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Essentials for engaged 21st-century learners.

The Millennial Generation is a subject of paramount interest for 21st-century educators. It is a generation unlike its predecessors, with some stating it is the most intelligent consumer generation in history. Experts in the fields of neurobiology and psychology have found that Millennial brains may actually be "physically different" because of the bombardment of digital input received from birth. (1) Additionally, this generation is the most protected in history, indulged and consulted by their families on important family decisions. They rebel against the traditional styles of previous generations, and they demand technology-rich learning with supportive feedback to assist them on their learning pathway.


A New Language

With this desire for all things technological, how does our traditional educational setting engage, excite and promote learning for these students? Most of today's educators are non-digital natives, so-called digital immigrants, who are often familiar with technologies but are still hesitant to push the technologies to the limits in their classrooms. As Prensky (2) stated, "Our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language." Today's classroom must bridge the gap between the digital immigrants' hesitancy toward technology and instead must lock into the Millennial learners' connection and exposure to all Facets of technology. Today's educator must embrace learning with technology and not for technology. Learners want to do the content, not just learn it! Integrating the technology-rich outside world with the education world is fundamental for a seamless integration of pedagogy and technology.

Millenial Learners Deconstructed

Aggressively protective parents in child-centered households raise our Millennial learners. These children live in economic prosperity, are optimistic about the future and are the most protected generation, as supported by increased government consumer-safety mandates. This generation has more distinct demographic characteristics than previous generations, including permissive views of people different from themselves, distinct political and social values and firm attitudes about social justice. Females are the predominant gender of the Millennial Generation, shown by 57 percent female enrollment in postsecondary educational settings. (3)

Academic Preparation

The Millennial Generation devotes much time and energy to their educational pursuits. They expect high grades as validation of (heir academic achievements, and they do not hesitate to have their parents intervene when they feel academically slighted. Millennial learners value high achievement and often perceive a grade of "B" its average achievement and unacceptable to them. Paralleling the high achievement expectations of Millennial students, they self-report as spending less than three hours per week on homework and study activities during high school. Furthermore, they expect to continue these habits through their first year in college. Research on Millennial students' habits found that the overall U.S. high school experience is seriously lacking in fostering and promoting study patterns and the academic skills necessary for success in higher education. From an academic perspective, educators are concerned about the Millennial Generation's use of technology, especially as it relates to academic honesty, plagiarism and the use of the Internet as an academic resource.

This generation requires an active, immersive role in their education. They comprise the next wave of stakeholders who have and will continue to demand accountability from all educational settings. Due to their high academic expectations, Millennials face a great deal of stress regarding their education. They prefer to work collaboratively and appreciate structured, cognitive learning activities that promote creativity. Millennial students exhibit a marked deterioration in active reading habits, rarely reading newspapers or books. When they do read, they are often engaged in multitasking with computer applications to remain in touch with peers. (4) Educators are concerned about. this decline in active reading because of the traditional view that reading a book is a more valuable use of time than computer usage. On the flip side, the Millennial learner recognizes that books, magazines, articles and other print. media are readily available on computer devices and accessible anywhere, anytime, for reading.

Career Preparation

Millennial students view education as a pathway to their dreams and career aspirations. They are aware that getting into a quality college is crucial for a ful-fulling and lucrative future. Parents and students are also aware of the increased scrutiny of postsecondary education regarding deficits in preparing graduates for academic and workplace readiness. Millennial students often pursue careers unsatisfactory to their personal skills due to the lack of career-skills testing, job shadowing and exposure to emerging careers.

Relationship Attachment

The Millennials have mastered the art of attachment, employing multiple ways to stay connected with family and friends through their extensive use of technology. Being digital natives, the Millennial Generation is fascinated with new technology and adapts technologies to meet their lifestyle needs and desires. They identify with their parents' values 73 percent of the time and feel close to their parents. In addition, 97 percent of the students report that they get along with their parents, and family members are among their top role models. (5) This generation is accustomed to being overprogrammed by their parents and schools and continuously being involved in an activity. This overprogramming leads students to experience more difficulties when tasked to work independently.

Learning Styles

The Millennial learners absorb and process input in nonlinear ways and rely heavily on visual cues to process the input. They excel at multitasking and engage in it in all facets of their lives. Millennial learners are surrounded by technology-rich activities outside of school and have a tremendous wealth of instantaneous facts. They do not solely consume information but contribute, develop and publish information to the World wide Web. in their informal, outside-of-school world. Millennial learners have multiple venues to construct knowledge through technology consistent with the principles of constructivism (where the learner constructs knowledge through firsthand experience).

The Millennial learner's primary communication skills rely on texting, instant messaging and e-mail, rather than standard personal communication modes like the telephone, correspondence and one-on-one interaction. A study of young people in the workplace found Millennials have a very different concept of numeracy (mathematical competence) needs and skills. They have no reservations about using technology tools, such as calculators, computers, iPads or smart phones, to perform routine computations while they carry out the non-routine aspects of work such as drawing plans, writing results, serving customers and other parallel tasks. Millennial learners do not see the value of guessing or estimating the calculation; technology can do it quicker than they can reason it out. Research supports the specific need to use technology as an indispensable tool to master the academic content for these learners. (6)

Millennial learners are conscious of academic achievement and excel at producing results in a very literal manner. They do need time, support, guidance and encouragement to take the task to a deeper level--to ascend to the abstract level to be creative and conceptualize ideas.

Essentials for 21st-century Learning

Solving this dichotomy of the digital immigrant educator and the digital native learner creates a disruptive shift in our educational structure. It requires outrageous and courageous education--a seismic shift in content delivery. American schools, for the most part, continue to teach in highly departmentalized, isolated ways with minimal connections across the disciplines. Schools limit the use of cyber-enabled technologies by learners. Millennial learners benefit from more open forms of experimentation and exploration using technology. Educators must come out of their comfort zones of adhering to legacy content and embrace future content to engage their digital native learners. Legacy content includes reading, writing, arithmetic, logical thinking and understanding the writing and ideas of the past, etc.--the traditional curriculum. Future content includes all permutations of technology, but it also emphasizes "ethics; politics, sociology ... logical thinking through technology ... and languages." (7)

Practical Solutions

Twenty-first-century learning skills focus on thinking critically, collaboration, communication, analyzing information and problem solving. Educators must retool their lesson strategies to explore new opportunities to engage these learners. Rather than reading a historical account, use a computer simulation for the historical event (analyzing information). Use e-books instead of static textbooks and virtual learning when possible (critical thinking). Explore online libraries and databases when assigning research (analyzing information). Use smartphones, laptops or iPads for online-clicker systems (communication) and online-learning portals (analyzing information). Develop quick response (QR) codes to direct learners to needed facts and information (analyzing information). Provide games incorporating math-and logical-thinking strategies (analyzing information) and interactive homework solutions or modeling (problem solving). Incorporate YouTube videos and audio recordings from iTunes University for diversity in content delivery (problem solving). Establish classroom wikis for collaborative sessions for the learners or use interactive whiteboards for lessons (communication and collaboration). Do the content (immersion) rather than just learning it!

Constructivism is rooted in the theories of John Dewey and calls for authentic assessment and learning activities that include problem solving, critical thinking and engagement for all students. The educator plays a critical role in ensuring all students receive relevant, real-world learning by applying 21st-century learning skills and integrated technology applications--learning bolstered by technology. Educators must allow Millennial learners to construct a learning environment where they invest and take charge of their learning. All educators, especially career and technical educators, must ensure their learners are immersed in the content through technology's rapidly changing innovations. This immersion prepares them to become productive, successful learners and citizens in the 21st century.

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(1.) Prensky, Marc. (2001). "Digital Native, Digital Immigrants, Part Il: Do They Really Think Differently? "On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Verhaagen, David Allen. Parenting the Millennial Generation: Guiding Our Children Born between 1982 and 2000. Praeger Publishers, 2005.

(4.) Millirons, Valeria C. (August 2008). "Exploring Millennial Student Values and Societal Trends: Accounting Course Selection Preferences." Issues in Accounting Education, 23(3), 405-419.

(5.) McGlynn, Angela P. (2005). "Teaching Millennials, Our Newest Cultural Cohort." Education Digest, 12-16.

(6.) Zevenbergen, R. (2004). Technologising Numeracy: Intergenerational Difference in Working Mathematically. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 56(1), 97-117.

(7.) Prensky. On The Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Virginia R. Jones, Ph.D., holds a doctorate in career and technical education from Old Dominion University. She is currently executive director of Adult Education Programs, Online Learning, and Learning Architecture at Ferrum College. She can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Today's Students--Part 2
Author:Jones, Virginia R.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2012
Previous Article:An interview with Undersecretary of Education Martha J. Kanter.
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