Each generation values and manages work and education in different ways. An individual’s approach to learning, whether formal or workplace education, impacts their capacity to develop a growth mindset and their ability to flourish in both settings. Dweck’s growth mindset views challenging work as a learning and growing opportunity as opposed to a fixed mindset view where intelligence is considered innate and static and natural ability determines success.

As the generational gap between health professions educators and learners grows, understanding each generation’s expectations for learning and communication is critical to bridging this chasm. The Pew Research Center defines generational boundaries as a continuum with the following birth year ranges:

  • Baby Boomers born 1946 – 1964
  • Generation X born 1965 – 1980
  • Generation Y (aka Millennials) born 1981 – 1996
  • Generation Z born 1997 - 2012

Expectations differ across the generational continuum as Baby Boomers teaching style expectations are teacher-centered or a “paternal” model (Instruction Paradigm). In contrast, Generation X and Millennials teaching style expectations are learner-centered or a “customer” model (Learning Paradigm). Generation X and Millennials tend to be skeptical of a teacher-centered teaching style as they want to be an active participant in their learning - for example by having active discussions and working in small groups - and expect curricular information and concepts to have clinical contextual relevance. Generation Z learners prefer blended learning approaches that integrate social interactions, activities, and technology with concise instructions and immediate feedback.

Expectations of self also differ between generations. Baby Boomers are described as having a tempered view of self while younger generations have high expectations of self. These high expectations may translate to younger generations being self-assured and confident in their abilities while older generations are more self-reliant, using their own resources to obtain what they want to achieve.

Educators have an opportunity to leverage generational differences in the context of a growth mindset. In the learning environment, educators can draw on the confidence of this younger generation to promote independent learning and discovery, while ensuring clear and relevant curricular expectations. A growth mindset can also be fostered when giving feedback to younger learners as feedback should be carefully crafted and framed as a part of learning, especially when it is critical or formative. Teachers can effectively structure feedback into a learning experience by discussing the process at the start of the rotation or before an observed task. Providing feedback as coaching or mentoring opportunities are strategies that can enhance a growth mindset, particularly when it is focused on processes, behaviors, and efforts.  

An overall shift is needed away from a fixed mindset, often created from praise for intellect and abilities, to the development of a growth mindset where deficiencies and challenges are considered opportunities to improve knowledge, skills, and competence through effort, practice, and learning.

What methods do you use to help learners adopt a growth mindset? Share your ideas via Twitter at #MedEdPearls!  

#MedEdPearls are developed monthly by the Health Professions Educator Developers on Educational Affairs. Previously, #MedEdPearls explored topics including receiving feedback, emotion in feedback, and the ARCH feedback model.

Jennifer Hillyer, PhD, is Executive Director of the Institute for Teaching Excellence and Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Jennifer’s professional interests include instructional and course development, curriculum design, faculty development, and education research. Jennifer can be followed on Twitter or LinkedIn or contacted via email.


#MedEdPearls Team:
Jean Bailey, PhD – Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Carrie Bowler, EdD, MS, MLSCM (ASCP) – Mayo Clinic
Kristina Dzara, PhD, MMSc (Educators ’16; Assessment ’16; HCE 2.0 ’17) – Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Shanu Gupta, MD – University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital
Jennifer Hillyer, PhD – Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine
Larry Hurtubise, PhD (HCE 2.0 '16) – The Ohio State University
Anna Lama, EdD – West Virginia University School of Medicine
Machelle Linsenmeyer, EdD, NAOME (Assessment ’07) – West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
Rachel Moquin, EdD, MA – Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis
Stacey Pylman, PhD – Michigan State University College of Human Medicine
Leah Sheridan, PhD – The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Lonika Sood, MBBS, MHPE – Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University
Mark Terrell, EdD – Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stacey Wahl, PhD – Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine