Today we welcome a young leader working at the intersection of higher education and technology, Sean Traigle, Senior Director, Academic Partnerships at StraighterLine.  Sean shares his perspective on the contributions millenials stand to make to our industry and puts a call to action for those in the generations before us to help raise up young leaders.  Thank you, Sean for sharing your insight with us!

Why the younger generation can be a vital part of Education Leadership

At a recent conference, I spoke about the post-traditional student and I had a small soapbox moment about millenials (Born 1979-2000) and our relation to education. I made the comment I often make in presentations that revolve around new forms of credit and online learning is that I’m often the youngest person in the room even at 31. After the conference, one of the attendees at the presentation (and someone I ran across a few more times while there) mentioned that it was good to see someone else her age at a conference focused on the intersection of technology and education.

Let’s think about that for a second.

Waiting in line by Iowa Spirit Walker on Flickr
Waiting in line by Iowa Spirit Walker on Flickr

In 2000, my first year of college, I was waiting in line in a hall of a building. Was I waiting to purchase football tickets? No. Eat lunch? No. Register for classes.  The time tested, hand-written, sit-and-wait method was still alive in the year 2000.  It was only the next year that I was able to use a phone instead.  In the time since, we have gone from physical lines, to phone lines, to no lines. For a college or university, that was a big change.

Some education leaders would like to believe that the traditional university will not exist in 10 years; proclamations like this make change in education scary. Although many institutions are excited for the prospect of new ways to earn and validate credit, many institutions want to keep the ever-present tsunami of change at bay. As an industry that relies on tradition, prestige, and an emphasis on experience through teaching and administration, education employees skew older.

In most sections of universities and education service providers, relying on tradition is a good idea. Wisdom from education leaders is valuable for building strong foundations. The younger generation’s perspective is unique, though, specifically because of their relation to change, both culturally, and personally. From our vantage point, even though we have seen it pass quickly, we are very much aware of change; we can even make a career out of it.

What can we bring to the table? How can we help? Here are five points to consider:

Children of the Internet Age. Our experiences have brought us through the careening highs of the late 90’s internet boom and the 2010 economic bust. We’ve seen our generation expand quickly and innovate even faster; Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind. We’ve seen the change, so we know what it was like in the past, and we know how and why things can change. This is one of our biggest strengths both in leveraging new technologies and in being leaders.

They want to help. Millenials are now seen as a group that does put significant effort into changing the world and helping others. And when you look at the growth of education, the focus on access and rising costs that the generation has also had to bear, they would not only be sympathetic, but also eager to change processes for the better.

Diversity.  Millenials are also the most diverse generation yet.  Not only are they more integrated and eager to change, but they come from many different backgrounds, places, situations, with an infinite variety of goals.

Photo by Bill Selak on Flickr
Photo by Bill Selak on Flickr

Education. Millenials are also the most educated generation yet… but there’s still work to do. With everything at their fingertips, Millenials have been exposed to a significant amount of information over the last 20 years. They are in touch with ideas, people, and goals. At the same time, we still see plenty of areas to expand education and continue focusing on building a stronger workforce.

They are the non-traditional student. The non-traditional student population is expanding. Why? Non-traditional students are millenials, and they will continue to be for the next 30 years. Not only will they be the student, but they should be leading the students as well.  More so than any generation before, the infinite varieties of goals and backgrounds must be met with an equal variety of approaches. This is no small task. Non-traditional students are lifelong learners, integrating their learning experiences over time with their careers, recreation, and hobbies. Non-traditional will seek credentials through these accumulated sources of learning and look validations of credits to build degrees. Who better to build that system than the very generation that saw such change?

Educational Technology is at the forefront of current change and we see the influence of open technologies, badge and micro-credits, “un-bundling” of course content (and the subsequent commoditization of said content), competency-based education, and other new experiences throughout education. New technologies are reflecting those very trends. While education, and educational technology, are very much changing industries, we still don’t see enough young minds involved in that change. I go back to the conferences I’ve attended and the rooms I’ve sat in, and I’m always the youngest one. On one hand, I’ve had little competition for positions. On the other, I think we could be missing creative ideas and input. I hope I see more. I hope that those from older generations can recognize talent to build and future leaders to inspire.

Traigle, SeanSean Traigle
Senior Director of Academic Relationships
@SATraigle (Twitter) (blog)

Photo Credits:  Iowa Spirit Walker & Bill Selak from Flickr.

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