The Millennial Learners

Changing the way we learn and teach.

May 10, 2016

My young niece, all of 10 years old, has her own iPad and is quite a pro at using it. She has a DSLR too because she is interested in shooting birds. And she used to help her journo mum with her blog. In fact, she uses them with the same ease with which I used to play with clay and blocks as a child. She is a Millennial child.

The newest generation on the block, the Millennials, have brought with them change at a fast pace. This is evident in relationships, in the learning environment, and at the workplace. And we have no choice but to keep up with it and take it in our stride. The first step is understanding what sets the Millennials apart from Gen X. While technology plays a huge and noticeable role in their lives, it is not the only thing that differentiates them from earlier generations.

The Millennial Learner

Let’s look at a few generic traits and preferences that are often associated with the Millennials from a learner’s perspective.

  • They have a shorter attention span.

  • They prefer interactive, experiential and collaborative learning.

  • They are very comfortable with technology.

  • They multitask.

  • They are driven by instant gratification.

  • They like informal and stimulating environments.

  • They prefer casual and friendly relationships with teachers.

  • They are often well-rounded.

The Millennial Learning Environment

The change in the traits and needs of the learner is forcing the educational system to adapt to the learners, and not vice versa. EdTech has grown popular as Millennials have grown up in a dynamic and technology-driven environment. It features prominently in education. The approach to teaching the Millennial generation has also seen a change. With information being so easily available - just a Google search away, accessible anytime, anyplace - the role of a teacher is shifting to that of someone who facilitates learning.

Some of the buzzwords in the Millennial learning environment are personalized learning, edtech, self-paced learning, digital fluency and collaborative learning. Educators and technology mavens have risen to the challenge by providing several platforms of learning for students.

Teaching Millennials

There are a few key points that educators need to keep in mind when changing their approach to teaching Millennial learners. Two things: long lectures don’t work anymore while technology geared toward learning does. It could be collaborative platforms where essays and papers can be shared, MOOCs, or those like Highbrow that dispense the information in small chunks - just how the Millennials like to learn.

  • Establish learning outcomes: You could even get students to make a video of it!

  • Make it meaningful: Tie the lessons up with culture and current events, and establish context to real life experiences.

  • Mix up the methods: Video clips, podcasts, concept charts and maps, clickers, PowerPoint presentations (with short bullets summing up key concepts), and other tools can be used to hold the attention of the Millennial learner.

  • Deliver knowledge in small doses: Ten minutes is as long as you’ll be able to hold a Millennial’s interest. So keep switching every 10 minutes. Say, a 10-minute anecdote, followed by a short video, and maybe a quick quiz, and so on. Microlearning is a concept worth exploring.

  • Create collaborative experiences: You can create class blogs and wikis to do this. Social networking platforms are also a great way to collaborate. You could start a closed group on Facebook, for instance.

  • Establish rapport: You could start by addressing students by their names. That in itself can make a difference. Remember, the Millennials turn their nose down on authoritarians.

  • Use course management systems: They can be used to accept and assess assignments.

These are just a few ways to create learning experiences that work for Millennials. While these approaches are a far cry from how we were taught, you must agree that ‘right now’ is an exciting place to be where learning is concerned!


Sophia Sanchez is a newbie online ESL/EFL instructor and a passionate educator. She found her true calling — teaching — while she was juggling writing and a 9-5 desk job. When Sophia is not busy earning a living, she volunteers as a social worker. Her active online presence demonstrates her strong belief in the power of networking. If you want to connect with her, you can find her on facebook, twitter, and Wordpress.


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