How to Teach the On Demand Generation

Remember waiting? We used to wait for our favorite song on the radio. We used to wait for a TV show to come on and watch simultaneously with millions of people. We used to wait for our kids to come home without being able to text them. We used to wait for phone calls. We even used to wait for the dial up modem to get online.

We don’t wait anymore.

My daughter is 6 years old. She doesn’t have to wait for much. If she wants to watch Doc McStuffins she can get six different show options on demand. Or she can play a game or access those same shows from an iPad. If my wife and I aren’t around to read to her, she can open up an ebook that reads to her as she turns the pages. That same iPad (or any other tablet) can let her practice writing, work on her numbers, or just give her a space to paint and be artsy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. She loves when I read to her. And would much rather do arts and crafts with my wife than an iPad. But that is not her only option. She is growing up and living in the “On Demand” generation. It’s a generation that has constant access to what we used to wait for.

Learning with the “On Demand” Generation

So how do we go about teaching this generation? Does telling these students that they’ll have to wait for the dinosaur unit, or read one specific book at a particular time, or stop with addition when they are ready for multiplication work? How will my daughter feel about a learning experience not tailored to her interests?

I for one, don’t want her to be frustrated with school because it is stuck in a 20th century model. I don’t want her to “love learning” but “hate school.” And I definitely don’t want her to think receiving “good grades” is all that matters.

In order to teach today’s students we need to rethink our practice from the top down. Too often we focus on WHAT we want our students to learn, instead of HOW they will be learning those skills, and HOW they will be assessed. The “On Demand” generation requires four specific answers to those questions:

How Will These Students Learn New Skills?

  • In an environment that allows for collaboration (with experts and peers)
  • By tinkering, making, creating, and failing
  • Face to face and online – in a space not restricted by time
  • Through their own interests and inquiries

How Will These Students Be Assessed?

  • Through products and presentations
  • Informal conversations and dialogue (online or in person)
  • By their grit and resolve, the process not the final result
  • In teamwork and collaborative situations

We can’t keep “preparing” our students for the next grade, or next test, or next anything. Quite frankly, we don’t really know what is going to be next. What kind of jobs is my 6-year old going to be vying for when she’s 22? Who knows!

But I do know that she’ll need to work with people at that job. She’ll need to communicate, collaborate, and share her thoughts eloquently. She’ll have to bring new ideas to the table, and connect the dots. She’ll have to persevere through tough times, and have the grit to keep moving forward. She’ll have to create and not just consume. She’ll have to work beyond the 9-5.

So let’s start preparing our students for that world. They are already living in it. They don’t like waiting, and neither do I.

A Project for the On Demand Generation

I created a free video course for teachers interested in running 20% time and Genius Hour projects, because teachers around this world want to give their students the opportunity to learn about something they are interested in and passionate about. Genius Hour and 20% time allow students to first focus on what their interests and passions are, and then find a purpose for their learning. Whether that is writing and producing an album, learning sign-language, building a Rasperry Pi computer, cloning carnivorous plants, or starting a “compliment” movement on Facebook…and yes those were all 20% project that happened!

I’m excited to teach and learn with this “on demand generation” because they are pushing us as educators to do “new things in new ways”, not just “old things in new ways.”

They are challenging us to inspire and motivate them, and I for one want to accept that challenge. Let’s teach above the test for the foreseeable future…because they deserve that type of instruction, and because they’ll need it to succeed right now, and in the years to come.

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  • Juliana Cavalieri says:

    Recently I took a course in coursera that talked about education in the 21st century. After this, I even presented a lecture in a Google Summit that talked exactly about this generation and gave teachers some hints (apps, and lessons) that could help them in their classes. But I gues that what makes the task of planning lessons for these students is the lack of empathy we feel. And it is not because we don’t want, it is just because we can’t. We have no idea how is like to be part of this generation because we are not! It is challenging to wear their shoes and understand they work in a completely different way… Challenging, did not say impossible!
    Great article, as always!

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for sharing Juliana. I love how open you are about the fact that “we have no idea how it is like to be a part of this generation” – and you are spot on. We don’t. Let’s take this challenge together!

  • […] How to Teach the “On Demand” Generation – A.J. Juliani […]

  • Randy says:

    “On demand” has provided all of us, including our children, with greater opertunities for personalization throughout all aspects of life. Unfortunately, K12 hasn’t fully realized the power of this change. What if we had more conversations with our students about how they personalize their world? What if we approached those conversations with a growth mindset about changing our practice? The ideas in your post provide a great starting point for that conversation.

  • […] of the growing technological trends in education is what I call On Demand Education. It’s the ability for students to learn at any time, from anywhere. This, again, is great. […]

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