The majority of students on college campuses consist of Generation X and Y. Traditional lecture style classrooms are proving to be ineffective in reaching these students. Members of this generation prefer teachers being facilitators while they are active participants. Generation X prefers self-directed learning and real world application, while Generation Y prefers teamwork activities. Both generations want the Internet and technology to be a pivotal role in their learning experience. A case example of how to incorporate these concepts at the university level is provided using an undergraduate Entrepreneurial course.
In order for our classes to be the most effective, faculty members must teach students in a manner that they will best learn the material. To further complicate our need to effectively teach students, the recent recession has caused universities to further cut costs, which has resulted in increased class sizes and fewer faculty members. How do we, as faculty members, continue to have quality classes with fewer resources? We need to teach our students based on how they best learn materials, not based on how we learned or how we initially taught our own students.
Per the US Census Bureau, the average age of undergraduate college students at 4 year schools was 21.6 while the average age of graduate students was 25.1 (2010). This is in line with our university's fall 2010 undergraduate average age between 21 and 22, with 91% students categorized as Generation Y (Gen Y), 6.5% as Generation X (Gen X) and the remainder as Baby Boomers and Veterans. As the majority of our students fall within the Gen Y category, it is imperative that we address the needs and learning styles of this cohort. However, we must keep in mind that although this constitutes the majority of students, this demographic is not our entire base. As such, the learning styles and requirements of both Generation X and Y will be addressed and discussed as this discussion will address approximately 98% of our student population and their needs.
A common conversation among cohorts throughout time, specifically university faculty members, is how different we were at that age. However the traits and characteristics exhibited by both Gen X and Gen Y has created a research area for not only academia, but also the workplace as these characteristics are not a result of teenage rebellion or a "fad" that will be quickly outgrown. These characteristics and traits have evolved as a result of an environment and culture that has embraced technology and fostered excellence rather than independence. In order to best understand this cohort, we must first define a generation and why we should place emphasis on these cohorts. A generation can be defined as a society-wide peer group, born over a period roughly the same length as the passage from youth to adulthood" (Howe & Strauss, 2000).
There does not seem to be a firm agreement on the period distinction for Gen X and Gen Y, but there appears to be a general consensus. According to Simons, members of Gen X were born between the years of 1965 and 1976 and members of Gen Y were born between 1977 and 1998 (2010). Young suggests that members of Gen X were born between 1965 and 1980 and members of Gen Y were born between 1981 and 1995 (2009). Bracy, Bevili and Roach acknowledges that there is no clear definition between the birthdates of these cohorts as the members are formed through their experiences rather than their date of birth (2010). As such, one can find consistency in the characteristics and preferences of these generations through these definitions without forcing an individual into a category as a result of their year of birth, an action that may counter intentions.
Although Gen Y has attended college for a relatively short period of time, their presence has been pivotal to the change of teaching styles of faculty and continues to alter the relationships and interactions between faculty and students. …