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BlogFuture of Schooling

Will the newest generation be like the Millennials?

By April 15, 2009June 17th, 20166 Comments

Most of the students we teach today are in the Millennial Generation (born from 1982-2001). According to demographers, these students (who are between the ages of about 7 and 26), are comparatively optimistic, confident, achieving, pressured, and cooperative team players. Millennials have become a generation of positive trends in educational achievement. Millennial’s aptitude scores have risen within every racial and ethnic group.

One Millennial in five has at least one immigrant parent. Thanks to immigration surges, Millennials have become, by far, the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history. Yet, they tend to ostracize outsiders and compel conformity. Millennials feel more of an urge to homogenize, to celebrate ties that bind rather than differences that splinter. Millennials are less inclined than GenXers were at a similar age to take big career risks. They have a fear of failure, aversion to risk, and desire to fit in to the mainstream.

For Millennials, “collaborative learning” has become as popular as independent study was for Boomers or open classrooms for Gen Xers. Surveys confirm that Millennials don’t mind a more structured curriculum, more order, more stress on basics. They grew up in the standards era. It’s how the standards are taught, not so much what they are, that seems to matter most to Millennials.

Recently, the news reported that 2007 broke a record for the number of births in the United States and that 40% of them were by out-of-wedlock parents. This new “baby boom,” combined with uncertainty the nation faced after 9-11 and the current economic recession will shape the newest generation born 2002-present. These students are our 6 and 7 year olds in school now. So what types of instructional strategies will resonate most with this new generation? Will they still love collaborative learning as much as Millennials or will they go a different way? What will distinguish them from students in previous generations? For those of you teaching this new generation in kindergarten, first and second-grade classrooms, have you noticed any differences among them and their older peers?

Written by Matt Kuhn.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Carol Neeland says:

    Teaching this generation I have found that students are more apt to multitask while doing schoolwork. They listen to music while reading or writing; send instant messages while doing research; and check Facebook while listening to lectures. I’ve been reading about the difference between multitasking and task-switching. The first can actually be an effect use of students’ time but the second slows students down, especially when the various tasks require the same types of brain processes.
    Here is an interesting article about “Mastering Multitasking.”
    Gasser, Urs & John G. Palfrey. “Mastering Multitasking,” 66, No. 6 Educational Leadership 15 (2009).

  • Stephanie Holt says:

    As both an educator and the parent of a young child I am very interested in the future of schooling in America. I have read Strauss and Howe’s books Generations and Millenials on the Rise and find the cyclical nature of generational characteristics to be fascinating. It will be interesting to see how our current economic situation shapes this generations’ learning style and processes. I was astounded by the statistic of the new baby boom and the fact that 40% of the children born in 2007 were out of wedlock. I don’t teach at the elementary level so I haven’t met the students who comprise this new generation just yet, but it will be interesting to see them emerge as young adults.

  • Koby says:

    Thinking about the advanced level of multi-tasking with these Millenials, I would be curious about studies involving attention spans and how student time on task changes or evolves over time.

  • Jean says:

    So what types of instructional strategies will resonate most with this new generation?
    It will depend on the early childhood experiences of these students, and what language or language acquisition happens for them in birth through 5, and what expectations and experiences their parent/guardians hold.
    Will they still love collaborative learning as much as Millennials or will they go a different way?
    This really is dependent on a variety of factors, including the economy and the structure of the family and the emerging societal norms.

  • Matt Kuhn says:

    Hello Jean, It will be interesting to see just how different and similar they end up being compared to the Millennials. My dissertation was on the topic of different generations of principals and how they lead differently. You can find out some information about the newest generation at

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