Today’s guest blogger is Kevin Bolinger, Ph.D. Dr. Bolinger is an associate professor of education and the Curriculum Instruction and Media Technology dept interim chair at Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University. Dr. Bolinger has written extensively on strategies to promote critical thinking and learner characteristics. He teaches social studies education courses and graduate courses along with an honors college ethics course based on the twilight zone television series.
Post Millennial Learner Characteristics
Each generation of children in America bring unique talents and perspectives to the classroom as well as unique learning styles. The formative experiences of baby boomers, gen Xers, and millennials led to shifting classroom practices to better align pedagogy with early experiences, but often these shifts occur at the tail end of the education cycle for that generation. Often times the generational differences are rather stark polar shifts. Baby boomers, for instance had formative experiences that were highly structured, while gen x children, often called latch key kids, were highly independent. The next generation, millennials, conversely experienced a highly programmed and over-structured childhood. It was this generation that saw the introduction of the “play date” a scheduled time for play, and the “helicopter parent” monitoring every activity. As the post millennial generation enters the classroom they will bring with them collective formative experiences which can both hinder or enhance their learning. Teacher preparation can be proactive in identifying these formative experiences and the unique learning characteristics of the post millennial learner.
Generational characteristics are good indicators of shared formative experiences but are limited indicators of learning style preference by unique personality differences. Nonetheless, there are some broad characterizations which can be made from these shared experiences. For the purpose of classifying generations we tend to use rather artificial points to punctuate the beginning and end points of generations; The first millennial born could not be reasonably differentiated from the last Generation X child. Those limitations aside, there are some general experiences which might guide our understanding of learning preferences for the newest generation to enter public education. According to Stauss and Howe, the pre-eminent authors of generational theory, generational archetypes are cyclical and follow a similar cyclical path of historical periods. Baby Boomers for instance came of age during a post crisis high period following World War II and were overindulged and somewhat self-absorbed. Generation X children grew up as under-protected children of the boomers who were focused on personal success and attaining status. Millennials grew up as optimistic increasingly protected children, and post millennials rise during a crisis period and share an overprotected childhood leading to a conformist young adulthood. The post millennial generation, sometimes called the homeland generation, begins in 2002, in the post 9-11 world dominated by fear of terrorism.
As an overprotected generation, post millennials, are less likely to be independent learners and more likely to develop into conformist young adults. Unlike generation x they are adept at group work and thrive in a highly structured environment. Some key learning indicators of this generation are: (1) impatience and short attention span, (2) high reliance on technology for access to information and learning, (3) diminished verbal communication skills, and (4) skilled multi-taskers. Adaptations to these learning styles, and in some way deficits, can help this generation of students gain a greater amount of success in the classroom. The argument can also be made that developing skills outside of their comfort zone would serve them better in the long term, so that balance may be a wiser approach. Whatever the cause for the diminished attention span, post millennials do better with short structured lessons with “payouts” in ten minute increments. In other words, some learning objective is met within the short span of ten minutes. Like millennials before them, post millennials have a high reliance on technology for both learning and accessing knowledge. This has a two-fold effect. On the one hand they rely solely on technological sources for information, on the other, they do not value knowledge as a commodity. Knowing any particular thing whether it is the sum of two numbers or the Gettysburg Address only has value in its relevance to the learner as information can readily be gathered from a mobile device. Establishing relevance is key to engaging post millennials. Due to the rise of texting and written (if badly written) communication through phones and laptops, students spend less time in their formative years communicating verbally with their peers. Finding ways to engage them in learning small groups discussions can help offset this deficit, but it is also true that their adept use of technology to express thoughts and “status updates” might be used to develop their writing skills if proper editing of grammar and spelling is reinforced. Using a skill that is already relevant to the post millennial can help to reinforce their engagement. On the last point, there is some argument as to whether multi-tasking really exists or whether we are simply quick switching from one task to another, but regardless of the mechanics of the process, post millennials are accustomed to concurrently engaging in more than one task. Creating integrated units which allows for connection building between disciplines and concepts will take advantage of their multitasking abilities and help to develop a deeper level of thinking.