Whether you are a teacher, a parent, an aunt or an uncle, it is important to know that today’s students are wildly different in some ways, from past generations.
21st Century learners…
- Want to have a say in their education. They’ll respond better when their voices are heard.
- Often have higher levels of digital literacy than their parents or teachers. They don’t know a world without computers.
- Expect transparency in their parents, teachers and mentors. They’ll see right through you. (Makes it really hard to plan a surprise birthday party for them!)
- Want you to tell them when you have messed up, apologize for it, and move on. Everyone messes up. No big deal. Just don’t try to hide it. If you do, they are likely to post it on Facebook.
- Don’t care as much about having a job as they do about making a difference. The very concept of a “job” has changed so much in the past decade, the future is about making a difference.
- Demand the freedom to show their wild creativity. 21st century learners balk at rote learning and memorizing. They’ll do it if you make them, but be prepared to let them loose to be creative, too.
- Want to connect with others in real time on their own terms. They want their social media, their phones and their mobile technology. They want to be connected. All the time. In a way that makes sense to them (not necessarily to you).
- Collaborate amazingly well. They love teamwork and figuring things out with their friends.
- Really can multi-task. To do other wise is… yawn! Bo-ring!
- Appreciate a “trial and error” approach to learning new skills. Thank you, video-game industry.
- Learn by doing. Just try making them sit down and learn from you by watching. See what happens.
- Have a “can do” attitude. Of course, they can do it, silly! There is nothing to be afraid of.
- Thrive in an atmosphere of controlled challenge. They must be challenged or they zone out, but they need structure, too.
- Have multicultural awareness and appreciation. This generation is more aware of a variety cultures, countries and ways of life than any generation before them.
- Open to change. Really, what’s the big deal?
- Are equal parts “consumer” and “creator”. Today’s learners download their own songs and apps from iTunes… and then they create their own stuff and upload it to share with others.
- Increasingly aware of the world around them. From the environment to politics, today’s learners are asking questions and demanding answers.
- Know where to go to find information. Google was first incorporated in 1998. 21st century learners have never known a world without Google.
- Are better educated than any generation before them. (See #17.) 21st century learners really do know more than their parents (but that doesn’t necessarily make them wiser!)
- Expect inter-disciplinarity. It is we, the older generation, who organize topics into “subjects”. The 21st century learner understands that subjects are inherently interconnected. Like, duh!
- Know that they are the future. They look at their parents and their peers and understand that the world’s future rests in their hands. (Wouldn’t it make you just a little bit cocky, too?)
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.