How to Connect with the Modern Learner

“If you want to change a relationship, change the way you act in it.”

When Dr. Christy Price, psychology professor from Dalton State College, began her keynote speech at Macomb Community College’s Faculty Development Day, her intent was to inspire continued action toward the increasing students’ successful behaviors. Price’s research on modern learners provided insight as to who our students are as a population and how instructors can reach them.

picture of President Jim Jacobs at Faculty Development Day

President Jim Jacobs reviewing the College Highlights at Faculty Development Day

She organized her findings into the five following categories for engaging Millennials.

  • Research-based methods: A variety of active learning methods helps retain a student’s attention and engagement. Because the lecture’s worth has recently been called into question, Price made a point to tell us, “They weren’t saying ‘Don’t lecture’. They were saying ‘Don’t lecture only’.” Whether that variety includes discussions, case studies, or team activities is not as important to students as it is for their instructors to abandon the lecture-only class.

To continue developing your teaching and learning methods, check out the Advancing…Your Presentations series to expand your knowledge on PowerPoint presentations. Or, visit the CTL to discuss and learn different instructional technologies you can utilize in the classroom, like Poll Everywhere, Panapto, and TurningPoint.

  • Relaxed learning environment: Students want less formality and student-teacher role-based activities.

You can relax your learning environment by flipping your classroom or incorporating digital games in your teaching. We offer workshops on both! Click here for Flip Your Classroom and here for Digital Gaming in the Classroom.

  • Relevance: The prevalence of Google has downplayed the value of information for information’s sake. Today’s students want instructors to help them develop applicable competencies.

A lot of MCC instructors are well-versed in this practice. Last year we wrote a blog post about faculty members who linked their final projects to a real-world application. Click here to read that post, and leave a comment to tell us how you make your lessons relevant.

  • Rationale: Millennials were raised in a less authoritarian manner than the Baby Boomer generation. They’re happy to comply with policies and procedures, so long as the reasoning behind them is explained.

It’s beneficial to provide the rationale behind your expectations in your first day handout and to create rubrics with point distribution explained for major assignments. Check out our blog post on syllabi and our Creating Rubrics in ANGEL workshop for more information.

  • Rapport: More important than an instructor’s knowledge or experience is his or her ability to connect with students and help students connect with the subject matter on a personal basis.

Online teachers may find this blog post, Managing Student Perception of Your Online Presence, helpful in their endeavors to connect with their students.

Price focused solely on Millennials when she began her study. However, after speaking with “non-traditional” students (aged 25 and up), she discovered that many of their ideals matched those of the Millennials. “Rather than “Millennials”, Baby-boomers”, or “Gen X”, I now prefer the term “Modern”.

Her findings suggest that these five Rs (along with a sixth, unpublished R, “Reciprocity”) are not just the ideals of a particular generation pampered by technology. They reflect the common desires of multi-generational modern students.

“The greatest challenge is not assisting students in achieving outcomes,” Price said. “It is getting them to want to.”

Looking to ways to further engage your modern learners? Explore more professional development opportunities offered at Macomb here, continue reading our teaching and learning blog, or contact us at or 586.226.4774 to discuss how you can continue to support your students’ success.

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