Random Thoughts

School Work needs to be meaningful research shows

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A new survey released from ADP looks at what millennials (age 18-35) and right behind them “Generation Z” (for lack of a better name at the moment), want from their job and employers. Quartz had a nice write up of the research and I was drawn to this both in the report and in the write up.

“[T]he need for meaning has certainly evolved over the years,” the ADP researchers wrote. “Today, the younger generation of Millennials places more of an emphasis on a search for meaning within their jobs than previous generations, who tended to look for meaning outside of work.” -Quartz

So this generation is searching for meaning in their work. When work is school you are searching for meaning in your school work. We call this student-led, or student ownership, or a host of other names I’m sure you’ve heard in eduspeak. But what we really need to understand is that for this generation in our schools today they want work to be meaningful….to them….not to us the teachers.

How do we help them do meaningful work? Work that shows their passion, their love and something they want to do? Each generation is different from the one before, yet we treat the new generation like our generation…because that’s what we know. Today we have more research on this generation than ever before and all that research says the same thing. They are an amazing generation that if given meaningful tasks will work hard for you. If the tasks are not meaningful, if they don’t feel they have control over their own time and space, then they shut down (more from the above research).


I was thinking about this as I subbed in for the tech teacher at my wife’s school. The lesson plan called for them to explore a couple of data websites on their own. I watched 4th graders struggle without knowing what to click on or where to go. They go to websites all the time but without meaning, why go at all. So we came up with meaning. For a few kids they were interested in Antarctica, a few others their favorite sports player. All of a sudden we were looking and navigating data websites in a meaningful way….meaningful to them.

Employers are having troubles keeping Millennials happy in the workplace (that’s really what this article is about) and Gen Z is coming right behind them. Engaging this generation is not just an education problem. It’s a problem that everyone is facing when we treat the next generation like our generation instead of understanding that they are different. Not better or worse, just different…..and that’s a good thing!

Over the next few months on the Eduro Learning blog I’m going to write a series of blog posts about Hiring, Onboarding, and Retaining the Millennial educator. Based on talking with pre-service teachers in Whitworth University’s Masters in Teaching program and my own research and presentation I gave to the Washington State Personnel Association on the same topic. Please join in with your thoughts as I explore the idea of what this generation is all about.


I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. School work has to be meaningful to students including technology use. Technology can be used in numerous ways in the classroom, but effective use of technology is to use it as learning tools to promote learning.

  2. School work needs to be meaningful including the use of technology. Technology can be used in a wide variety of ways in the classroom, but emphasis should be placed on using technology as learning tools to promote learning.

  3. This post reminds me my school days. I used to do so many projects which were meaningless. Everytime your elders tell you how they were in their time and they expect same from you, and they never think that the time has changed. Nowadays students are more curious to know everything, they are full of questions. Today’s children are so smart and advance like technology we have now.

  4. School work not only needs to be meaningful, but this is only half of the equation in my mind. In gaming theory which is a field I work with quite a bit (mindmeetsgame.com), the student needs to not only have a desire and goal, but also agency. In other words, students tend to say something like “I like (fill in the subject), but what meaningful thing can I say or do about it.” Sometimes that means finding their agency or ways they can invoke other’s agency if the interest is too big. Well, they are just doing research not advocacy, right? True, but research isn’t an after thought like so many schools teach it. Real research is about raising awareness, finding new possibilities, and proposing the next step. If we remove students by making them outside simply seem like outside observers, they will often also disconnect. I do realize SOME elementary teachers will say this is a bit much for say a 4th grader, but actually their minds are rather engaged for inquiry based learning at this age. I love where you’re going with this post! Great work!

  5. The author has clearly indicated that there is a paradigm shift in the new generation learning methodologies. Technology plays a pivotal role in today’s education and it cannot be ignored.

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