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Education and Technology: What Differentiates Generation X from Millennial Students

Karen Glen
Wednesday, 13/09/2017 - 09:36

How education and technology have changed students

Education and technology have changed considerably over the last 30 years, with the latter being a driving factor in sculpting how differently the students of the 80s (Generation X) experienced higher education compared to students today (millennials). With the drastic evolution of communication to encompass email, instant messaging, social media and video telephony and the emergence of ubiquitous information, millennials have starkly contrasting attitudes to knowledge and learning compared with that of their predecessors. While students from the two disparate generations might share some traits (a love of revelry, disenchantment with the political status quo and a fear of failing exams, for instance), the current state of education and technology has put a different kind of pressure on both students and university staff, one that both groups must adapt to.

Millennials were born into a world of information and technology, Generation Xers had to adapt to it

Millennials, unlike their Gen Xer counterparts, have not had to adapt to the world of digital information—they were brought up in it. Generation Xers, which include many of today’s educators, have had to consciously evolve with the changing tide of education and technology, instead of absorbing new methods of learning and teaching by osmosis (as millennials have done). This creates a disconnect between the attitudes to information and learning between today’s students and those who educate them.

The students of today have more power over how they accumulate knowledge

Due to this ubiquity of information, today’s students have less respect for knowledge than Gen X students might have had. Everything they need and want to know can be accessed with a few taps and swipes on the screen of their smartphones. Generation X, however, relied on lecturers and library books to dispense information; as a result, they didn’t feel entitled to information the way many millennials do. Being able to access an almost infinite body of information brings with it shortened attention spans: a veritable challenge for tutors tasked with engaging students.

With more information at their fingertips, millennials are discerning

With this deluge of information comes another challenge for millennials, in addition to complacency and shortened attention spans: assessing the quality of information. When Generation Xers were at university, there was a more defined hierarchy in terms of the quality of information, with a newspaper article about developments in cancer research clearly carrying less weight than a paper published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. Now that there are many more sources of information on every conceivable topic, it has become harder to distinguish the quality of information, which has led to a deficit of discernment amongst millennials.

Expectations and motivation for studying have shifted across the generations

In the 80s, a university degree was all but a passport into a well-paid job, regardless of the subject. As a result, students were at liberty to choose a degree based on their affinity for a subject, rather than making their selection based on post-study career prospects. Given the sheer number of graduates today (and projected to 2020), the job market is a much more competitive place than it was 30 years ago. Students now expect their degrees to prepare them for their foray into work, not just grow their theoretical knowledge.

Education and technology must align with millennial students’ desire to forge strong careers

Despite these differences between Gen X and Millennial students, education has not kept up with changes in technology and student behaviour. The old model of a lecturer passing on and curating knowledge is still a mainstay in campuses around the world, albeit via the appearance of modern media adoption. Besides dispensing information, university faculty members need to provide an environment in which skill development is just as much of a focus as on the acquisition of knowledge. Given the current student contingent focus on laying the foundation for income generation, educators must provide them with the tools they need to hone the employability skills that’ll mark them out as strong job candidates and make studying at your institution more attractive.

Curriculo’s work-readiness skills development programme has been designed with the current needs of both students and educators in mind. Not only does it instil in students the skills employers seek, but it is readily incorporated alongside any university curriculum. Offering such a course also improves your institution's brand image, attractiveness to talented learners and overall destination metrics.

Download our guide for further strategies your university can adopt to make its students more employable.

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