Generations

The E-learning 2.0 conference at Brunel took place early this week, and was very enjoyable.  One of the keynote speakers was Reynol Junco, who was particularly talking about pedagogic uses of Twitter, but also has done a lot of work on the attitudes associated with different generations.  He draws on the classifications used by Howe and Strauss and described on their website at http://lifecourse.com/mi/insight/timelines/generations.html , and I should say that he includes a caveat that there can be very significant variations within generations.

I’ve also drawn on Howe and Strauss, and have used their term ‘Millennial’ to describe the group born from 1982 onwards.  I would always apply some caution in using their analysis, since I would tend to classify it as popular science, and because it is very American-oriented.  And their perspective is not only purely American, but established Anglo-Saxon-American: the centre of gravity of their historical references skips neatly across the Atlantic some time before the American declaration of independence.

Yet their generations do provide a useful framework for analysis, and my experience from discussions with students has suggested that the generational shifts are mirrored in different countries, even though the cultural reference points vary.  For example in Britain the generation before the baby boomers were unusual – in British history at least – in that many of the men did military service in peacetime.  This mirrors the importance of military matters to the Howe and Strauss silent generation.  Members of the millennial generation the world over share the experience of growing up in an increasingly connected and globalised environment, but for those born in the former communist bloc (of whom there are many studying in London), this is accentuated by their formative years coming after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

You could also argue that it isn’t too important where you draw the boundaries between generations, so long as you divide people into manageable groups.  There’s an analogy here with postcodes, which are very widely used for demographic analysis, but where the areas were defined purely for the convenience of delivering mail.  If one postcode district contains a very wide variety of people, then that’s a characteristic of the district, but postcode districts weren’t defined purely as areas with one particular demographic.

Incidentally I note that Rey Junco did divide the boomer generation into two sub-groups – the older in effect being the group who would have been at college during the 1960s

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One Response to “Generations”

  1. A framework for millennial students « Martin Rich's Blog Says:

    […] the term ‘millennials’ to describe this group; please look further down the blog at my earlier post on generational issues if you want to read more of the background to the term.  This is a topic of some interest within […]

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