Innovative Curriculum Strategies for Teaching Millennial Nurses

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Millennials learn differently because they are the first generation to be born and raised in today’s technology-dependent society.

The looming retirement of the baby boomer generation, which makes up the largest segment of the RN workforce, raises concerns of a nursing shortage. But recent studies indicate the millennial generation will be the next group to fill in the gap.

Research shows that millennials “are twice as likely to choose nursing as a profession than the baby boomer generation,” according to ADVANCE Nursing magazine. In fact, millennials are almost 60 percent more likely to become nurses than the generation before them.

Successfully educating this rising group of nurses is critical to the sustainability of the nursing field. However, this group learns differently than previous generations because they are the first generation to be born and raised in today’s modern technology-dependent society. Educators need to use innovative teaching strategies in nursing education to capture and capitalize on this generation’s learning styles. The online Master’s in Nursing Education and Faculty Role offered at Duquesne University offers graduates the knowledge they can use to play a pivotal role in educating the nurses of tomorrow.

Characteristics of the Millennial Student

Members of the millennial generation were born between 1982 and 2002. Also known as Generation Y, members of this cohort are the youngest members of the U.S. workforce. The millennial age group will replace aging baby boomers as they retire.

In the study “Reaching the Millennial Generation in the Classroom,” Paul E. Kotz, PhD, EdD in Leadership, surveyed a cohort of millennial students to identify learning styles that could help in an educational environment.

Kotz, who has observed changes in students’ approaches to learning during nearly four decades in the classroom, found that millennials value individual attention and expect mentors to have patience with what he called their “active, multilayered brains.”

They don’t like to rush through lessons, he adds. They prefer activities over lectures and want teachers to understand that they need to comprehend the how and why underlying their work.

“Students ask for shorter assignments that include more depth and prefer homework assignments that are spaced out with flexible time,” according to Kotz. “Repetition to enable mastery is a desire for this group.”

His survey also revealed that millennials:

  • Like to learn in a competitive fashion using games and interactive media
  • Enjoy using creative outlets, particularly video lectures, field trips, hands-on activities and interactive games
  • Want more ways to learn online
  • Prefer safety, security and order
  • Expect engaging experiences to stay interested in a subject
  • Prefer activities over lectures
  • Want to matter in a group discussion and be acknowledged for their strengths
  • Prefer flexible work spaces that are comfortable and welcoming

Noting that millennial students use technology differently from their predecessors, Christy Price, EdD, a psychology professor at Dalton State College in Dalton, GA, identified five learning styles that she calls “The 5 Rs” for engaging millennial students. A millennial-centered learning environment should include:

  • Research-based methods: Because millennials’ attention spans are shorter, an environment that involves fewer lectures and more collaboration with peers is ideal. Group-based projects that authentically emulate the work environment work best.
  • Relevance: Thanks to the internet’s instant delivery of information, millennial learners value information not for its own sake but for its relevance to their lives. “The goal for trainers here is to connect the e-learning environment to the performance context of these learners to convince them of its relevance,” Price writes.
  • Rationale: Millennials were raised in a less authoritative environment than previous generations and therefore expect teachers to offer flexibility and socio-emotional reasoning behind any new processes. When instructors provide the rationale behind classroom policies, students respond more positively.
  • Relaxed: Millennials prefer a relaxed learning environment, Price notes, “with minimum pressure, more freedom to complete assignments and also more freedom for personal expression and creativity.” Teachers need to create an empathetic, no-wrong-answers, collaborative environment.
  • Rapport: Raised by parents who devoted their complete attention to their child, millennials are used to adults showing interest in their lives. They prefer instructors to have a vested interest in their development and expect teachers to connect with them on a personal level.

An understanding of how millennial students learn can help educators create classroom strategies that capitalize on their learning strengths.

Strategies for Teaching the Millennial Student

One of the more popular methods for reaching millennial students is the “Flipping the Classroom” model, detailed in the journal Nursing and Health by authors Antoinette Towle and Karen Breda. The main purpose of the flipped classroom, they write, “is to move away from lecturing as the primary way to deliver information and to devote class time to active learning strategies where students become the center of their own learning experience.”

Rather than teachers presenting information in class, students use online resources to explore the material in advance. In the classroom, they then solve problems with peers in an engaging environment.

The strategy is to move away from lecturing as the primary mode of teaching. Instructors become facilitators and students become the center of their own learning experience.

A flipped classroom, Towle and Breda write, “is a powerful teaching tool that can result in superior learning outcomes in the student’s retention of knowledge, enhance their critical thinking skills and improve their clinical judgment.”

In the article, “Creative Strategies for Teaching Millennial Nursing Students,” the authors provide additional strategies, including:

  • Cold calling: Rather than putting students on the spot, an instructor can let them answer questions in class by consulting their peers. Also known as a huddle call, this option increases student engagement and relieves the stress on the selected student.
  • Personal reflections: Also referred to as sentence passage springboard, this process involves giving students a topic before class and letting them write about it based on their own beliefs and attitudes. In class, students share their work with a small peer group. The result is an engaged, personal experience.
  • Music: Used at the beginning of class, calming music introduces students to a period of mindfulness with relaxation and deep breathing.
  • Dosage-calculation mini quizzes: Nursing students often express anxiety over math quizzes. Letting students complete them for fun rewards — rather than a grade — teaches the skills while relieving the students’ stress.
  • Case studies: Often completed in groups, case studies offer students the chance to apply critical thinking to “what if” circumstances. Incorporating video clips can make the activity even more engaging and meaningful. 

About Duquesne University’s Master of Science in Nursing and Post-Master’s Certificate Programs

The nursing curriculum at Duquesne University’s online Master of Nursing Education and Faculty Role is designed to prepare graduates to sit for the Certified Nurse Educators exam. The program is recognized by the National League for Nursing (NLN) as a Center for Excellence for nurturing the creation of a strong nursing workforce through technology-infused education, community-based practice and ethical behavior.



Study Shows Millennials Entering Nursing Profession at Record Rates: ADVANCE Nursing

Reaching the Millennial Generation in the Classroom: Universal Journal of Educational Research

How to Engage Millennials: 5 Important Moves:

Teaching the Millennial Nursing Student: Using a “Flipping the Classroom” Model: Nursing and Health

Creative Strategies for Teaching Millennial Nursing Students: NursingCenter