Millennials, we’re told, need to feel that their work is meaningful. Leveraging technology to work in a way that suits them best, they appreciate regular feedback and recognition for their efforts. Champions of innovation and naturally interconnected in outlook, the millennial generation consider flexible working practices a prerequisite rather than a perk. Whether they’re working from a buzzing WeWork, restful green space or hipster coffee house, lines between work and life are fluid. With on-demand technology that can be whipped out from a backpack or back pocket, millennials access information differently, collaborate digitally and are unafraid to challenge the rigidity of the corporate nine to five.
But how, if at all, should we accommodate the younger generation in university and the workplace? Are ‘digital natives’ really any different to past generations or is it all a nonsense? Is it constructive to draw distinctions from these labels? And, if so, are millennials worthy of special treatment or just a bit ‘self-entitled’, as sometimes claimed in the media?
In the education sector, there’s been a marked shift to flexible, digitally assisted approaches, with blended and flipped models of instruction now commonplace in many schools and universities. Educators crowded the Excel Centre at January's BETT Education Technology Show to see the latest in virtual learning environments (VLE), adaptive technologies, learning analytics, on-demand video software and web 2.0 tools to support collaboration. As learning technologies have become an established feature of modern education, some universities now offer entire modules that are delivered and assessed online – giving students greater flexibility and control over the learning experience.
A PwC report titled The 2018 digital university: Staying relevant in the digital age discusses the necessity of digital innovation in HEIs, stating that:
"As a generation that is more digitally sophisticated than any previously, students expect to be taught and to learn using methods that suit their personal preferences and at a pace that they have chosen, not one that is mandated to them."
Yet it’s interesting to note that learner groups with potentially most to gain from flexible and personalised learning options can be those from non-traditional groups, many of whom are not ‘digitally native’ but might face additional barriers to accessing classroom-based instruction. Working parents, students with certain physical impairments, part-time enrolments and lifelong learners with appreciable workplace experience are among those who benefit most from alternative models of learning: anyone, in fact, who doesn’t fit the millennial stereotype of an unencumbered young person following a neat trajectory from school to university to workplace.
Learners of all backgrounds find that access to the Kortext digital learning platform can help take the stress out of study. Particularly useful for those living off-campus, Kortext supports learning from any location. Whether visiting school friends for reading week or spending some time with the in-laws, Kortext users can download etextbooks and journals on-demand – from train to plane, bus station to beach.
What’s more, Kortext’s advanced digital smart tools such as search, highlight, annotation and chat represent the best in web 2.0 collaborative learning – whether it’s sharing ideas arising from a lecture or collaborating virtually on a group assignment.
It’s sometimes pointed out that advice about the management of millennials is often just obvious best practice for any modern workplace or educational setting. After all, wouldn’t a person of any age prefer to have flexible working options, projects they consider worthwhile, high levels of creative autonomy and frequent encouragement from supervisors?
Perhaps, then, a more useful way of thinking about millennials might be to regard them as ‘younger agitators’ who are redefining the traditional structures of work and university. Questioning the status quo, shifting cultural norms and improving the experience for everyone.