“Who is your target group?” is one of the first and most important questions we ask our clients before we start designing a solution. And regardless of whether the answer is ‘sales agents’, ‘engineers’ or ‘customer service reps’ – more and more often the learners we are designing solutions for have one thing in common: they’re Millennials.
Millennials, i.e. people born in the 1980’s and 1990’s, are naturally an ever-growing part of the workforce; by 2025 they are expected to make up 75% of it. And as every new generation does, Millennials will demand change as much as drive it – in the way we work, and therefore in the way we approach learning and development.
Let’s save the discussion about “Millennial Myths” being true or not for another day, and look at some key characteristics of Millennials and their impact on L&D trends instead.
Learning = Mobile Learning
As ‘Digital Natives’, Millennials have been surrounded by technology since childhood. Mobile devices, the Internet, texting, social networking — all are second nature to Millenials. The majority of them has a very positive attitude towards technology.
This is particularly true when it comes to mobile technology: 87% of Millennials say their smartphone never leaves their side, 68% prefer to use mobile devices over a laptop/desktop computer, and 60% believe that in the next couple of years everything will be done on mobile devices. Everything – which necessarily includes learning and training. Employers have to realize that providing their (younger) employees with mobile devices or introducing a BYOD (Bring your own device) policy will become critical for increasing productivity and performance.
Context vs. Content
Mobile learning also corresponds with the average Millennial’s desire for flexibility: Instead of sitting in a classroom or office 9 to 5, Millennials prefer to work and learn on a flexible schedule, and have access to relevant information whenever and wherever they need it. Context is becoming more important than content, and on-the-job, just-in-time learning resources – while of course not replacing formal training entirely – should be considered a necessary component of every L&D program.
Attention & Retention
It may be a cliché, but Millennials actually do have short attention spans. They’re constantly connected, switching from one media channel to the next, expecting information to be presented in digestible bites, not lengthy expositions. An instructional designer only has a few precious minutes to capture a Millennial’s attention and to get across a key learning objective.
Micro-learning (short bite-sized learning modules) is proving to be a critical design approach to ensure that learning is effective for Millennials and to keep their attention focused. Short, crisp online modules or mobile apps typically focus on bite-sized segments of five minutes or less, keeping Millennials engaged and driving knowledge retention.
A fair question to ask would be: Aren’t these different approaches simply good practices for every learner – be it Millennials, Gen X or even older? The answer is: Yes!
Fact is, mobile has become the number one gateway to the Internet - across people of all ages.
Digital on-the-job training creates effective performance support for all employees, not just Millennials.
And when it comes to attention and retention – the steep forgetting curve (see Josh’s article from a few weeks back) applies to learners of every generation.
So why talk about Millennials at all, then?
Because Millennials, with their natural, confident attitude towards the digital world, are trend-setting. They will intuitively ask for things that might seem too far off the vanguard to people of older generations.
Also, Millennials love learning. According to a recent study by PWC, Millennials actually ranked training and development as the most highly valued employee benefit. They have a mindset of continuous learning and knowledge consumption, and are eager to access information when and where they need it.
It’s time for companies to evaluate – and if necessary rethink – their talent development initiatives through the eyes of their younger employees. Millennial values can shape a learning and development strategy that benefits everyone. Mobile learning, just-in-time job aids and micro learning content that fits into flexible schedules are just the beginning.
So, is your organization ready to re-assess it’s learning culture?
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 2014 Zogby Analytics – Millennial Study