Millennials: Priorities and styles in learning

Millennials have unique attributes that affect the ways they learn best. Here is an outline of those differences.

Millennials thrive on content that can be connected to real world applications, and prefer information that is conveyed in a way that feels relevant to their goals rather than just for the sake of learning new information. There are ways that information can be presented that appeal to, and educate Millennials. For example, if facilitators keep in mind that this group is more likely to prefer quick facts and will “skim” rather than deeply think and/or investigate a topic, they can design the content in a way that is easily accessible. It is also imperative to acknowledge the short attention spans, desire to feel prepared, and aptness for technology that is embodied in the Millennial Generation when designing an information exchange tool.

Adults learn in a cycle that consists of experience, meaning making, decision-making, planning and action, and observations and feedback. Dorothy MacKeracher, author of Making Sense of Adult Learning, puts great emphasis on the importance of previous or primary experiences in the positive outcome of a new learning experience for an adult. Personal growth, social interaction and achievement are three motivators for Millennials. For this generation, learning is about being qualified to reach individual goals, as well as developing and growing as an individual. The Millennials are excited by opportunities to explore, and it is a priority for them to have balance between personal and professional lives.

With the acquisition of new information or the mastery of new skills, Millennials gain autonomy and thus can improve their self-esteem, confidence, creativity and satisfaction considerably. When it comes to learning opportunities, traditional roles and social barriers generally don’t bog down Millennials. Their motivation to explore and discover novel ideas is well coupled with their desire for social interaction. Because they have been surrounded by social support, enjoy sharing the responsibility of a successful outcome with a group, and have had continuous connectivity via the Internet, Millennials will prefer social situations to other secluded experiences.

Through online tools and information design using today’s technologies, the Millennial generation can learn collaboratively with others, regardless of location or time zone. Members of this generation thrive on the ability to express themselves via social networking and receive feedback from their peers. Having feedback is an integral part of the general adult learning cycle, but is also imperative to the Millennial psyche. These individuals, as learners, have a desire to create their own path of learning through online exploration. They take expert advice but also take it upon themselves to come to their own conclusions.

In an environment where success was constantly stressed, it only seems natural that Millennials would grow up and maintain that same environment into adulthood. Individuals of this generation participate in learning experiences because such experiences are an avenue that facilitates achievement and success. Coming into adulthood at a time of economic and environmental uncertainty puts an extra sense of pressure on Millennials to work hard and be high achieving; basically there isn’t a choice. Data suggest that, despite the desire to delve into new topics, Millennials tend to be anxious in new learning situations. This makes it imperative for anyone facilitating programs or learning opportunities for Millennials, to provide them with a sense of security in their learning experience. Creating intentional safe space and formative feedback loops are ways of providing such security.

Millennials are one of the primary audiences for Michigan State University Extension youth development programming. With diverse opportunities in pre-college camps and experiences, along with skill enhancing experiences that contribute to success both in college and the workforce, MSU Extension, 4-H and other professionals working with Millennials need to take into consideration their unique generational attributes and how to be engage and teach to those attributes.

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