On Teaching: Teaching a Fashion Millennial

As the beginning of a new quarter approaches, I find myself preparing for my classes conflicted. A part of me still feels close to my students in age and personality traits.  I remember being in college and how I thought and felt.   Another part of me feels removed.  The conversations and motivations of my students seem very different than how I acted in college.  As this inner conflict arose while preparing for this quarter, I began asking myself new questions; how do I engage these Millennial students? And beyond engagement, how do I actually teach them?

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First we must endeavor to understand a Millennial. According to Michael Wilson and Leslie Gerber (2008), Millennials are sheltered, confident, optimistic, team-oriented and are not internally driven. “Millennials respond best to external motivators… (Wilson & Gerber, 2008, pp.31).” Despite their sheltered upbringing, millennials are international consumers and show concern regarding global issues (Pasricha & Kadolph, 2009). In addition, students who choose to study fashion are “more creative and interested in the arts than students in other majors (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 69).” The most significant motivating factor for students is the perceived professional image and a personally satisfying career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010). Students want to “…take their love of fashion beyond an interest and turn it into a career (Hodges & Karpova, Majoring in fashion, 2010, pp. 71).” Many understand they will not graduate into their desired position but they expect to grow into it instead; others express the desire to be their own boss (Poshadlo, 2010; Hodges & Karpova, Making a major decision, 2009).

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With the beginning of understanding comes the beginning of teaching theories. Some educators are responding by shortening lecture times, reshaping assignments and incorporating more technology (Wilson & Gerber, 2008). Others are simply not assigning work they know the students are not “good” at. But, just as my own conflict sways me to one side, another sound argument is presented; at what point does this “reshaping” destroy higher education (Barnes, Marateo & Ferris, 2007)? At what point do we stop the “razzle dazzle,” as one of my colleagues puts it, and we teach?


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The benefit of my position as the coordinator for fashion design and management programs is that I can look at the whole picture and see how new ideas can be applied to a larger construct. For these fashion millennial students, how can we tap into their motivators and provide quality education throughout their program to develop them into a successful fashion professional? Through analyzing our total curriculum, a colleague helped define an approach I believe can address this challenge. Through curriculum analysis, this hypothesis can start students at a “discovery” phase to explore and gain a foundational knowledge then lead them to critical thinking. After they critically evaluate the material, students and faculty can create a “collaborative learning environment,” which applies the course concepts, enhancing the student’s skills (Pidgeon, N., personal communication, 2014 April 2). To ensure these fashion millennials find value in this collaborative environment, applying a social concern in a service-learning activity could actively engage them (Videtic, 2009). Karen Videtic from Virginia Commonwealth University (2009) explores this concept in greater detail for fashion education and presented strong arguments supported by research completed by Anupama Pasricha and Sara J. Kadoph (2009).

I have constructed my own course content with this new progression;

  • Scavenger Hunt: The first homework assignment students will be given is a scavenger hunt. This hunt will require them to find examples of various topics, which will later be covered in the quarter. This is a discovery project and sets them up for the competencies of the course.
  • Article Analysis: Next, I lead them into a critical thinking phase. The student’s read articles related to the topic of the week. After they read the articles they must develop their original opinion on the content and create a presentation to deliver to the class the following week.
  • Socially Responsible Project: A project that involves a socially responsible component is an active engagement exercise. The students must work as a team to develop a project centered on a class-selected charity. The project is a total competency assignment summarizing the information taught throughout the quarter. Just as the scavenger hunt was a homework assignment to “discover” the content of the class, this final project is an “application” of what they have learned.

These new approaches should allow these millennial students the opportunity to embrace their learning and walk away from my courses with a deeper understanding of the content. Thanks to the insight provided by the many notable scholars on millennials, these assignments, activities and project will guide students through the learning phases in my courses.  By changing my methods to engage and teach the millenial students, my conflict remains but has lessened in importance.

I will be trying this out this quarter and will let you know how it goes! Wish me luck!


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Barnes, K., R. Marateo, and S. Ferris. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate, 3 (4). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=382 (accessed April 24, 2008).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2010 March 24). Majoring in fashion: a theoretical framework for understanding the decision-making process. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 3(2), 67-76. http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/external?sid=ee4d9ae7-d4e9-4510-939f-e468c27039df%40sessionmgr115&vid=3&hid=122 (accessed March 24, 2015).

Hodges, N. & Karpova, E. (2009 July 13). Making a major decision: an exploration of why students enrol in fashion programmes. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 47-57.

Pasricha, A. & Kadolph, S.J. (2009 October 6). Millennial generation and fashion education: a discussion on agents of change. International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2(2-3), 119-126.

Poshadlo, G. (2010 September 20-26). Fashion students don’t want to be part of the brain drain. Indianapolis Business Journal, pp 38.

Videtic, K. (2009 November 7). Service Learning: opportunities for deep learning in fashion design and merchandising education. The International Journal of Learning, 16, 397-403.

Wilson, M. & Gerber, L.E. (2008 Fall). How generational theory can improve teaching: strategies for working with the “Millennials”. Currents in Teaching and Learning, 1 (1), 29-44.

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