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How Millennial Attitudes Will Shape The Future Of Education

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Millennials are now the largest generation in the Canadian workforce, and within the next few years will begin to get real responsibility and influence in shaping our country's future.

With the school year now behind us, it's a great time to think about what the future holds for education in Canada and how millennial attitudes will shape this future.

Here are three key trends to watch out for.

Personalization of Learning

A key trait of millennials is how much we value ownership and personalization. We thrive in environments where we are given a voice and can pursue our personal interests, environments in which we are treated like individuals rather than part of the herd.

Today, interest in personalized learning is at an all-time high. According to Google Trends, search volume for the term "personalized learning" is 3x higher today than at any time over the last decade.

Schools like AltSchool, the Khan Lab School, and Summit Public Schools are experimenting with new models for classrooms where personalization of learning  --  what, when, and how a student learns  --  can happen at scale. Backed by the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, these initiatives are slowly but surely iterating their way to this new model.

Educators have always known the importance of ownership in improving student engagement, and today they're more vocal about giving students a voice in their own learning than ever. 

Instant Access

In this case, the stereotype definitely holds true  --  millennials are hooked on smartphones. Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with mobile devices, and the first generation of students who have never known a world without mobile devices is now reaching adulthood. 

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Today, more than 85 per cent of students in high school have access to mobile devices. Instant access to any kind of information or entertainment that we seek is not just an expectation, it's table stakes. This changes the dynamic of the traditional classroom drastically  --  we're no longer beholden to waiting for teachers to disseminate information for us to learn. Gone are the days of borrowing books from the library or researching assignments using encyclopedias. We can find immersive, engaging learning content on any subject, and it's all at our fingertips.

This trend is only going to strengthen with the advent of consumer-grade virtual reality (or augmented / mixed reality) devices. With everyone from powerhouses like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google to startups like Magic Leap betting big on these technologies, a future classroom where each student can dive head-first into their own realities and learn anything they want isn't that far-fetched. 

Value Over Validation

Youth unemployment rates are at record highs around the world, and the price of post-secondary education has been skyrocketing in Canada and the U.S. over the last couple of decades. Millennials are paying through the nose, and not necessarily getting what they paid for from higher education.

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This trend has led to the rise of MOOCs, coding bootcamps, and other alternative models of post-secondary education  --  models that provide technical knowledge and skills necessary to find jobs without the Ivy League prestige and price tag. 

With the democratization of learning that MOOCs and bootcamps provide, the focus shifts towards the skills a candidate can demonstrate from the grades a candidate earned. As post-secondary institutions respond to this trend and adapt, there will be a trickle-down effect into K-12 education that prioritizes mastery of skills and competencies over grades earned  --  exactly the kinds of models of education that enable personalized learning, and the kinds of models that AltSchool et. al. are experimenting with!

The Millennial Schoolhouse

We've maintained the status quo in education for centuries; we've embraced stability, security, and the inertia in innovation that comes with it. Schools today are changing rapidly, and the trends above suggest the change is only going to accelerate.

Bill Gates once said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." My bet is that the schoolhouse of 2026 will look vastly different from the schoolhouse of 2016, and millennial attitudes will play a big role in driving the change.

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