What is R.E.A.L Learning Now?

Relevant education. Adult Leadership. That’s the basis of this site. The more I read, hear, and watch of the world around me the more I question the structure of our current education system. Some people might say I’ve always been this way, but raising kids and working in a private school has fueled this belief. Now, as I count fewer years until I retire than since I graduated, I realize my role in education is fleeting.

While reading over some required reading for my current Lamar University course, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud after seeing the name Maslow on the list. I remember his work from my undergraduate courses and as far back as high school psychology and sociology. He introduced me to how my generation thinks and lives; through his Hierarchy of Needs diagram.  In my day, his teaching were very relevant even though they were developed in the early 1940s, long before I was born.  Many decisions I have made mirror his well known triangle, a humanistic approach to reaching one’s full potential, growing as earlier needs were met. He ascertained that people follow this model with some degree of order.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsBut times are changing. The new generation of learners thinks vastly different from my generation. I would almost say they could flip the triangle on its point and follow it in reverse! But there’s something else, the millennial generation  includes both teachers and students for the first time. Yes, those born from about 1980 through the early 2000’s are of the same generation – the first generation to have grown up with internet access. That 30 something teacher and those middle school students are of the same breed – millennials. What an interesting dynamic.

Facts about this generation abound research. Millennials may not agree with Maslow’s order of reaching one’s potential, their culture is different and so it the society in which they live. America has changed laws that influence these basic needs of security and safety. For example, the law now extends how long young adults can stay on their parent’s insurance (currently age 26), and the passing of the Affordable Care Act has made available health insurance and tax credit incentives that have greatly reduced the rate of the uninsured  -by 40% (CEA, 2014). Although this hasn’t solved everything, societal changes like these influence the priorities of millennials, who have more and better resources than a generation ago.

Falling in the middle of his diagram is relationships. With safety and security out of the way, millennials report better relationships with family and choosing priorities that promote relationships. The Council of Economic Advisors states, ”

In sum, quality of life appears to be a focus of this generation: Millennials value staying close to family and friends, having free time for recreation, and working in creative  jobs. However, they also want to make a positive social impact on their own children and communities, as well as on society as a whole (CEA 11).

Esteem and Self Actualization, Maslow’s top two categories of achievement have be traditionally reserved for mature, accomplished individuals; people who have already seem success and enjoy working for its own sake. Millennials focus more on learning, giving back to society, and their pursuit of personal happiness over gaining material wealth. It’s as if they are more confident in their ability to survive.

They choose not to work while in college versus earlier generations who put a premium on getting a foot in the door while in school. Statistics suggest the millennials’ strategy is working as they earn considerably more than their experienced peers who lack formal education. (CEA 27).

So what does all this analysis say about our current education system? Young teachers want to teach in the same ways they learned. The value exactly what their students value, work that is interesting and creative.  For their young followers, this is a godsend-teachers who understand what makes them tick. For the rest of us, the last of the Boomers, or the parents of the millennials, Generation X, we must release our grip on the education system and stand down. The best we can do for them is support what is now relevant education in their world, and use our adult leadership to help them reshape real learning.


The Council of Economic Advisors (2014). 15 Economic Facts about Millennials. May 31, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf