A Boomers Guide to Teaching Millennials

by Arlen Meyers

A Boomers Guide to Teaching Millennials

My parents were traditionalists. I’m a boomer. I work with a lot of Gen-Xers. I teach a lot of millennials. We are all trying to understand each other and adapt to how we teach and learn.

Some teachers have to deal with helicopter parents more than the kids.

Since we are all, mostly, products of our environment and the cyclical events of history, we all look at the world through that lens and, unless you have the right optician, you can have a hard time seeing what’s in front of you. Plus, we all change as we get older so, in many ways, generational stereotyping is stupid.

Here is how I have changed my lens prescription:

  1. Make it personal. Link learning to experience.
  2. Embrace technologies, but don’t let technologies get in the way of learning. Hey! Stop checking your cell phone while you are reading this. You will learn more if you take notes by hand and it shows respect for the instructor.
  3. Prune to fit. Limited attention spans means you have to hit the high points and list them in 2 minutes, like what I’m doing in this post.
  4. Practice what you teach. You just can’t fool those folks and they will see through your hierarchical facade. In fact, those that do really do teach and students really like a view of your real world and making connections to working domain experts so they can get jobs.
  5. Be social. The org chart these days looks more like a network
  6. Demand the same respect for your outlook the same way others demand you value theirs. Play nice together
  7. Use immediate access to information to your advantage. Why memorize anything when it’s at the tip of your thumbs on your mobile device? Move from recall to interpretation to problem solving to wicked problems that have no real solutions. Flip the classroom and use the lectures as the start, not the end.
  8. Encourage creativity and drive out fear
  9. Learn to engage using educational technologies that improve learning like reflective questions, hierarchical learning, role playing, video and gamification and team based learning.
  10. Learn to give and receive feedback. Radical candor is the feedback flavor of the month. Glasses are not the only thing you need as you get older. You will also need a better way to hear and listen. It’s a two way street.
  11. If you want to learn something, try to teach it. The problem with expertise is that it doesn’t necessarily come paired with an openness to new ideas.
  12. Create a space to give students time to think instead of falling into the trap of filling every moment with lessons, practice, trips, sleepovers and homework.
  13. Unless a student has a learning disability, make students turn off their cell phones and laptops during class, since research shows you learn and retain more by taking hand written notes
  14. Use PPT presentations as little as possible. Class should be a creative exercise, not a funeral after death by Powerpoint
  15. Every class should the right mix of informing, entertaining and interacting. The most impactful interventions for student success are someone who cares, experiential learning and , in the case of adults, repetition, repetition, repetition.
  16. Find a millennial to be your mentor, particularly to keep you in touch with trends and technology

Teaching to learn requires learning to teach. Unfortunately, most of us think it is easy, everyone can do it and we should not pay for it. It’s time to get our hearing and seeing prescriptions checked.

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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

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