How does Gen-Y learn and what are we doing about it?

Attending the MBA Conference hosted by the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development) in Paris this week, delegates from more than 40 schools are discussing many issues of relevance to our MBA programs:

– what is the balance between academic rigor and practical relevance of content?

– what is the balance between content and other services MBA programs should provide?

– what’s hot and what’s not?

– what are the marketing, admissions, program management and career placement trends around the world?

– what are the challenges faced by MBA programs and how are they dealing with them?

Clearly, we could discuss the first two questions ’til the cows come home. They are age-old questions that need to be re-visited time and time again.  Every school does this in quarterly workshops, annual curriculum reviews, and are often the topic of our weekly team coffees. Of course it is always interesting to hear the development stories of other schools and reflect how we can learn from their experiences. The trend information will be put on our website next week as much of this is good data.

My main learning this week, however, is this: the way our future MBA students learn is changing radically and at a rate that I previously had not known. As Gen-Y reaches the age of attending business school, indeed our MBA programs, within the next several years, they bring with them expectations about learning for which many business schools are not prepared.

Gen-Y, the Millennials, is learning more and more via social networking, and not through traditional teaching – even though many educators think they are using modern teaching techniques.  I don’t mean just reading material on-line or via iPads, but real, deep interaction with each other in solving real classroom problems, dialoging about assignment content, sharing resource links, and so forth.  And yet the vast majority of this learning is peer-to-peer outside of the classroom, for the simple fact that the majority of their lecturers did not land in the crib with a smart phone like many of this generation did.

Obviously, one of the most daunting challenges will be for business schools to re-educate the teaching faculty to use social networking in – and outside – of the classroom. So how would this type of teaching and learning look like?  Surely, this is a lot easier for some topical areas or functions such as organizational behavior or corporate communications than, say, for finance, statistics or economics.

And even if we find adequate teaching methods for such topics, how can schools get their faculty up to speed to handle the knowledge gap between educators and program participants regarding these tools?

What can we do to change the mentality of some great educators who have been very successful using traditional teaching methods, knowing very well that they may not be as successful with the next generation of students?

As we are currently conducting a thorough curriculum review of the MBA program in St. Gallen, we will begin to address these important questions. The implications of Gen-Y for learning and teaching is fascinating.

What do you think about this opportunity? (I especially would like to hear from “Gen-Y”!)

PS: there are various definitions of Gen-Y. I tend to focus on those born between 1982 – 1995.


4 thoughts on “How does Gen-Y learn and what are we doing about it?

  1. Gen-Y holds experience and the resulting know-how in very high regard and does not expect their instructors/employers to be as technologically literate as Gen-Yers are. Hence, in my opinion, the focus should be not so much on bridging the technology gap but on tailoring the presentation process to Gen-Y’s taste (a job that HSG is already doing much better than other MBA Programs).
    Gen-Yers do not like to be taught/trained whether in school or at work. They prefer to be an equal partner in the instruction process and they like to feel that they are indeed the creators and leaders of their own intellectual/professional development. They like to be entertained if you will; they believe that not only do they deserve an interesting and challenging job/curriculum from day one but they are entitled to it. And they like to be a part of something new and innovative, something that has never been tried before that allows them to be ahead of the curve and ahead of their peers, be it a teaching method or a workflow process. They are a curious breed that is not afraid of being challenged and therein lies their strength.
    One thing to be prepared for is Gen-Y’s seeming disregard for social hierarchy, which is often mis-interpreted as a lack of respect for experience and status. In fact, Gen-Y has as much appreciation for these two as any other generation does, however, having grown up in the Facebook Age, they are accustomed to a social circle that transcends hiearchy and in which the boundaries between personal and professional lives are a little blurred.
    Such are my impressions of Gen-Y in the U.S. I believe their European, Asian, African and South American counterparts are not much different since they were all raised with a global mindset.

    • Hi, I´m doing a research on how the learning proccess changes in generation Y members in South America, and I´d like to know if you could advice me on where to find information about this subject.
      Thank you in advance!

  2. Elitsa
    thanks for this thoughtful commentary. You write Gen-Yers do not like to be taught trained whether in school or at work. This is a challenge for both firms and for programs like our MBA. How can we solve this? Ideological answers are fine, but we and firms need pragmatic solutions for how to teach and impart knowledge and skills that educators and managers have.

  3. At work, the way to get Gen-Yers engaged and invested in their jobs is to give them some real responsibilities, while still monitoring their progress and pushing them in the right direction.

    Within an academic setting, I would think that the more interactive the teaching method is the more you would be able to engage them. That includes question+anwer sessions, assignments that actually have the students research curriculum topics on their own and come to class prepared to discuss them, any approach that allows them to learn a skill by doing it. The teaching also needs to go beyond the classroom. As I mentioned, Facebook is a lot of Gen-Yers’ world. I’ve heard of many schools and individual professors creating Facebook/other social networking site pages for their classes and posting assignments through there.

    I hope this is more helpful.

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