“Millennials understand that the future of education is online…”

BY Celisa Steele

Generation YIn the past week I’ve read two recent pieces on Millennials, or Gen Yers, and the pieces provide a nice point and counterpoint. Namely, here’s what Millennials want and believe, and here’s why it’s ridiculous to talk about what Millennials, monolithically, want and believe.

Survey Says…the Future of Education Is Online…?

The first piece I read is about the study “The Future of Education,” based on an online survey conducted in May 2013 of 1,345 students from U.S. colleges that asked about their perception of online learning, the evolution of education, and the link (or lack thereof) between college and preparation for the workplace.

Some key findings from the survey include the following:

  • Of the respondents, 39 percent said what’s coming next for education is more virtual, and 19 percent said the use of social media to engage in the classroom.
  • 25 percent of the college students surveyed feel unprepared for the working world. (Clearly this is a place where the report’s co-publisher Internships.com, an internship marketplace, wants to help fill this gap, but, ahem, associations could also play a role.)
  • 78 percent believe it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online, but 43 percent say that online education will provide them with courses of the same or higher quality than traditional colleges.

A statement from Dan Schawbel, the founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm and the other co-publisher, is where I took the title for this blog post: “Millennials understand that the future of education is online, and since they were brought up with the Internet, they are prepared for that change.”

Personally, I find the first part of that sentence (“Millennials understand that the future of education is online…”) a somewhat surprising summation, given that 78 percent of students said it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online, and only 39 percent said what’s coming down the pike for education is more virtual delivery. That kind of generalization chafes me a little.

Generational Stereotypes

Luckily, my chafing found balm in the June 2013 T+D article “Breaking Through Generational Stereotypes.” A. Keith Barnes opens by opining that Generation X, Baby Boomers, and Millennials receive “far too much ink”:

Although taboos and political-correctness awareness have made people cautious about stereotyping racial minorities and the two genders, the practice has not been eliminated. But oddly, for any group that is broader in base (and even less likely to be homogenous), we seem to want to treat ‘them’ as if they are all the same.

Barnes continues a little later:

And in any one setting, with the wide variety of workplace assignments, expectations, and demands, the differences between individuals must still dominate the assessments and decision making by managers about their employees, and by training and development professionals responsible for the advance of coherent and interactive groups of workers.

Balancing Data and Stereotypes

Neither “The Future of Education” study nor the T+D article are association-specific, but, as Samantha Whitehorne comments in her report on the study for Associations Now, the study “does provide plenty of food for thought for association meeting planners and learning professionals as they think about how to best engage and attract this next generation to both their face-to-face and virtual offerings.”

And the T+D article’s admonition to beware stereotypes when seeking to understand learners certainly applies beyond corporate training to association education too.

I find data like that what the “The Future of Education” study makes available fascinating and useful (which is why we here at Tagoras run a number of surveys periodically, the most current being our joint venture with Velvet Chainsaw on capturing data on the use of professional and industry speakers—if you haven’t responded to the survey yet, please do).

But it’s always good to be reminded, as Barnes does in his article, that aggregate data, useful as can be, shouldn’t be used to stereotype or to forget all the individual data points that—and people who—contribute to our understanding of any topic or phenomenon.

And, lest I be guilty of stereotyping Schawbel of Millennial Branding, I’ll note his statement is longer than what I quoted above. He continues, “Education should not be a one size fits all model because everyone learns differently, regardless of age, occupation and location.”

Hear, hear.


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