Want Gen Y to Learn Faster? Combine Technology and Teams

Everyone agrees that Gen Y loves teamwork. Can technology help you put this fact to use in your training program?

After a youth filled with the collaboration and interaction on everything from Facebook to World of Warcraft, Gen Y likes teamwork. Who says? The New York Times for one, which recently reported that “members of Gen Y are significantly more likely than Gen X’ers and boomers to say they are more productive working in teams than on their own.” Yosh Beier of Collaborative Coaching agrees, saying in a recent interview that “Gen Y love to do work on a team-basis.”

Still not convinced? Popular business-culture blogger Penelope Trunk has noted that “one of the defining traits of Generation Y is their penchant, and talent, for working in teams,” and even CareerBuilder has profiled Gen Y as preferring collaboration. “If you want to attract and bring in Gen Y candidates, start by structuring jobs for interaction and teamwork,” they recommend.

New approach

So can this insight be applied to training as well as day-to-day management? Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, has argued yes on his blog, opening the discussion with a challenging question for older folks:

“Are we, the adults, willing to accept that children who are growing up digital learn far more in an interactive, collaborative environment?  Are we willing to accept that an Industrial Age form of education isn’t much good for children who have to work in a digital age?”

For an example of how a fresh approach to education and training might work he turns to Portugal, which embarked a few years ago on a nationwide push to make sure all citizens were ready for the wired workplace with computer and internet skills. Subsidized laptops and broadband access in the classroom, as well as teacher training, changed how lessons were run, not just making education more high-tech but also more team-oriented. Tapscott explains:

The impact on the classroom is tremendous, as I saw this spring when I toured a classroom of seven-year-olds in a public school in Lisbon. It was the most exciting, noisy, collaborative classroom I have seen in the world.

The teacher directed the kids to an astronomy blog with a beautiful color image of a rotating solar system on the screen. “Now,” said the teacher, “Who knows what the equinox is?”

Nobody knew.

“Alright, why don’t you find out?”

The chattering began, as the children clustered together to figure out what an equinox was. Then one group leapt up and waved their hands. They found it! They then proceeded to explain the idea to their classmates…. They were collaborating. They were working at their own pace. They barely noticed the technology; it was like air to them. But it changed the relationship they had with their teacher. Instead of fidgeting in their chairs while the teacher lectures and scrawls some notes on the blackboard, they were the explorers, the discoverers, and the teacher was their helpful guide.

Lesson learned

By introducing technology to the classroom, the uni-directional flow of information from teacher to individual student was disrupted, and students were able to not only find information themselves, but also share it with one another – teamwork, enabled by tech. “It’s too early to assess the impact on learning in Portuguese schools,” Tapscott admits, but he sounds pretty optimistic, and recent studies have showed similar collaborative approaches to university science education improve outcomes as well.

Could a similar shift in how you approach training benefit your business?

(Image courtesy of Flickr user jaaasper, CC 2.0)

London-based blogger Jessica Stillman covers generational issues and trends in the workforce for BNET.com.