ERIC Identifier: ED411414 Publication Date: 1997-00-00
Author: Brown, Bettina Lankard Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
New Learning Strategies for Generation X. ERIC Digest No. 184.
Generation X workers resent the labels that have been used to describe them:
slackers, arrogant, disloyal, having short attention spans. In fact, these
descriptions are less likely to reflect the behaviors of individuals in
Generation X than the perceptions of managers who are not attuned to new ways of
learning. This Digest investigates ways in which the learning characteristics of
the young adults classified as Generation X reflect the need for the new
teaching and learning strategies promoted by cognitive scientists, such as
learning in context, cooperative learning, and real-world application of
THE LIFE EXPERIENCE GAP
The gap between Generation X and
earlier generations represents much more than age and technological differences.
It reflects the effects of a changing society on a generation. Young adults born
between 1961 and 1981 have radically different life experiences than those in
generations before them.
In their youth, many Generation Xers were "latchkey kids"--children who saw
both of their parents working and/or furthering their education. Many of them
were raised in single parent homes, the children of divorced parents. They grew
up with "fast" food; "remote control" entertainment; and "quick response"
devices such as automatic teller machines and microwave ovens, all of which
provided instant gratification.
As young adults, Generation Xers find themselves facing limited economic
prospects and a society different from any preceding them. The previous
generation saw rapid economic growth and expanding opportunities. Generation
Xers see corporate downsizing and layoffs, limited opportunities for career
positions, and an economically troubled society with soaring national debt and a
bankrupt social security system (Hornblower 1997). Although these life
experiences are not exclusive to the "X" Generation (nor are they common to all
persons in this age group), they are reflective the current state of society and
have implications for the way people learn.
WAYS OF LEARNING
Life experiences shape the way people
learn. The following characteristics, which have been attributed to Generation
Xers, offer insight into new ways of learning and highlight the need for new
approaches to teaching:
grown up with both parents working/furthering their education, Xers are used to
getting things done on their own. Hence, they tend to be independent problem
solvers and self-starters. They want support and feedback, but they don't want
to be controlled.
many of them grew up with computers, Generation Xers are technologically
literate. They are familiar with computer technology and prefer the quick access
of Internet, CD-ROMs, and the World Wide Web as their sources for locating
to expect immediate gratification, Generation Xers are responsive. They crave
stimulation and expect immediate answers and feedback.
of society and its institutions, Generation Xers are focused. As learners, they
don't want to waste time doing quantities of school work; they want their work
to be meaningful to them. "They want to know why they must learn something
before they take time to learn how" (Caudron 1997, p. 22).
that they must keep learning to be marketable, Generation Xers are lifelong
learners. They do not expect to grow old working for the same company, so they
view their job environments as places to grow. They seek continuing education
and training opportunities; if they don't get them, they seek new jobs where
success on their own terms, Generation Xers are ambitious. They are "flocking to
technology start-ups, founding small businesses and even taking up causes--all
in their own way" (Hornblower 1997, p. 58).
illustrated by their involvement in extreme sports such as bungee jumping and
sky surfing, Generation Xers are fearless. "Indeed, adversity, far from
discouraging youths, has given them a harder, even ruthless edge. Most believe
'I have to take what I can get in this world because no one is going to give me
anything.'" (ibid., p. 62.).
NEW TEACHING STRATEGIES
Teachers must be alert to the need
for continual updating of their teaching skills and practices. Wagschal (1997)
reports: "I'm not sure when it happened. I was no longer a contemporary of my
students. The adults kept coming. Their ages stayed about the same, but I kept
getting older.... Who would have dreamed that it was no longer appropriate to
ask a 30-year-old adult learner what they were doing when John F. Kennedy was
assassinated?" ( p. 21).
Effective instruction requires the teacher to step outside the realm of
personal experiences into the world of the learner. It is the learner who must
be engaged for learning to occur, the learner who must make the commitment to
learn. Newmann et al. (1995) point out that for learning to be meaningful
(authentic), it must be individually constructed. "Learning takes place as
students process, interpret, and negotiate the meaning of new information. This
is heavily influenced by the student's prior knowledge, and by the values,
expectations, rewards and sanctions that shape the learning environment" (p. 2).
Authentic learning requires the learner to communicate an in-depth understanding
of a problem or issue rather than memorize sets of isolated facts, and it must
result in achievements that have relevance beyond school. Caudron (1997) offers
the following suggestions for targeting instruction to individuals with learning
characteristics such as those identified with Generation X:
ON OUTCOMES RATHER THAN TECHNIQUES
Help students put information to work--to do something, not only know
something. The training director of the Olive Garden restaurants placed the
restaurants' server trainees in the role of tour guides for the menu. Rather
than memorizing the ingredients of the dishes on the menu, the trainees had to
practice telling customers about each dish in appealing terms. In that way, the
trainees "not only know why they are learning the ingredients, but they also
know how to put the information to work" (ibid., p. 22).
Engage students in role playing and cooperative learning experiences. Knowing
how to work cooperatively with others, to build on the knowledge and experiences
of diverse people who bring different perspective to the thinking and reasoning
process, can help students to expand their thinking and explore new approaches
STUDENTS CONTROL OVER THEIR OWN LEARNING
Provide students a range of options, not only in terms of learning content
and process, but also in terms of class/training times and locations. The new
learners do not want to be pigeonholed. They require autonomy and flexibility
for their own learning. They demand a variety of instructional methods from
which they can choose to learn, e.g., videotapes, self-paced modules,
LEARNERS' ABILITY TO ENGAGE IN PARALLEL THINKING
Remember that Generation Xers grew up on computers. They have used the mouse
to jump around and explore new areas of information. As a result, they have the
ability to assimilate information quickly and to focus on multiple ideas at
once. Design education and training materials to include a variety of ways to
present information at once, for example, include charts, photos, text,
graphics, and cartoons on a single page" (ibid.).
Give attention to the format of instructional materials. The new learners are
surfers and scanners rather than readers and viewers. They are prone to move
quickly from one point to another. They want to gather pertinent information as
quickly as possible and move on. "After all, they did grow up on MTV, computer
games, and digital information while we grew up with pulp" (Wagschal 1997, p.
Engage students in creating their own learning environments. Give them a role
in establishing learning goals, high intellectual standards, and evaluation
criteria. By transferring classroom rules and management to students for their
direction, teachers become facilitators of learning, enabling students to
determine the strategies that will motivate them to learn.
Engage learners in projects that demand new skills and the application of
existing skills to new situations. Challenge them to construct knowledge from
their experiences by connecting school learning to worksite applications.
The term "Generation X" is a label. It was
contrived by the media and it carries all the germs of propaganda and stereotype
(Brinkley 1994). However, for discussion purposes, the term "Generation X" is
useful in that it serves as a descriptor of a generation that has emerged from a
radically changed, postmodern society and that is being educated by people from
a previous generation who were reared under the tenets of the modern age (Sachs
1996). The cultural gap between generations reflects the diverse life
experiences of the individuals in those generations. By targeting teaching to
the unique characteristics of today's learners--characteristics that reflect
their life experiences, educators and trainers will promote learning that has
application in school, work, and community settings. Today, many firms have
taken the initiative to make such changes in their training programs. These
programs "recognize quality of life needs, promote innovative thinking, and
provide skills enhancement, among other progressive workplace approaches" ("Your
Life" 1997, p. 6).
Brinkley, D. "Educating the Generation Called
'X.'" WASHINGTON POST EDUCATION REVIEW, April 3, 1994, p. 1.
Caudron, S. "Can Generation Xers be Trained?" TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT 51,
no. 3 (March 1997): 20-24.
Hornblower, M. "Great Xpectations." TIME 129, no. 23 (June 9, 1997): 58-68.
Losyk, B. "How to Manage an Xer." CURRENT 392 (May 1997): 12
Newmann, F. M. et al. "Authentic Pedagogy: Standards that Boost Student
Performance." ISSUES IN RESTRUCTURING SCHOOLS. ISSUES REPORT NO. 8. Madison, WI:
Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools, 1995. (ED 390 906)
Sachs, P. GENERATION X GOES TO COLLEGE. AN EYE-OPENING ACCOUNT OF TEACHING IN
POST-MODERN AMERICA. Chicago, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 1996.
Wagschal, K. "I Became Clueless Teaching the GenXers." ADULT LEARNING 8, no.
4 (March 1997): 21-25.
"Your Life." USA TODAY 125, no. 2622 (March 1997): 6.
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