The Future Operational Learner
"The introductory chapter describes many of the different characteristics and attitudes of the
millennial generation that will most affect the Army in 2015 to 2024 and how the expectations of this future generation about jobs and careers are different from those of their parents and
grandparents. In spite of these differences, the Army can be certain that future learners will share many of the needs and preferences of today’s adult learners. For example, they will have a need to know why learning is required, a need to direct their learning, a need to contribute their experiences to the learning situation, a need to apply what they have learned to solve real world problems and a need to feel competent and experience success throughout the learning program. What is far less certain is whether and how future learners will be “unique learners,” different in identifiable ways from today’s learners, and the implications, if any, for the Army. For example, some believe that the brains and thinking patterns of this generation of computer-users
may be different from those of previous generations. Marc Prensky posits that people brought up with computers: …think differently than the rest of us. They develop hypertext minds...Thinking skills enhanced by repeated exposure to computer games and other digital media include reading visual images as representations of three-dimensional space (representational competence), multidimensional visual-spatial skills, mental maps,…inductive discovery…attentional deployment, and responding faster to expected and unexpected stimuli. According to Prensky, a unique feature of future learners is that they may choose to pay attention in bursts rather than continuously. He states that they: “Tune in just enough to get the gist and be sure it makes sense.” Numerous sources acknowledge this propensity for millennials to pay attention in “twitch speed” bursts while multitasking, and bricolaging (or piecing together information). This has in turn led to a concern that the millennials’ thinking may be characterized by short attention spans and a lack of reflection. If true, the latter characterization would be especially troubling given that reflective thought contributes to adaptive thinking and adaptive thinking is a critical future Soldier competency.97 However, others have suggested that the reported short attention spans and lack of reflection among millennials merely signify that these learners possess an invaluable attribute—the ability to evaluate information rapidly. Puchta and others point out that the most valuable skill in the twenty-first century probably won’t be attention span, but rather the ability to multitask—another characteristic that may be more common among millennials."
The above is another quotation from the TRADOC Pam referenced in my earlier post. My reason for placing it here should be relatively obvious by now, namely that if we don't start focusing our leader development and training efforts around the youngest generation of Soldiers - using the current operational environment as the canvas for learning rather than the ultimate endstate (wining the war) then we will forever work backwards.
If, in fact, Millennials think differently - actually process raw data faster, are more capable of discarding unneeded or unuseful information, and multi-task more completely than previous generations, then the need for different training solutions and leader development models becomes absolutely imperative. For example, raw data in and of itself without a contemplative component will have very little value. So, it may be that one of the things that needs to be impressed upon a Millennial is sorting through reams of data and then finding the pieces tat require more contemplative thought in order to fully understand it's value. This is somewhat the opposite of earlier generations who were given to long ponderings on esoteric ideas, but often these had no immediate impact, or lacked a practical way of being implemented.