Some are more equal than others: technology, education and inequality

Does technology cause inequality? Perhaps surprisingly, in our age of increased access to information, open platforms and ability to self-educate, there are rumblings that inequality is being driven by technology. Writing recently at the World Economic Forum, Kaushik Basu,Chief Economist at The World Bank argues that ‘the only countries recording high rates of annual GDP growth are emerging economies, including Vietnam (6.5%), India, China, Bangladesh, and Rwanda (around 7%), and Ethiopia (over 9%).’ Basu then goes on to postulate that, despite the growth of labour-saving technology (‘global sales of industrial robots… reached 225,000 in 2014, up 27% year on year),’ we are now seeing ‘disparate performance,’ created by technology. ‘High- and middle-income countries will come under strain, as their workers compete for jobs in the globalized labor market. Their income disparities will tend to rise, as will the frequency and intensity of political conflict.’

This trend is likely to be maintained, Basu believes. ‘As the march of technology continues, these strains will eventually spread to the entire world, exacerbating global inequality – already intolerably high – as workers’ earnings diminish. As this happens, the challenge will be to ensure that all income growth does not end up with those who own the machines and the shares.’

Similarly, Rolf Brynjolfsson has attributed the rise of inequality to technology. ‘There’s globalization, there are institutional changes, cultural changes, but I think most economists would agree that the biggest chunk of it is due to technology,’ he says in Business Insider. ‘And that’s because of what economists call skill-biased technical change — favoring skilled workers versus less-skilled workers.’

Brynjolfsson’s concern is primarily the way robots are squeezing out lower-paid jobs. Despite admitting that productivity has slightly grown in the last decade, ‘central to Brynjolfsson’s argument is the idea that innovation is rapidly accelerating as trends in computing and networking advance at an exponential rate,’ writes Joe Wiesenthal. While the GDP pie is increasing, ‘not everyone is benefiting,’ and Brynjolfsson lays this problem squarely with technology.

‘The biggest factor is that the technology-driven economy greatly favors a small group of successful individuals by amplifying their talent and luck,’ Brynjolfsson observes. These individuals, Brynjolfsson argues, reach stratospheric levels of income because successful ideas can be widely experienced and distributed. We don’t have lots of regional Facebooks, tailored to communities, countries or even continents. We have one Facebook, and the competition doesn’t stand a chance. This ‘Google-isation’ of our commodities is, for Brynjolfsson, an explanation for why very few people are earning huge amounts of money. ‘Why use a search engine that is almost as good as Google?’ as MIT Editor David Rotman puts it.

And for Brynjolfsson, what is the common factor? It’s that these super-fast, super-rich entrepreneurs all make their money via technology. This money does not trickle down to employees; it stays locked in the hands of a new technology elite.

 

Alternative viewpoints

Certainly, inequality is rising globally. And when it comes to higher education, the differences between haves and have-nots are becoming acute. Some 42% of young people now cannot afford to go to university, and 59% of graduates are unemployed. Yet, we would argue that this has not come about because of technology. Correlation is not causation – these unfortunate figures are part of a much wider platform of political infrastructure and global recession. The huge cuts in higher education funding worldwide have increased inequality far more than technology has.

It doesn’t take long to find figures critical of Basu or Brynjolfsson’s stance. Colin Gordon, professor of history at the University of Iowa, says ‘the notion that inequality is generated by rapid technological change and skill shortages is not sustained by the recent American experience. If demand for certain workers or certain skills were reflected in wages, we would expect to see wage gains where that demand was highest and wage stagnation where it was weakest.’ For Gordon, this is not the case. ‘Since 1969 labor’s share of income has fallen most rapidly in those sectors where union presence withered, not where computers displaced labor.’

Gordon point outs that ‘across our last two business cycles, income concentrated not in sectors or regions where skills were most in demand but where speculative bubbles (dot-com, housing, finance) bloomed and burst. During our most recent recession and recovery, the notion of a “skills shortage” was belied by the fact that job openings and available workers were distributed fairly evenly across the economy, and that skilled workers saw no “bidding up” of their wages or increase in their work hours. Indeed, most of the growth in wage inequality across the last generation can be found within occupations, and not in their relative share of the labor market.’

Gordon argues that ‘whatever causal importance we assign to technological change, it is hard to see it as a credible account of the different trajectories of inequality across countries. Technological change is a challenge faced by all national economies, and the secular decline in labor’s share of national income is common to most advanced economies. And yet on key measures of inequality, differences across national settings (and especially the outlying status of the United States) remain profound.’ He concludes that ‘in both 1985 and 2007, the United States leads the pack in both educational attainment and inequality.’

Technology is a tool – and it’s how we choose to use that tool that counts. Blaming technology is a handy technique for political elites; it means they can claim inequality is not politically driven or that political decisions could not reduce it. Globally, real GDP growth has increased from just under 3% (trend) in 1980 to just over 4% (trend) in 2015 (estimated figure; source IMF). Meanwhile, poverty headcount rate has dropped dramatically, from 37.1% in 1990 to 12.7% in 2012.  (Source: World Bank.) So wealth across the world is growing; but it it’s growing at a far greater pace for the very rich than it is for everyone else.

If technology is not to blame, what is? Economist Thomas Piketty argues that the gap between rich and wealth is now far more extreme than could have been imagined just a few decades ago. In the US, the richest 1% of the population now owns over one third of the country’s accumulated wealth. 15% is owned by the top 0.1%. Recessions slow down but do not alter this trend – ‘inequality has only gotten worse since the last recession ended,’ writes David Rotman. ‘The top 1 percent captured 95 percent of income growth from 2009 to 2012, if capital gains are included.’

What are we to make of this? ‘The disparity in the portion of income earned from work—what economists call labor income—is particularly striking,’ says Rotman. Wage inequality in the US is ‘probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world,’ says Piketty. ‘In the aftermath of the recession, much of the recovery went to the very rich,’ says Rotman. ‘Meanwhile those with low levels of education are falling behind.’

For Piketty, much of the problem lies with salaries paid to ‘supermanagers’. Rotman’s article points out that according to Piketty’s figures, ‘about 70 percent of the top 0.1 percent of earners are corporate executives.’ Usually, rising inequality is explained by the race between demand and supply of high skills. ‘I think that this is an important part of the overall explanation,’ Piketty says, ‘but this is not all. In order to explain why rising inequality has been so strong at the very top in the U.S., one needs more than a skill-based explanation.’ The answer is to found in ‘pay-setting institutions and corporate governance,’ and Piketty concludes, ‘above a certain level, it is very hard to find in the data any link between pay and performance.’ Again – the problem is political, not technological.

In the UK and to an extent France the problem is slightly different; ‘accumulated wealth, much of it inherited, is returning to relative levels not seen since before the First World War,’ according to Rotman. ‘Privately held wealth in some European countries is now about 500 to 600 percent of annual national income, a level approaching that of the early 1900s.’

For Piketty, this is ‘a radical departure from how we have thought about progress.’ Inequality is supposed to reduce as countries become more technologically developed. ‘Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ But – this is not happening.

 

Creating connections

It’s at this point that the importance for higher education becomes apparent. ‘Though income growth among the top 1 percent is an important phenomenon,’ writes David Rotman, quoting his colleague David Autor, a MIT economist, ‘the disparity in skills and education among the other 99 percent is “a big deal, a much bigger deal.” The gap between median earnings for people with a high school diploma and those with a college degree was $17,411 for men and $12,887 for women in 1979; by 2012 it had risen to $34,969 and $23,280. Education, Autor says, “is the most powerful thing you can do to affect lifetime earnings.” ’

Rather than driving inequality, technology drives connectivity. From a higher education perspective, it enables people to learn anywhere, reduces access costs, reduces the costs project work and real-time modelling, enables people to stay in touch cost-free and aids collaboration.

So where from here? What we as providers need to do is to find ways of creating greater access to learning, within this changed environment. And technology is the best way to do that – as we’ll see for several reasons.

Providers do have to take some of the rap for the disconnect between what they think makes a fit-for-purpose graduate, compared with what employers think. McKinsey’s recent Education for Employment survey found that 74% of providers think graduates leave university prepared for an entry-level position. But ask employers, and the figure you get is just 35%. Nor are graduates themselves under any illusions, with 38% answering positively to the same question.

With rising inequality in mind, MIT economist Damon Acemoglu argues how essential it is for education to come to the forefront as traditional low-skill jobs become increasingly automated. ‘I think most people are not sufficiently informed about the sort of skills that they will require,’ he says. ‘There isn’t quite enough of an understanding that most U.S. workers who don’t have college degrees are not going to be able to get good-paying manufacturing jobs.’ For Acemoglu, ‘those types of bread-and-butter jobs of previous decades have gone; now those tasks are being performed by robots and computers.’ Instead, there is an ‘explosion’ of demand in the service sector; ‘in middle- and low-skill services, for example, in health care, clerical occupations or customer service.’ Acemoglu’s belief is that ‘for the most part, U.S. workers, especially U.S. males, haven’t really made the transition to performing them.’ And this is where up-skilling – via education – becomes both paramount and urgent. ‘These are jobs that workers with high school or two-year college degrees can perform.’

The importance for HE is also highlighted in a new report published by the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice. Technology, Growth and Inequality by Ivan Rossignol outlines a way for governments to promote the benefits of technology whilst protecting the economic income of citizens. Essentially, the answers are to focus energies on accelerating some areas and containing others:

 

Accelerate

  • Education
  • Skills
  • Healthcare
  • Connectivity and trade
  • Pace of reform

 

Contain 

  • Regulate new sectors
  • Protect trade and investment barriers
  • Protect social benefits

 

This is, let’s keep emphasising, a political framework. It will not happen by goodwill, good intentions and hope – it needs to be driven by governments. Where it’s sadly unlikely to fulfil its potential is that principles such as protecting social benefits and increasing healthcare provision are seen as left-wing principles, and dominant economies tend to be run by neoliberal, right-wing governments. However, we can at least lay these principles on the table, and offer them for consideration.

And what can be done is to improve things as best we can within our resources – which is to focus on giving students of all backgrounds the best chances they can get, and focus efforts on removing price barriers for them wherever possible.

A way to drive this is to emphasise that happiness and welfare are important and fundamental. They are not secondary to economies; they underpin economies. They are hard to measure – and as importance is always skewed to that which can be measured, suffer as a result.

Technology can help economies, prosperity and social wellbeing, but it has to be driven forward by real people. To do this, we need more virtuous entrepreneurs. At ELU, we try to create social capital by actively reducing the skills gap, increasing digital learning wherever possible, using asset-light campuses, focused on competency-based learning and branding EU-wide, to remove associations with elitism. Our ethos is to encourage personal freedoms and create a focus on jobs and empowerment, funnelling students to a job at the end of the process. Judicious and disruptive use of technology is a key part of this.

Consider the Legatum Prosperity Index – which attempts to resolve the ‘hard to measure’ issue by arguing that ‘national success is about more than just wealth.’ Moving beyond GDP and similarly narrow measurements of prosperity, the Index identifies successful countries and regions ‘against a broad set of metrics covering areas such as health, education, opportunity, social capital, personal freedom and more.’ In other words, it uses subjective as well as objective data – ‘both wealth and wellbeing.’ It includes factors such as democratic governance, entrepreneurial opportunity and social cohesion, all of which do not register in terms of GDP.

For example, in the UK, areas with relatively low GDP can have very high life satisfaction and overall prosperity scores – Devon, West & South of Northern Ireland and Dorset, for example – whereas London region Wandsworth emerges as number 1 for GDP per capita, but is way down the life satisfaction index at number 132 (of 170).

If nothing else, such figures demonstrate that living in areas of high GDP has no correlation with personal satisfaction and happiness. Rather than chasing GDP, we should be examining what improves people’s quality of life – and education is a key part of this.

If there is doubt that social wellbeing is important for economic development, consider the model below. Published by the Legatum Institute, it argues that the more social wellbeing flourishes, the more economic prosperity does too. In other words, social wellbeing and personal empowerment is a fundamental part of economic prosperity – not a result of economic prosperity.

 

[See image on page 2 of this link]. Source: Legatum Institute, Prosperity and its Distribution: Measuring Progress Towards a Prosperous World for All.

 

Is university a luxury club?

In today’s knowledge economy with data, knowledge and insights available at the click of a button, the traditional university – brick walls, strict entry criteria, a homogenous culture and self-perpetuating ecosystem – would never have been invented. This is not to say that traditional universities are no longer fit for purpose. But it does say that there is plenty of room for other, non-traditional learning providers to come to the fore, offer something different and enable those students who for financial, geographical, cultural or other reasons are unable to join the traditional university model.

Previous articles have discussed how technology has enabled the rise of blended learning, bootcamps and nanodegrees. Learning and transformation is the important thing, not being part of an elitist club. ELU wants to contribute to the levelling of the playing field for people who have the abilities, talent and potential for university but are excluded (or feel they are excluded) by traditional suppliers.

Consider the German model of ‘dual’ Vocational Education and Training. In essence, this system offers apprenticeships in the workplace combined with a ‘vocational school’, offering classroom-based education. ‘Perhaps the most striking feature of this system, for those unfamiliar with it, is the engagement of businesses (and employers in general) in the conception and implementation of dual apprenticeships,’ says the Bertelsmann Stiftung report Cooperation in action:  the dual vocational training system in Germany. In practice, this means that ‘co-operation between employers, vocational schools, chambers, governmental bodies and labour unions is at the heart.’ The dual system ‘seeks to provide the labour market with the skilled workforce it requires and to equip young apprentices with market-relevant skills for their future professional lives. Given that it is employers who are the ultimate users of skills, it is eminently sensible to involve them in both the conception and the implementation of dual training programmes.’

Recently in the news is Andela, a company that assesses tens of thousands of tech applicants from across Africa and then selects the top 1% of talent. As well as match-making high-achieving individuals with companies, the model is creating social prosperity too – enabling talent that might otherwise not have access to good jobs, to reach large corporates and build a successful career. The company’s innovative model has now been recognised by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who along with Priscilla Chan has shown confidence in Andela’s potential by investing $24 million in it.

There are several ways to define the non-traditional university, for students who want to achieve their potential but feel they won’t be accepted on the classical model.

 

  • Rethink the role of academics – the learning experience is shaped to the ultimate workplace, not the campus.
  • Equality becomes part of the university brand. Many classical models present themselves to the world as exclusive and best-in-class. Whilst the quality of the teaching should be peerless, the university itself should not be advertised as elitist.
  • Help less privileged students – financially, socially and culturally.
  • Be a connection hotspot. University is about learning, incubating talent, and facilitating growth. It is not a static, self-perpetuating ecosystem where responsibilities stop the moment the student graduates.
  • Focus on the freelancer economy. Jobs are no longer for life. Help students thrive in the new flexible contract world.
  • A lifelong learning approach. Continuous professional development is the key to success in this new world. Help students adopt this mentality, rather than sustaining the sense that learning stops when you graduate.
  • Empower students to become entrepreneurs – build that philosophy as part of their armoury.

 

Technology is not going to solve inequality, because that can only be done by political will; regulation and taxation with voter support. In MIT Technology Review, David Rotman writes, ‘Since the 1950s, economics has been dominated by the idea—notably formulated by Simon Kuznets, a Harvard economist and Nobel laureate—that inequality diminishes as countries become more technologically developed and more people are able to take advantage of the resulting opportunities. Many of us suppose that our talents, skills, training, and acumen will allow us to prosper; it is what economists like to call “human capital.” ’ Quoted in the article, Thomas Piketty states dolefully that the hope that technology will lead to ‘the triumph of human capital over financial capital and real estate, capable managers over fat cat stockholders, and skill over nepotism’ is ‘largely illusory.’

No one would deny that there’s considerable work to be done. But let’s move away from blaming technology for inequality and see where the real perpetuating and widening of inequality lies – with political decision-making that protects the interests of a very small elite. Recent scandals such as the Panama Papers show how such elites are able to drain economic sources whilst avoiding contributing to the host countries where they pay staff as little as they can get away with. If that can be stopped, inequality will reduce as a consequence. Technology, meanwhile, rather than being scapegoated, should be embraced.

 

Sources

Kaushik Basu comments: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/is-technology-making-inequality-worse/

Colin Gordon comments: https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/the-computer-did-it-technology-and-inequality

Daron Acemoglu on inequality: https://minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/interview-with-daron-acemoglu

Stats on tech and inequality:

MIT Technology review quotes (Brynjolfsson, Steve Jurvetson and Thomas Piketty): https://www.technologyreview.com/s/531726/technology-and-inequality/

Further Brynjolfsson quotes: http://www.businessinsider.com/erik-brynjolfsson-2014-1?IR=T

Further Brynjolfsson: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/

Legatum Prosperity Index: http://www.li.com/programmes/prosperity-index

Fundación Innovación Bankinter  model: https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/ftf_j2016

Andela: https://andela.com/

Andela financing: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/16/technology/andela-24-million-chan-zuckerberg-foundation/index.html

Dual vocational system in Germany: http://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/publications/publication/did/cooperation-in-action-the-dual-vocational-training-system-in-germany/

World Bank and IMF growth figures and Ivan Rossignol material:

https://www.fundacionbankinter.org/documents/20183/85804/Ivan+Rossignol+June+2_Technology+Growth+and+Inequality/8ff7578d-71bd-42bd-b218-2622f90d8aaa

Millennials: why are they different?

The current generation of college graduates have very different expectations and hopes from their predecessors. Those expectations are attached not only to their education provider but also their eventual employer. And yet, both employers and universities often respond to today’s students with out-dated models – treating them in much the same as the generation before them, and expecting the same behaviour and results in return.

 

This is a mistake. To maximise performance from millennials, it’s vital for organisations and universities to speak to them in their language, package experiences for them in ways they relate to and identify with, and create an environment that will resonate with them.

 

So how can prospective employers and education providers do this? Let’s start by looking at some background. They key difference for today’s graduates is their digital native status. Millennials born after 1990 – the ‘Generation Z’ that comprises our current crop of graduates – have enjoyed an unprecedented level of technology as they’ve grown up that sets them apart from their predecessors. Generation Z cannot imagine life without the internet or mobile phones, and they have less willingness to accept social injustice. A 2012 Net Impact survey discovered that 88% of millennials see a positive culture as vital to their career and 86% stated that they needed to find their work interesting. Other research has indicated that more than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that better fits their values, and 90% want to use their talents for the greater good.

 

Writing in Fast Company, Paula Davis-Laack quotes a recent report from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) which suggests there are five key principles for getting the most from your millennials’ mindsets. They are:

 

  • Know me. Invest the time to understand the student as a person and what interests them both inside and outside of work.
  • Challenge me. The student wants to have continued opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Connect me. Relationships are important – the student wants to interact and collaborate with a wide network of people.
  • Inspire me. Students want a sense of meaning from their work.
  • Unleash me. Students want to take ‘good risks’ and have autonomy over their time and projects.

 

These five points have been written with a focus on female millennials. But as Davis-Laack goes on persuasively to point out, they chime rather neatly with suggestions from two other experts. She points to ‘centered leadership’, which consists of these five dimensions:

 

  • Meaning
  • Framing (adapting to change and building self-awareness)
  • Energising (tapping into the our natural energy reserves and rhythms)
  • Connecting (interacting and collaborating with a wide network of people)
  • Engaging (taking good risks and using your voice).

 

And these five are not too far away from the PERMA model of well-being, developed by Martin Seligman:

 

  • Positive emotions
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Achievement

 

Davis-Laack’s point then, is that meeting the needs and expectations of millennials is not as complex or as alien for older generations to understand as might have been supposed. All these models chime with each other – and an underlying principle of all three is emotional resonance. The above lists are not about targets, or climbing pyramid hierarchies. They are about personal development and learning outcomes.

 

If we were to examine these lists more closely from a management point of view, we might want to see more emphasis on skills-based learning and a focus on aptitude. If we add these points the mix, there is a valuable lesson to be learnt in how to respond to millennials – and how to get them to respond to you.

 

A different mindset

Millennials have little interest in a job for life (a sea-change from the baby boomer generation’s worldview); have high ethical and responsible concerns when choosing the company they want to work for; and want their work environments to be attractive, comfortable and stimulating. Perhaps with this last point in mind, millennials are most attracted by tech companies, with Google, Apple and Facebook very clear winners when millennials are asked which companies they would like to work for.

 

In aggregated research from the Brookings Institution, Goldman Sachs and Nielsen, published in GSV Tomorrow, Google gained 19.7% of the ‘where do you want to work’ vote, Apple achieved 12.7% and Facebook 8.9%. In other words, over 40% of millennials want to work for a leading tech company. It’s not until you get to the fourth-rated choice, the State Department, that a non-tech organisation appears, with 7.9%.

 

According to figures quoted in Forbes Magazine, 62% of millennials believe they can make a difference in their local communities and some 40% even believe they can literally change the world. Millennials are not willing to play the game and climb the corporate ladder as past generations. They are doers, and they expect companies to change in line with them. If they don’t, they are not afraid to jump ship and take risks.

 

Erika Janovich, Marketing Co-ordinator for the StressCrete Group, spent time working with millennials when she went back to college as a mature student. Writing in The Evolllution, Janovich presents five conclusions about the values that millennials place highest faith in.

 

  • Confidence in your convictions
  • Technologically savvy
  • Engagement is important in learning
  • You can be a ‘me first’ team player
  • Flexibility is the new secure

 

Let’s consider these in turn. ‘They spoke back to teachers without any concerns for retribution,’ Janovich says, contrasting this with her own upbringing where ‘I had to express [my opinions] in a way that was still respectful of my elders. There were times I admired their sheer guts for speaking their minds and fighting for what they wanted.’

 

Perhaps the key distinction of the millennial generation, ‘their knowledge of technology was incredible. Any time I ran into technological issues, all I had to do was ask any of my younger classmates. They were happy to share their knowledge, and often looked at me with confusion wondering how I survived my teens without a computer.’

 

Time and again, engagement emerges as a vital quality to get the best out of millennials. ‘I’ll never forget the term coined by one of the baby boomer professors: “Educainment”.’ Students needed to be continuously entertained and stimulated in class. ‘If not, they’d find what they needed on their laptops or phones. Teachers fought to make the information more exciting and attempted to relate the lessons to students’ lives.’

 

Millennials are less willing to suppress their emotions in the workplace. ‘They were more “touchy feely” than my generation… My classmates wanted to be the best, but not at the expense of others,’ Janovich says.

 

An interesting job, a sense that they are doing something good for wider society and a stimulating place to work are the values millennials place most emphasis on. Janovich’s assessment is that ‘they wanted flexible working hours, a fun work environment and an enlightening experience. When they were done with the experience, they would move on to a new one… they made me see that work-life balance should be a major consideration.’

 

Breaking the myths

And yet, not all millennials meet the stereotypes. Research by KPMG (itself a company with nearly 60% of its workforce composed of millennials) in association with Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College Center for Work & Family, garnered evidence that bucks some of these trends. Interviewing 1,100 millennials, Harrington found that ‘60% said they plan to stay in their jobs to advance, versus 25% who want to get ahead by moving from employer to employer.’ Harrington agrees that there is no ‘job for life’ – ‘fewer organizations offer lifetime job arrangements… and the world has moved away from the idea of long-term job security. But… at a rate of two to one, millennials prefer to stay, and that was surprising.’

 

Harrington’s figures also agree that millennials feel strongly about work-life balance. ‘The majority felt that their lives outside of work were much more important to their sense of identity than their careers. Few – approximately 20% – were willing to pursue these goals at the expense of their personal lives.’

 

The KPMG/Harrington research did not find, as expected, that socially conscious attitudes figure highly in millennials’ set of values. ‘ “How much I am helping others” and “contribution to society” were among the lowest ranked items in importance of career success measures for the millennials surveyed,’ writes Stephanie Vozza, quoting the survey in Fast Company.

 

And although the millennials were as comfortable with technology as expected, this doesn’t make them people-averse. ‘When we asked how they found their most recent position, instead of saying “social media” like we expected, the number one answer was that they were referred by a friend, relative, or another connection,’ Harrington is quoted as saying. ‘They are using the tried-and-true method of networking.’

 

There are lessons here for both millennials themselves and for the companies recruiting them. One of the consequences of growing older is that you know your own mind more – or, to put it less kindly, you become more set in your ways. One of the joys of youth is that you are still open to new ideas, your opinions are still forming and your view of the world is not set in stone. A fallout from this, when interviewing millennials about what they expect from university and work, is that their opinions are still in a state of flux. That makes it harder for people writing about millennials to come to hard and fast conclusions about them.

 

Looking to the future

What, then, do learning institutions need to do differently? The first lesson is to understand the millennial mindset, and this primarily involves understanding the principle of co-opting. Millennials are not materialistic, and they share rather than accumulate. UK newspaper The Guardian recently reported that average material consumption fell from 15 tonnes in 2001 to just over 10 tonnes in 2013; a huge reduction. In the same article, climate change author Chris Goodall, added that people now spend more on services than physical goods.’ Millennials are less interested in possessing; rather than store thousands of emails, they use Snapchat and delete instantly. Instead of hoarding photos, books, CDs and DVDs like their predecessors, everything is accessed online and there is little sense of possession in the traditional sense of the word.

 

This change has caused a psyche shift as well. They co-create businesses together. They buy houses together. This co-operative shift makes the education dynamic suddenly very different. Classes where students team up are more likely to generate innovative thinking than individual study. Problem-solving can be done more quickly in groups rather than separately. So the insight is, enable students to work together more. Enable them to spark ideas off each other, to come to new conclusions and reach new insights. Let them learn together and the results can be surprisingly effective.

 

Embracing the technology, rather than resisting it, is also essential. Philippe Caignon, a 3M National Teaching Fellow, argues that digital learning can innovate and enrich teaching, and is an addition rather than a replacement for classical teaching methods. ‘Digital learning is the means through which professors can enhance their teaching strategies and adapt their pedagogy to the ever-changing needs of their students,’ he says. Quoted alongside Caignon in How to teach millennials? Embrace technology by Sara DuBreuil is Dr. Nancy Acemian, a professor in the Department of Computer Software and Engineering Department at Concordia University. ‘It is a win-win situation,’ she says. ‘Profs have more fun in class, students have more fun and are more engaged with the course content, which is the first step in learning.’

 

What we can be sure of is that if you respond to millennials in the language they understand – enable them to work with the technology they are familiar with, and treat them responsibly, they will enhance the organisation and hopefully won’t jump ship at the first opportunity. Millennials will make up 75% of the working population by 2025. It’s their world now, and it’s the older generation who need to adapt to them; not the other way round.

 

Sources

 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/deniserestauri/2015/08/30/millennial-handbook-lesson-3-only-i-can-create-this-opportunity-for-myself/#d60164350117

 

http://gsvtomorrow.com/market-commentary/the-tattoo-generation/

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3056674/the-future-of-work/no-millennials-dont-need-special-treatment-to-thrive-at-work

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3054158/the-future-of-work/8-myths-about-millennials-at-work-that-need-to-die

 

http://evolllution.com/opinions/lessons-millennials-adult-students-reflection/

 

http://www.fastcompany.com/3046989/what-millennial-employees-really-want

 

http://www.concordia.ca/cunews/main/stories/2015/01/21/2015-winter-teaching-and-learning-festival-to-teach-millennials-embrace-technology.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/feb/29/uk-consumes-far-less-ons-crops-energy-metals-average-material-consumption

 

http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=1047

 

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/may-june-11/teaching-the-millennials.html