Experienced instructors who regularly interact with younger learners quickly notice that today’s generation of students tends to be more visual and interactive. Millennials are not only the largest generational cohort in U.S. history at about 80 million strong, they have some distinct generational traits that instructors who hope to engage them effectively should understand.
Millennials are the first generation to grow up using the Internet and playing video games, and the younger members of the group are deeply steeped in the culture of social media. They are used to instant access to video and continuous, two-way communication with friends and families via mobile devices. Highly communicative and interactive, this generation is ill-suited to the traditional lecture style of instruction. Teachers who want to engage them should look at alternative methods.
Response technology is one training tool instructors have used successfully to reach millennials. It is software that can be integrated directly into existing instructional materials, enabling instructors to embed questions into PowerPoint slides and allow students to submit answers via clickers or mobile devices. With response technology, instructors can display student responses in aggregate via on-screen charts. This technique engages students since it allows everyone to participate in the classroom discussion and instructors to gauge student progress in real time.
Another effective teaching technique for millennials is clear, open communication. This generation grew up in a time of economic, political and social turmoil, and as a result, they tend to distrust institutions. By displaying transparency and being upfront about learning objectives, instructors can gain millennials’ trust. It starts by clearly outlining the goals for the learning session and then measuring knowledge retention periodically to gain a clear overview of progress. This technique holds students accountable and reinforces the learning objectives throughout the session.
Visual simplicity is another value instructors can borrow from the digital realm to reach younger students. When putting together presentations, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the images and text on slides are there to spark a discussion, not deliver all of the information. Slides that are uncluttered and less text-heavy will be more meaningful to younger students. Since millennials tend to respond positively to video and images, it’s a good idea to incorporate them when relevant, but it’s also important to do so in a way that doesn’t visually overwhelm a single slide.
In addition to presenting ideas in a clean, uncluttered format, instructors who are looking to engage younger students should also keep interactivity levels in mind when designing presentations. Students who are accustomed to constantly interacting with friends in real time have a built-in bias toward greater levels of give-and-take, so a top-down lecture where the instructor only opens the session up for questions and answers at the beginning and/or end isn’t the optimal approach. Instead, a stronger technique is to embed questions throughout the presentation to fully engage students.
Gamification can also be a highly effective solution for engaging millennial students. Many younger learners have been playing in-app, online or console-based video games all of their lives, and sparking students’ competitive spirit is a great engagement technique for learners of any age. There are software solutions on the market that allow instructors to integrate games directly into lesson plans and presentations including wagering-style games where students bet accumulated points on their ability to answer the next question correctly and other quiz show-style games. Leaderboards are also highly motivating and help keep students engaged.
As the millennial generation plays an increasingly dominant role in the workforce, corporate trainers who want to make engagement with the generation a priority should understand what makes younger employees unique and what instructional methods are most effective with the group. Integrating digital solutions like responsive technology and gamification software can significantly improve engagement. It can also enable instructors to monitor student progress at every step along the way and adjust lesson plans as needed to ensure knowledge retention.
It also pays for instructors to incorporate teaching techniques that work for this generation of learners. By keeping the learning process transparent, instructors can gain millennials’ trust and give them a greater stake in their own training. By making sure presentations are crisp and uncluttered, instructors can deliver information in a way that appeals to younger students. With a fresh take on training tools and instructional techniques, training professionals can effectively reach a new generation of learners.
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