Facilitating Millennials’ Learning

Welcome to our class of Meds 2017! Dr. Sanfilippo talked about our incoming class of 2017 medical students in our last blog.

I thought those of you preparing to teach this class, and our other classes in undergraduate medicine might appreciate the great ideas from an article called Twelve tips for facilitating Millennials’ learning by David H. Roberts, Lori R. Newman and Richard M. Schwartzstein of the Harvard Medical School, published in “Medical Teacher”.

Now the discussion about Millennials is not new: Millennials refer to students who turned 18 in 2000 and entered college or the workforce as defined by Howe & Strauss in 2000. Since then there have been many articles, texts and videos that outline what the characteristics of a Millennial are.

And, while the characteristics of Millennials have some new traits, they share traits with all of those learners who have come before them. However, there are some key factors that distance them from their teachers, and therein lies the crux of this article and the really great advice the authors offer. Millennials are influenced by and influence technology so much more than their teachers who are usually Baby Boomers or those from Generation X. Millennials have not experienced global economic stability, have lived through “9/11” and other terrorist threats, have experienced what to their teachers are novel ways of communication (email, social media, cell phones) and the ubiquitous nature of online technology. The article has some very provocative characteristics of Millennials from several studies.

The authors have 12 key tips for teachers and they range from educating ourselves about the concept of generational differences to recognizing the environmental and cultural forces that affect the Millennial learner, from recognizing the importance of team dynamics and encouraging collaboration to identifying the limits of multi-tasking.

Here are a few of the strategies the authors use to help us as teachers bridge any gap with our students. These tips are useful, frankly, no matter who your learners are.

For example, with the overwhelming power of the Internet at their fingertips, for Tip 4, “Millennials need guidance and focus in their learning” , these strategies are offered:
1. Remind learners to focus on the “why, how, and in what context”
2. Avoid asking students to list or identify specifics (answers easily found with an Internet search), and encourage students to apply knowledge through problems that require critical thinking
3. Help learners prioritize and identify the context in their learning

To help learners form a connection to you and see the relevance of your teaching, for Tip 5, “Identify your teaching or life philosophy,” here is one of three suggestions: Always introduce yourself to your learners and provide details on your background and path to your current role.

For Tip 7, “Recognize that Millennials value (and expect) aesthetically appealing educational presentations,” one strategy is to ask colleagues or invite students to review your slides or curricular materials and provide feedback and suggestions as you learn to embed video, create interesting slides, etc.

For Tip 8, “Emphasize opportunities for additional help and support”, there are 4 strategies that I would advocate with any learner:
1. Post directions, reading assignments, and a list of available resources on a website that students can easily access
2. Establish “office hours” when a student can drop by to discuss a concern
3. Directly observe student performance and provide specific feedback
4. Provide structure to learning activities and set specific achievable targets for learners (e.g., “By the end of this 3-month internal medicine block, you will be able to perform a complete history and physical on 2 new patients per session.”)

For tip 12, “Identify the limits of multi-tasking,” I have to highlight this excellent strategy from the authors: Ask students to complete The New York Times online test “How Fast You Juggle Tasks” (Ophir & Nass 2010, to measure how fast they can switch between tasks and discuss their results and how multitasking may affect patient care.

As we begin our new academic year, and another group of “Millennials” are in front of us and beside us in learning, it’s good to think about the key question a good teacher always asks: “Who are my learners?” While you may not subscribe to the characterization of generations, it’s always best practice to get to know your learners, how they may be similar to and different from you, and to consider strategies to make the learning relevant to them.

I offer my best wishes for a very successful year to the teachers and the students both here at Queen’s and elsewhere, and, as always, look forward to hearing from you.

Featured Article:
Roberts, David. H., Newman, Lori R., Schwartzstein, Richard M. (2012). Twelve tips for facilitating Millennials’ learning. “Medical Teacher”, 34, 274-278.

2 Responses to Facilitating Millennials’ Learning

  1. Karen Smith says:

    A discussion of this article would make an excellent Faculty Development session. Thanks for posting Sheila.

  2. Sheila PInchin says:

    Karen, I’m glad that you see that this can have relevance for faculty. Although I work in undergraduate medicine, I think there is value in this article for Schools of Nursing and Rehabilitation faculty too.

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