Millennials and the generation gap in education.

Recently I finished tutoring small a group of second-year medical students for a compulsory neurobiology course. I found my tutor group to be highly engaged and motivated, as well as wonderfully smart. I had little problem encouraging the students to do more than what was required for them.

I quickly realized that I was among the younger tutors on the course. There were 3 or 4 clinicians of 65+, 6 to 8 clinicians and scientists in the 40 to 65 age range and three of us in the 30 to 40 age group. Having had such a positive experience with my group, I was surprised to hear words such as ‘entitled’ and ‘millennial’ crop up in tutor meetings.┬áThe main complaint seemed to be that the students did not want to do the work that was expected of them.

At this point I should mention that the tutorials were largely student-lead, with the students expected to take responsibility for their own learning and for disseminating information to peers in their group, and that this was the first time that the students had encountered this type of tutorial.

I think that the perception of entitlement and unwillingness may be have actually been a reflection of the uncertainty that the student’s felt in moving forward with the work. For the current generation education has been incredibly goal-orientated. You study for the test, you pass the test, and most often you forget what you learnt for the test. This is possibly a symptom of the vast amount of information students are expected to learn. Back when I was an undergrad we didn’t have the internet to utilize when searching for information. I spent a lot of time in the stacks of the library when I was writing my senior thesis, it was understood that time would be spent searching for information. Now, peer-reviewed original sources are only a few clicks away and the students are expected to know much more than previously. As there is so much to learn, intellectual curiosity is in danger of falling by the wayside.

It’s also hard for students to pursue intellectual curiosity in their own time as they have little time that isn’t spent studying and, in order to get ahead, they’re often taking on more practical activities related to their chosen profession. Maybe this is just the way it is for medical students, they need to be armed with the necessary knowledge before they go onto the wards (even though they’ll have the whole encyclopedia of medical knowledge on the device in the pocket of their white coat) so the alternative for the intellectually curious may be the PhD. Also, once qualified and finished with residency the intellectually curious will be able to pursue their interests should these entitled millennials not be too burnt out by then.

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