This is the third installment of our four-part blog examining the Millennial Shift in America. We have defined this group by comparing them to their predecessors and surveying self-views. As a publishing company that teaches strategies for licensure preparation, naturally our next step is to learn the best approaches for teaching them!

By their own admission, millennials think that they learn best by technology. Although many millennials may interpret information in different ways than earlier generations, it’s important to recognize that the human brain has not mystically been rewired in the past 20 years. The principles of learning and memory still apply. Yet millennials are using their brains in different ways to process information and technology plays a large part in how they absorb material!

Quickly slipping into obsolescence is the practice of reading a hardcover book, taking notes, and writing a book report. In its place we find reading books via a device like a Kindle, taking notes with an electronic tablet, and presenting a report via a PowerPoint presentation.

Millennials can research information at the speed of light! Well maybe not quite that fast, but almost! Also fading fast are brick-and-mortar libraries. Many students have at their fingertips at all times a phone with internet capability. They can access any fact, article, video or other piece of information by simply “Googling it.” Giving credit where it is due, this generation is masterful at fact-finding. The task for educators is to build upon fact-finding by teaching students to become critical thinkers. In other words teachers must help these young minds to formulate ideas, design projects, and reflect on information and creative ways to use their knowledge. Technology must be used to increase creativity not replace it!

In a meeting of college students, they wanted to develop a plan for protesting police brutality. The undergrads asked for help from the college faculty. The youth opened the meeting by expressing their opinions and venting their anger about the news of police viciously beating young black men. They had researched countless examples across the country. When the faculty asked what they could do to help, the students replied, “Tell us what to do!” One faculty member replied, “Share your plan with us so we will know how to help.” The students did not have a plan.

We speculate that this phenomenon has roots in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, whose major focus was to close student achievement gaps by providing all children with a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education. Introduced by President George W. Bush, states were required to test students in reading and math in grades 3–8 and once in high school. The pressure for students to pass, thus indicating that all students were given equal access to learning, was intense. So much so, that to insure success educators were encouraged to teach knowledge about test skills.

Critical thinking fell by the wayside as selecting correct answers determined student (and school success). Passing scores became such a high stakes game in education that scandals resulted from schools cheating by either changing students incorrect responses to correct ones, telling students the correct answers, and changing responses after students had completed the tests. An unforeseen result of this mandate was the handicap it would create in students ability to learn by processing (thinking through) information as opposed to simply recognizing a correct answer.

As a licensing preparation company our focus is to help social workers obtain information and think through how to use it to be successful in passing the licensure exams. Content is important. Knowing what to do with it is an essential skill. Let’s look at an example using a developmental theory. A recall question could ask the social worker to identify the first stage of Freud’s Psychosocial Stage of Development. The correct response is Oral Stage. A critical thinking question could ask the exam-taker to identify behaviors an adult might exhibit who did not successfully pass through the Oral Stage of Development. In the second question, the social worker has to recall the behaviors in the Oral Stage, then decide how missing those skills would look in adulthood. That requires speculating and deducing. Yes, it adds up to thinking!

Teaching millennials must include the following:

  • building upon their fact-finding skills
  • including them in the learning process by teaching them how to use information
  • providing immediate feedback to their efforts
  • promoting and allowing creativity
  • teaching them to make choices, compare concepts, speculate and use deductive reasoning
  • acknowledging and rewarding effort not merely outcome

We believe that teaching millennials these strategies will develop their critical thinking. Combining their technology skills with critical thinking skills and creativity will arm this cohort (and those after them) to meet the challenge of a world that is changing at the speed of light!

Please join us next month for our final installment of our series on the Millennial Shift as we take a look at the impact that technology will have on future generations and how millennials are being equipped to deal with those changes. We predict that this final entry will be most thought-provoking of them all!

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