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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning Teaching Millennial Students

Suggestions for Instructors of Millennials

What should instructors do to meet the teaching and learning needs of our students? How can we best prepare students for their future roles as active, informed, and productive citizens in today’s global society?

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and a consortium of organizations on workforce readiness, recently published surveys on what employers seek in college graduates. The results suggest that students need to hone their skills in:

  • communication
  • leadership
  • professionalism
  • teamwork/collaboration
  • problem solving
  • critical thinking

These skills rank in the “top ten” list of desirable attributes by employers, who also report that college graduates need improvement in each of these areas. Also, empirical research shows that students typically select the first/most readily accessible information source (usually via the Internet), underscoring the need for instructors to emphasize information literacy skills in their courses (DiLullo et al. 2011).

Whether in a course or curriculum, an important first-step is to identify the problem area(s) early on, and devise activities that enable students to practice and improve upon the skills in question. Assessment–at both the course and programmatic levels–plays a key role in this process.

Research shows that students value activities that engage their interest through class/small group discussion, simulation games, and group projects in contrast to activities that isolate them as individual participants in learning (e.g., lectures, tests, texts, papers). Interestingly, students’ vs. professors’ perceptions of effective teaching techniques may differ considerably (Kraus and Sears 2008). Collaborative teamwork is valued in the workplace and can provide a powerful, “authentic” experience for students to complete a “real-world” project while honing interpersonal skills; it can also lighten the grading load for instructors (Pfaff and Huddleston 2003).

Newspapers can be used to promote class discussion, provide opportunities to air differences in opinion, stimulate student learning, and promote student reflection on contemporary science issues (Mysliwiec et al. 2004). (WSU has papers freely available for student use, such as the New York Times and USA Today.) For nursing students, mentoring and simulations that integrate technology with interactive learning are recommended ways to engage students and provide them with opportunities for collaborative work and “learning by doing.” One study indicated that millennial nursing students seek faculty who are “approachable, good communicators professional, supportive, understanding, and motivating” (Mangold 2007, p. 23).

When it comes to lecturing, “best practices” include:

  • Incorporation of breaks every 15 minutes or so, to permit students to engage with the instructor and/or one another, to encourage questions, to clarify the material, and to maintain student attentiveness.
  • Providing incentives for students. This can involve “learn before lecture” approaches, whereby students complete a reading assignment and a short quiz (often for minimal points) before coming to class.
  • A detailed syllabus and explicit grading rubrics for heavily weighted course assignments are critical for articulating your goals for student learning and expectations for student work.

By understanding the millennials’ comfort and engagement with technology, as well as their outlook on work-life balance, instructors can flex their teaching techniques in and out of the classroom to prepare this generation for the workforce.


Washington State University