In today’s society, we are faced with different generations of learners in the academic setting. Generation Y, otherwise known as the millennial generation, refers to individuals born between 1982 and 2005 who have grown up in an era of the World Wide Web (Eckleberry-Hunt & Tucciarone, 2011). From a young age these students have been exposed to cell phones and personal computers, making them an internet-surfing, iPoding, texting, googling, facebooking, and IMing generation (Nevid, 2011). In contrast, faculty teaching this new generation of learners are most likely from Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 and predecessors of the millennial generation. Of particular importance is the fact that Generation X was introduced to the World Wide Web at a later stage of development than Generation Y who grew up entirely in the net era and thus prizing different attributes altogether. Although both generations value self-direction, Generation Y prefers more ondemand information accessibility than previous generations (Panapto, 2017). This can produce both challenges and opportunities for learning. On the one hand, faculty often feel frustrated with communicating their expectations whereas on the flip side, there are a lot of opportunities for increased growth and creativity. Consequently, it is important to understand Net Generation students have unique characteristics that differentiate them from other learners. Some widely accepted attributes are increased assertiveness, curiosity, fierce independence, emotional and intellectual openness, free expression, inclusion, and the desire for connectivity (Skiba & Barton, 2006). For example, this generation of students will question why they have to learn an activity and what relevance it has for them in the future. They are curious about topics and ask numerous questions to satisfy their quest for knowledge. Moreover, their desire for independence means that course material has to be structured in a way that promotes and satisfies this need. In addition, Net Generation students are able to articulate their learning desires and freely express themselves. This can often be challenging to faculty who are not accustomed to this form of expression and may feel their authority in question. Lastly, these students have a need to feel included and work well in teams as they desire connectivity and crave recognition.
An appreciation of differing traits in each generation helps gain a sense of where our students are coming from and what they expect from faculty and subsequently from their educational pursuits. My own experience has challenged me as an Instructor to try and relate to our students. For example, I occasionally find students taking pictures of my PowerPoint presentations as opposed to jotting down notes. This was initially quite peculiar to me until I gained a sense of awareness of why they felt the need to engage in the practice. When I attended university, the Professor was the “sage on the stage,” disseminating knowledge through lecture and PowerPoint slides (Skiba & Barton, 2006). This traditional teaching paradigm was one of the professor as expert and student as absorber of information. However, students of the Net Generation are accustomed to immediacy and fast processing of information; this was at odds with the PowerPoint in its current form and I realized I had to make changes. In support of this, research has shown Net Generation learners have limited attention spans due to the multidimensional exposure of information and thus think and process information fundamentally different from their predecessors (Prensky, 2001). Furthermore, as a result of digital connectivity and ubiquitous computing, these students were essentially socialized differently. Thus, it is important to consider aspects of socialization when dealing with students today. My personal observation has been that students strongly value authenticity and trust; they need to verify and double-check resources and authenticate people (Skiba & Barton, 2006). I often find students doing this in real-time, verifying facts you deliver in class. Moreover, since they value assertiveness, inclusion, and emotional openness, they expect faculty to care about them on a personal level. Faculty must be aware of this desire for personal connection and attempt to establish better rapport and open communication. One way to accommodate the needs of the Net Generation learners is to make learning more multidimensional, with faculty to student interaction, student to student interaction, and student to faculty.
In light of this information, it is imperative we alter the way curriculum is delivered. Learning should be structured to amplify student characteristics, playing to their strengths. They want learning to be creative, fun, and interactive; they enjoy thinking outside the box (Eckleberry-Hunt & Tucciarone, 2011). To achieve this, faculty can focus on incorporating interactive technologies in their teaching practices. Students can also be involved in the learning process by having more freedom to choose topics of interest to them. The Net Generation students definitely desire increased engagement and thus more opportunities for this to occur should be provided. As noted earlier, learners of today also prefer shorter, focussed lecture sessions. Faculty can shift teaching practices to apply the rule of 10 or 15, by changing activities in class every 10 or 15 minutes. For example, there can be a shift from lecture to discussion or video clip interspersed within the class period (Nevid, 2011). The bottom line is that if teaching does not provide opportunities for interactions, the Net Generation will not come to class (Skiba & Barton, 2006). As a caveat, this generation is often misunderstood as being lazy and uninterested in working hard. However, they are consumed by the notion of achievement and often involve themselves in numerous extracurricular activities; co-ops, athletics, community services, internships, and research initiatives to name a few (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005). In considering how busy students often find themselves, faculty can utilize mobile technologies such as podcasts to assist in learning and help eliminate boredom. Students will ultimately find that the instructor appreciates their time and is attempting to simplify their lives.
In understanding the intricacies of the Net Generation, faculty can make changes to the way they teach and deliver material online by incorporating increased opportunities for student engagement. Discussion posts are a fabulous way to achieve both increased engagement and a sense of connectivity to other students. It also provides students with an opportunity for leadership and self-direction. I also like the idea of having students complete an interactive project using wikis outside an LMS. The use of wikis in a public space offers students the option of building on their wiki in the future, lending more relevancy to the project. Additionally, increasing the usage of podcasts for delivering course content in serves to enable students with more mobile learning opportunities and greater flexibility. Moreover, utilizing synchronous, virtual classrooms provide learners a possibility to feel more connected, reducing disengagement. Furthermore, real-world applicability when introducing course content is important and can be served by connecting material to digital stories or TED talks.
Eckleberry-Hunt, J., & Tucciarone, J. (2011). The Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching “Generation Y.” Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 3(4), 458–461.
Oblinger, D. G., and J. L. Oblinger 2005. Is it age or IT: First steps toward understanding the net generation. In Educating the net generation, eds. D. G. Oblinger and J. L. Oblinger, 2.1–2.20. Boulder, CO: EduCause.
Skiba, D., Barton, A., (May 31, 2006). “Adapting Your Teaching to Accommodate the Net Generation of Learners.” OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 11 No. 2, Manuscript 4.