Soapbox

July 27, 2014 11:39 pm

When the baby boomers meet Generation Me

Business schools must recognise that today’s millennial students need a different learning style

Many business schools today are run by the baby-boomer generation, those born between 1946 and 1964.

Typically baby boomers have good careers and hold positions of power. They are confident, independent and self-reliant. They believe they can change the world and are achievement-oriented, dedicated and career-focused. Boomers believe in a hierarchal structure and may struggle to adapt to workplace flexibility trends. Believing in “face time” at the office, they may fault younger generations for working remotely.

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However, many of today’s MBA students are from the millennial generation, those born between 1985 and early 2000. Generation Me.

They typically want flexible work schedules, a good work-life balance, instant gratification and recognition with constant feedback and career advice. They are experts at multitasking but this also means that they are easily distracted. They are bored by lectures and teaching strategies such as the case method, both of which until recently were considered learner-centred. They do not like to take notes or do exams on paper.

The millennial generation is probably the most demanding and privileged to enter the workforce and it poses a huge challenge to schools and employers. It is crucial that content delivery in MBA programmes is adapted to the millennial learning style through a variety of more appealing educational activities. The baby-boomer business school teaching faculty need to find ways to attract and retain millennial talent.

Beale

Millennials crave constant recognition for their work and frequent performance monitoring. This “how am I doing” generation requires personalised feedback from teaching faculty, similar to the kind they are used to receiving from their parents. These regular updates also need to include positive reinforcement. Baby boomers raised their children as “the most special” from the day they were born and as a result millennial students have trouble dealing with criticism and failure.

Millennials want to know what to do next. They need explicit directions, but once directions are given they are extremely diligent. With their technological abilities, they are also very fast and good at managing multiple projects immediately. They expect the same speed in their interactions with teaching faculty and programme administrators. In their eyes, no response is a negative response, so faculty need to respond quickly.

Millennials relish a team environment and sharing the workload and credit, while also wanting individual recognition. This partly accounts for their weaknesses in risk-taking and independent thinking. If we want millennials to become comfortable with uncertainty and independent decision-making, we need to update MBA curriculums in ways that foster critical decision-making skills.

This video-game generation is digital and visual. These students need delivery methods that attract and hold their attention while covering the learning objectives. Sessions should be modelled along the lines of content-oriented entertainment programmes, with the presenter introducing various short activities led by different people and inviting students to participate (“informal learning”). Teaching faculty and school administrators need to rethink delivery and the necessary infrastructure.

Teaching faculty can no longer work alone in their role as the producers and facilitators of courses. Teaching assistants are valuable in providing personalised feedback, delivering content and preparing instructions so that students have explicit directions for activities. Professionals from other disciplines – designers, web administrators, app and game developers etc – can also provide great assistance. And while it is important to bring businesspeople into the classroom, these guest speakers need not be famous executives: alumni can play an important role as well.

The traditional amphitheatre classroom layout and the 75- to 90-minute class time were designed for case-method teaching. On any given day, today’s MBA classroom may need to be a playground, a quiet music rehearsal room, a plenary room or an interview room. The layout should be flexible so that the room can accommodate many different educational activities.

To adapt to the new generation, teaching faculty and administrators need to adopt a new mindset while at the same time guaranteeing academic excellence and rigour. Not an easy task.

Can business schools truly blend past and present and bridge the generations to continue to educate relevant future leaders, millennials and beyond? Business schools have to act if they wish to have a voice in the future.

The author is the executive director of the MBA programme at Esade

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