Want to Help Your Millennial Trainees Learn? Treat Them Like Adults.

If you’re struggling to help your millennial trainees learn, you’re not alone. No generation seems to baffle—or annoy—other generations like millennials. But there is some good news. While the millennials in your program may seem young, they are, in fact, adults with adult learning needs.

Part of the reason your millennial trainees aren’t retaining information is that our programs aren’t tailored well to any adults, let alone a generation that grew up in an entirely different world than you did. If you want to help your millennial trainees learn, treat them like adult learners. Not only will this shift in philosophy benefit millennials, it will benefit all of your trainees, regardless of generation.

Think back to your own residency – how were you taught? How were didactics structured? Now think about your current program. What’s different? Chances are, your answer is “not much,” and that’s a problem.

As more and more adults are returning to school, our understanding of how they learn is evolving. We’re realizing that adults have different learning needs than children, and we need to structure education for adults differently than we have in the past. Below are some (mostly true) stereotypes of millennials, along with strategies for using adult learning theory to help your faculty take advantage of these seemingly annoying traits.

millenial doctors taking selfie

Millennials are glued to their mobile devices

Yes, millennials are constantly looking at their phones. Millennials grew up in a world where they have always been able to access any information they want, anytime, anywhere, and they don’t ever want to be without this capability. This might mean that trainees aren’t paying attention to your faculty, but this also means that you have a teaching tool in front of them basically 24/7. Use it!

Adult learners want to have more control over their education. They need to identify their own knowledge gaps, and then have the flexibility to pursue topics that are of the greatest interest to them when they are ready. You can facilitate this type of learning by allowing trainees to watch recordings of basic information on their phones or laptops whenever they want to. Doing so frees up face-to-face time for more interesting, hands-on activities that will actually make people want to look up from their screens.

Millennials don’t like authority

We all know millennials don’t like to be told what to do. But really, who does? Adults learn better when faculty act less as authority figures who provide information, and more as guides who help them come to conclusions on their own.

When leading didactics and other learning sessions, faculty should see themselves as facilitators. The structure should be relatively informal, and everyone should be encouraged to share their experiences and ask lots of questions. Trainees will not only be much more receptive to this type of learning environment, they’ll also be much more likely to retain the information faculty share.

Millennials have short attention spans

Millennials can only concentrate on a single topic that’s being taught a particular way for about ten minutes. However, this doesn’t mean that your faculty need to jump around between lessons at breakneck speed. Instead, you should encourage faculty to change up their presentation style regularly.

That might mean that faculty share some information verbally for the first 10 minutes, then spend 10 minutes in a hands-on activity, and then 10 minutes of reflective questioning. This type of teaching not only keeps everyone’s attention, but it also appeals to all different types of learners in a group.

Love them or hate them, millennials are making up an ever-growing portion of our workforce. If we can find ways to appeal to their unique learning needs, we can improve graduate medical education for everyone.

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