How to teach the millennial learner? Critically.

the University of Southern Indiana’s hyperlinked Bloom’s taxonomy page

If all education starts with the learner, and the learner has changed, then education must change with him/her. Those American public schools that have not yet acknowledged or adapted to the verified change in their learners may be operating as though the students have the same qualities as the teachers. However that is a false, time-wasting assumption. According to Howe and Strauss (2000), those born after the advent of the World Wide Web–also called “millennials”– are qualitatively different, as learners, from previous generations. According to Black (2010), millennials have an “intuitive understanding of digital language” and use digital tools as “an extension of their brains.” These students think and learn differently, whether because of these tools or because of other social factors, their cohort has different dispositions toward learning and schoolwork. McGlynn (2005) claims that unlike their forebears, today’s students–

…gravitate toward group activity. …They spend more time doing homework and housework and less time watching television. They believe that it’s “cool” to be smart and are fascinated by new technologies. They are both racially and ethnically diverse… Millennials want to learn by working collaboratively; many of them enjoy the activity of teamwork. They have a preference to learn in their own time and on their own terms. They seem to appreciate structured activities that permit creativity. They want to be involved with “real life” issues that matter to them. Most Millennials… enjoy using technology.

By and large, reflecting on my own experience, I can affirm that these students are different than the ones in Genration X I used to teach. I can also agree with Consadine (2009) that while millennial learners are very adept at new tools and have many important dispositional differences from their elders, they have the same needs as their predecessors–to learn the basics of literacy, albeit through new media. The problem is that the millennial student may not agree with you about this need. The way that these students make “extensive use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) often creates a false sense of competency, as well as the misperception among many adults that contemporary youth are ‘media savvy’” (Consadine 2009). Yes, they can access and operate the information media. But can they use them effectively? Can they make wise decisions about comprehending and creating messages in the new media? While students bring “a rich and different set of literacy practices and background that is often unacknowledged by educators” (Consadine 2009), we must not assume that with their ability to use communication tools they thereby are skillful at knowing how to best understand and craft effective messages. What needs to be taught are critical thinking skills–knowing how to responsibly and efficiently use information. The millennials’ lack of these skills is especially urgent, given their unique position as the inheritors of more information access than any human generation to date. While previous generations could assume that the filtering and organizing of cultural knowledge was largely done, the millennials have to do much of it themselves. For these reasons educators need to deliver instruction that will equip students to do more than merely access it.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is in agreement with my assessment. Their NET standards for students (2007) describe competencies that require this sort of digital media critical thinking. The following ISTE skills each are built on knowing what to look for, and knowing how to use information gained through ICT:

Demonstrate creativity and innovation

Communicate and collaborate

Conduct research and use information

Think critically, solve problems, and make decisions

Use technology effectively and productively

While the ISTE and my own experience suggest that we should be emphasizing the sort of practice with ICT media that will equip millennials with the critical thinking skills they will need in their futures, American public schools are not yet open to the idea–perhaps hesitant to open too wide the doors to the admittedly overwhelming amounts of information that are out there. But to keep the door closed is no solution, either. As Consadine (2009) describes it,

Public schools typically place heavy restrictions on the use of the Internet. Social
networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube are often blocked in libraries and computer labs. The result is a failure to build a bridge between the technological world Millennials live in and the classrooms we expect them to learn in. Such restrictions are almost always justified by claiming that they are intended to protect students. Such protection, however well-intentioned, actually fails to prepare young people by not providing the adult supervision and guidance that many of them would benefit from during their online encounters [emphasis added].

My suggestion for America’s public schools, and my “classroom of the future,” will build in such adult supervision and guidance. By using such tools as the Hyperlinked Bloom’s Taxonomy page (which links to web 2.0 tools at the different levels of critical thinking), our learners can go forth with confidence into the vast informational seas.


Black, A. (2010). Gen Y: Who They Are and How They Learn. Educational Horizons, 88(2), 92-101. Retrieved from ERIC database.

Consadine, D., Horton, J., and Moorman, G. (2009) Teaching and Reaching the Millenial Generation through media literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, vol. 52 (6). March 2009.

Howe, N., & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials rising: The next great generation. New York: Vantage.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2007). “NETS for students.” Accessed 13 November 2010 at

McGlynn, A. (2005). Teaching Millenials, Our Newest Cultural Cohort. Education Digest, 71(4), 12-16. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

University of Southern Indiana (2010). Bloom’s Hyperlinked Pyramid page. Accessed 13 November at a

One response to “How to teach the millennial learner? Critically.”

  1. It's great to point out that Millennials are different, but I like your emphasis on adapting to that change. I am Corena Howe, the office manager at LifeCourse Associates. Please contact me if you are interested in reviewing Strauss and Howe's Millennials & K-12 at


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