'Baby boomer' Tony Parkin invokes Queen in his exploration of Generation Y

Rob DavidsonRob DavidsonThough written by members of an earlier student generation, the ''I want it all, and I want it now" of Queen's "I want it all" anthem captures perfectly the attitude and aspirations of the Generation Y students at today's universities and colleges.

And according to research, education is failing to adjust its approaches to meet the different views and expectations of this demanding generation which is now entering the teaching profession – and of the next generation following in our schools.

At a breakfast seminar at the RSA, Rob Davidson, senior lecturer in events management from Greenwich University, cantered rapidly through the basics of the marketeer's generational analysis. He suggested that education is largely structured according to the principles of the Traditionalists (born 1925–42), though they have now almost entirely retired from the workforce, leaving the Baby Boomers (1943–64) believing they are in charge.

This 'Me Generation', whch largely saw itself as rebellious 'new turks', has in turn failed to recognise that it is now outnumbered, out-gunned and even outvoted by the succeeding Generation X (1961– 76) and Generation Y (1977– 95) cohorts. These groups have brought an entirely different set of values and expectations to their university and work life that is largely not being recognised or met by the institutions that are meant to educate them, nor by the schools that employ them as they become today's teachers.

“Generation Y's acquaintance and aptitude with technology in all of its forms, from an early age, sets it apart from previous generations,” said Rob. For example, as heavy users of two-way communications technologies, Generation Y students expect rapid response, constant feedback, and frequent offering of options to allow them to choose their next steps. In contrast, many of higher education's systems are one-directional, without choice or feedback mechanisms, and with large time intervals between the students' submissions and any response from the institution of their tutors and mentors.

Personalisation, and a timely if not instant response, is what Gen Y has become used to demanding, and indeed getting, from their online systems, and it is largely absent from the higher education offering.

Generation Y deals with the challenge of work-life balance in a way that can antagonise earlier generations. 'Y' employees expect to be able to spend time during the day on maintaining their social network – which will embrace personal as well as work dimensions. However, they will also be comfortable with spending time in the evenings, and at weekends, engaged in working – happily blurring the work-life boundaries rather than worrying about how to maintain them. Though students have always had a flexible approach to time, this generation sees this flexibility as a part of normal life, and expect institutions and employers to recognise and cater to this new order, while much of education is still working to an outdated 9-5 model.

Generation Y expects a picture to replace a thousand words – videos too

A visually literate generation, Generation Y really does expect a picture to replace a thousand words, and expect imagery to be striking, dynamic and appealing. Text should come in bit-size chunks and be short, efficient and frequent, rather than the long flowery prose often used in HE. When it comes to events, they bring all the expectations of their social world to conferences and events, expecting pre- and post-event engagement, accompanied by the usual technology support structures of blogs, moblogs, wikis, podcasts, videos, widgets and RSS feeds.

When registered, they look for mobile phone and email reminders and trailers, with online access to a site offering opportunities to sign up, offer opinions, make choices, comment, review and evaluate. They even like to be asked to help shape the event – and asked what topics they wish to see covered, rather than be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it list of topics and speakers.

Event venues are expected to be stimulating, and as far from mundane as possible. Natural daylight, outdoor areas to congregate and chill-out zones are obligatory. Of course there must be be wifi everywhere, allowing back-channels and the blurring of the real and virtual worlds. Sessions should be short, entertaining and they expect a show... not an hour-long lecture. Information has to relevant and pertinent, and they are no longer content to settle for the purely motivational presentations enjoyed by previous generations.

So what's Generation Y's major vulnerability at events compared to earlier generations? Face to face networking! Less comfortable with approaching strangers at conferences, significantly greater effort has to be put into organising the social networking opportunities so that these barriers are overcome and events are as successful at the important informal networking as they are in formal sessions.

Anyone who has attended any of the excellent Learning Without Frontiers events would have immediately grasped the significance of the ideas that Rob Davidson was delivering, and the importance was clear to anyone who is organising education events addressing today's students or teachers.

More information

Rob Davidson teamed up with Active Network Events to present the seminar, entitled ‘Generation Y and New Event Marketing Technology’, in May at London’s Royal Society of Arts (RSA). Banks Holcombe, of Active Network Events also outlined the commpany's Events Technology solution.
Rob Davidson
Banks Holcombe
Active Networks
Active networks Events Management solution

Tony ParkinTony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and now an independent consultant, describes himself as a 'disruptive nostalgist'. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter via @tonyparkin

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