09/21/2015 12:18 EDT | Updated 09/21/2016 05:12 EDT

How Educators Can Engage Millennial Minds

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Millennials, the generation who are always one step ahead when it comes to knowing what they want and how to get it. They are the generation who value experiences above anything else and it's likely because of how much information they have at their fingertips. I imagine it like a boat in a sea of data, without a compass.

How the millennial generation learns today is also changed drastically for the same reasons.

Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation to date (obviously). Tell a millennial to take notes in class with pen and paper today and you're bound to get a look of dismay. Today it's all about note-taking apps, tablets and laptops in the classroom. Remember, this is the generation that was raised with the Internet and other technologies. This has left professors in need of adapting to the millennial generation's way of doing and learning.

Millennials process information differently than earlier generations and therefore learn differently. If there is one commonality between professors who are teaching millennials and how to do it successfully, it's delivering on "how and why," not the "what." Millennials want to be in the know as much as possible and the best way to do so at an academic level is through experiential learning -- a process of learning through experience, reflection, and doing. For a generation that has every answer at their fingertips, they need the context of experience to broaden their perspective.

The process of experiential learning is being used more and more by post-secondary institutions today. Award winning professors at the University of Waterloo have some great advice on how they engage millennial students using this process.

Universities and colleges are keeping up with how the millennial generation learns by adapting to the psychological characteristics of millennials to some extent. If professors use the learning process of millennials, they have more productive learners in the classroom. Doing so is as simple as the advice and teaching tips provided in Association For Psychological Science, which outlines four tips for teaching millennials. Other psychological-based studies on how millennials learn have made the correlation between millennials' expectation for success and the effort they put in the classroom.

In a study by Christy Price, EdD, a psychology professor at Dalton State College, she reveals the elements of millennials' ideal learning environments, their preferences when it comes to assignments and assessment, and the characteristics of their ideal professor. The findings are quite interesting and shed further light on how universities and colleges need to change (if they already haven't) in order to keep up with the learning millennial mind. In a nutshell, millennials crave relevancy, stimulation and less formality and more screens.

One of the biggest challenges that universities and colleges in Canada face is the fact that they often promote that higher education is the path to a better career and more fulfilled life, when in reality the millennial generation although highly qualified, is often finding it difficult to crack the workforce in their field of study.

So, many today are settling for jobs that don't require the mere level of training they've worked hard to achieve. There are over 12 million millennials in Canada, representing over one-third of the country's population. In fact, by 2030, millennials will make up about 75 per cent of the workforce and therefore need to be firstly prepared with knowledge today and the skills to secure their first job.

As much as universities and colleges need to adapt to keep up with millennials, we may want to prepare them even earlier with the ability to make good decisions, find their interests and passions and the networking skills that will give them a leg up in the first stage of their career. The Millennial mind is different -- it has the ability to find any piece of information. So, knowing the answer today is commonplace, the experience of how to use the information is not.


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