. They enjoy the opportunity to choose projects and ways of presenting what they have learned based on their own creativity and learning style, and allowing for such flexibility can create a great deal more engagement in the course. Finally, Millennials are used to anytime-anywhere communication, including text messaging, social media, email, and more. They are interested in socializing with peers and with professors, and tend to be more engaged in courses that promote at least some peer-peer and student-teacher interaction and collaboration.
So what does this mean for us in planning our courses? It means that varying activities and assessments should be a regular part of any course – rather than keep everything static or only use one type of assessment measure (such as chapter tests or a research paper), allow for some variety. Include some discussions along with those tests, and include some opportunity for group work or the creation of a presentation to go along with research, for example. These will help students not only learn more, but also will engage them more deeply in the content. With that in mind, however, make sure that all assessments and activities are clearly written. All requirements should be easy to follow, and students should be able to understand exactly what is expected of them. That puts their minds at ease, and gives them the framework they need in order to get started. When they are “searching” for what you want is when they are more likely to cheat and plagiarize. Use modules and units to help keep things nicely organized. Rather than present course topics all at once, consider separating them into topic modules, or if you prefer, separate activities into weekly modules. This helps students stay on track and makes the path to success clearer. Also, consider presenting students with examples of what exemplary projects look like, or a practice test to help them know what to look for in the actual test. Doing this will help students understand what they really need to do and give them a baseline to shoot for. Again, they will be far less likely to plagiarize or cheat when they feel more comfortable understanding what it is that you want from them. Millennials do not like mystery, even more than previous generations of students, so providing them with examples helps them tremendously. In addition, providing them with multiple avenues to study needed information also helps them a great deal, and appeals to multiple learning styles, as well as reduces the stress on textual literacy for those with less developed reading comprehension skills.
Tools that you can use to help you accomplish these tasks include many tools in BlackBoard, such as the Group tools for dividing students into work groups, or the Mashups for including YouTube and Slideshare content directly in your course. The discussion, wiki, blog, and journal tools all allow students to post their own work and share with others in a collaborative and social environment. Provide them with a prompt and they can answer questions, solve a problem or offer opinions on any number of topics, and all of this can be easily graded. You may want to use a rubric to grade work like this, which BlackBoard has as well. Rubrics can be added to any assignment, discussion, or other gradable item that is not a test. You can actually get a lot of great starts to your rubrics from Rubistar (http://rubistar.4teachers.org) which will help you build rubrics you can copy and paste into the BlackBoard tool. As mentioned previously, using learning modules will help you organize and modularize your content in a useful way, to help students stay organized and on track. Also, using practice tests and giving students multiple opportunities to see what exemplary work looks like will help them both achieve success and learn something along the way, instead of simply trying to reach for what will get them the A. Contrary to what we may thing, research on worked examples has shown that they do not limit creativity or achievement; instead they reduce confusion and fear and allow students to more forward with the activity more readily.For maintaining ethical standards in testing and in written work, you can use ProctorU and setting the various test options in BlackBoard to ensure that students have a limited ability to cheat, even while they are online. If they are online and you’re not using ProctorU (which does cost the student a small sum), limiting the time available, forcing completion, and randomizing questions helps ensure that even if they do use the book for reference while working, they will not have enough time to look up every answer, and are more likely to do better if they just take the test without help. SafeAssign, of course, can check work for plagiarism to help ensure that students are indeed using their own original writing. If they know that you will be using this tool and understand how it works, they will also be less likely to plagiarize – you can even have a conversation with them about it so that everyone is on the same page. Finally, the Retention Center and other performance tracking tools in BlackBoard can help you get a picture of where each student is, and whether anyone is struggling. You can reach out to those who are not engaging with the class enough directly, helping them know that you are out there and paying attention to what they’re doing. Often, this can give them the boost they need to either start engaging more, or perhaps direct them to ways they can get help. As far as tools outside of BlackBoard, consider putting up a Facebook, Twitter, or Google group for your students, or using Adobe Connect or Google hangouts for virtual office hours, or even scheduled online meeting days. Even in a hybrid course, taking your class online in a live setting may help you extend your class time, and help students who are not comfortable talking in class to talk more directly to you in a less public setting. You can also record lectures, presentations, and demonstrations through either Adobe Connect or Camtasia, taking things you might have talked about in class to the online realm for either refreshers or even to replace lecture time with discussions and other more dynamic in-class activities. Another thing to consider might be asking students to create and publish online portfolios of their work through a website like Wix or Weebly, instead of (or in addition to, perhaps) using a research paper or other more traditional form of assessment.
There are some links to resources about the tools discussed on the previous slides. We have many tutorials and help guides available on our website, including full recordings of many of our workshops.
There are many resources available about this subject, and various aspects of it, but here are some that are particularly interesting and worth investigating.
Please contact us and visit http://pnc.edu/distance for all workshop notes, links, and training needs. Thank you!
Working with the Millennial Generation
Anastasia M. Trekles, Ph.D.
• We teach the way we
• But, students don’t
always respond the way
we did to the same
• Consider where your
students are coming from
• One of the most-studied
• Generalizations come mostly
from research – but, still
important to not stereotype!
• Overall “personality” of those
who fit the Millennial group –
including students with
birthdates roughly from 19802000
• Anyone who grew up with
computers and Internet
• Term coined by Marc Prensky
• Primary argument: students
today are different
• Technology has “wired” their
thinking– they are “native
speakers” of digital language
• Often grew up with “helicopter parents” – “largest,
healthiest, and most cared-for generation”
• Strive to achieve – motivated by grades, recognition,
• Staying at home longer, family-oriented
• Grew up with technology as commonplace
• Optimistic and confident
• Collaborative and team-oriented
Flexibility and Choice
• Millennials are often very rulesoriented
• Many are more visually literate
and less textually literate
• Expect to achieve the grades they
want and will do whatever it
takes to get them
• Expect a greater array of
selections in all things, including
• Live in a transparent world where
communication is constant
• Variety – vary your activities and assessments, and
provide choice where you can
• Clarity – explain everything that is required as
thoroughly as possible
• Use modules/units – smaller packages of material lead
to deeper conversations
• Examples and resources – offer examples of good
work, practice tests, and different ways to
study, including through video, summary
Mashups (YouTube, Slideshare)
Wikis, Discussions, Blogs
Rubrics (Rubistar helps!)
Practice tests and assignments
SafeAssign, ProctorU, test options
• Social Media
(Facebook, Twitter, Google,
• Adobe Connect
• Camtasia (for creating video
• Online portfolios
(Wix.com, Weebly.com, Goo
• Wilson, W., & Gerber, L.E. (2008). How generational theory can
improve teaching: Strategies for working with the “millennials.”
Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1(1), 29-44. Retrieved from
• The writings of Marc Prensky: http://www.marcprensky.com
• Nicholas, A. (2008). Preferred learning methods of the millennial
generation. Faculty and Staff - Articles & Papers. Paper 18.
• Carr, N. (2011). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our
brains. New York: W.W. Norton.
• Reach us at:
– Twitter and Facebook: @PNCOLT
– http://www.pnc.edu/distance for all
workshop notes, links, and training needs