In 2000, Howe and Strauss identified the next big generation on the rise in colleges and universities and dubbed them the “Millennials.” Born between 1982 and 2002, these folks began arriving on our campuses in large numbers in the early 2000's and continue to populate our classrooms today. Much has been written about the characteristics of these students, including that they can be prone to a sense of entitlement. Campbell, Bonacci, Shelton, Exline & Bushman in a 2004 article published in the Journal of Personality Assessment
define entitlement as “a stable and pervasive sense that one deserves more and is entitled to more than others.” As experts have noted, entitled students tend to believe that professors will accommodate all of their needs, give them special privileges, or award grades based on how hard they tried rather than on what they've produced or how they've performed.
Entitlement in Millennial learners is likely the result of a number of contributing factors that are important for faculty to understand. The factors listed here are a compilation drawn from a variety of sources. Millennial students:
- often share the sense that everyone's voices should be heard.
- have been praised for showing up and participating, not just succeeding.
- are used to exceedingly high levels of stimulation, variety, and interactivity.
- may expect a high reward for moderate effort, not for their actual learning.
- value grades more than learning. Combined with parents' high expectations for achievement, this may result in grade groveling.
- are technologically savvy, expecting frequent and fast communication with faculty.
In order to maintain our academic standards and not allow entitlement to “overshadow” academic achievement, we must consider effective teaching strategies for Millennial learners.
One set of strategies that we suggest focuses on communication with the earliest form of communication in most of our classes being the syllabus. For Millennial learners we recommend that the syllabus include specific expectations of learners, including time on task, rubrics to promote self-evaluation, information regarding the instructors' teaching philosophy, and advice for success in the course. Others have suggest that allowing students to have input regarding the syllabus and/or course structure gives them an opportunity to exercise choices and feel valued as participants. The syllabus also can contain information for students regarding forms of communication that are expected and/or acceptable, as well as reasonable timeframes for communication. This can increase student motivation and make it more likely they won't expect faculty to respond as quickly their Millennial peers do.
Fostering an environment of open communication can go a long way toward keeping the Millennial learner motivated. Faculty self-disclosures, small pieces of information that the faculty member is comfortable sharing with students (e.g., “Chocolate makes me very happy!”), make faculty more transparent to the students and help them develop a sense of the person behind the instructor thereby facilitating teacher-student connections.
Facilitating classroom discussions is another way faculty can engage this generation of learners. As these students believe that everyone's voice should be heard, discussions play a critical role in giving everyone the opportunity to share their perspective. Key faculty facilitation techniques that foster good discussions include: demonstrating active listening to students, avoiding criticism and judgment during dialogues, reducing the amount of time spent lecturing, and being open to differing perspectives. The use of small groups, such as in a “think-pair-share” format, can also encourage students to participate in discussion. This approach has the added value of increasing students' familiarity with each other, which further increases comfort with discussion.
Another essential form of communication is feedback on course assigned work. It has been noted that Millennial learners are not particularly reflective. Thus, teaching strategies that identify what they should reflect on and give them a structure for reflecting can increase their success. One way to help students understand expectations and start assessing the quality of their own work is to share examples of exemplary work. Rubrics also help Millennial students understand expectations and develop judgment about their own work by breaking the assignment down into smaller components and establishing quality levels for each of these components. These practices may have the added benefit of decreasing students' dependence on the instructor for feedback and evaluation.
While it is true the changes in parenting, in society, and in technology have created a new generation of learners who are often very different from ourselves, it is worth noting that research has also indicated that caution should be exercised when making sweeping generalizations about any group of individuals based solely on the year that they were born. That said, research has shown that there are a number of characteristics that make Millennials unique and they do have implications for learning. With attention to classroom communication strategies, the learning experiences of Millennial students are more likely to be effective, positive, and energizing.
Sarah M. Ginsberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from the Eastern Michigan University, Colleen F. Visconti is from the Baldwin Wallace University, and Jennifer C. Friberg is from the Illinois State University.