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Blended Learning Is No Longer Optional—Millennial Learners Demand It
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
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My team has a saying: “Training is an event, but learning is a journey.” Organizations used to treat training as a one-size-fits-all class presented in a classroom. Today, we recognize that classroom time can still be extremely valuable for skill practice, but that the experience can be maximized by treating training as part of an ongoing learning journey, with online, video, assessment, gaming, and social learning components. Blended learning is not new, but the changing needs and learning styles of a multigenerational workforce—and the expectations of Millennial learners in particular—make blended learning more important than ever in successfully engaging your team and building their skills.

Millennials are now the largest segment of the U.S. workforce, but they are not alone. Generation X and Baby Boomers are still on the job, while Generation Z is just beginning to start careers. Millennials and those born after them are digital natives. They grew up with computers and mobile phones. They expect smart devices, connectivity, and sharing on social media. Attention spans, which have been in steady decline, are estimated at about eight seconds.

Now, consider the implications for training and talent development. Millennial learners want relevant content delivered to them in ways they recognize and can access easily and quickly, wherever they are and whenever they want it. The good news is Baby Boomers also want short, relevant content that is easy to access. The difference lies in the preferred information tools used. Millennials expect to go online and use search engines or watch YouTube videos to find answers. Baby Boomers, used to reading and classroom instruction, tend to take a more sequential approach to researching and reviewing content.

The business imperative for adapting to how Millennials learn was featured in a report by the Aberdeen Group, which focused on sales organizations but is relevant across industries. Sales Performance Management 2016: How the Best-in-Class Evolve Success highlights that more than three-quarters of top-performing companies, 77 percent, reported making significant or extreme adaptation to managing Millennial sales professionals. Further, the majority of these top-performing companies are investing in formal learning applications for their sellers, knowing how frequently Millennials “consume content” and how top-performing reps are “hungry for any new edge they can get on their competition.” 

Clearly, the old training paradigm has its limitations in a digital world of multigenerational learners. There needs to be innovation in both content and delivery to meet expectations. New thinking about content should consider the cognitive science at work in learning and how bite-sized modules can build on one another. Delivery of that content must work within an on-demand culture of being accessible any time and any place learners are ready. 

The technology responsible for changes in learning styles is also the solution for reaching learners where they are. Digital tools and platforms can make it easier for learners to understand their progress in the learning journey, assess current skill levels, and identify where they need to improve and why. 

A blended learning approach can appeal to all generations, combining online digital media with instructor-led classroom time. Taken a step further, a technique called the flipped classroom allows learners to gain fundamental skills and concepts on their own time before attending class. The online lessons are typically self-contained chunks of information designed to make learning easier and quicker to understand. In-class time is used to practice and perfect skills learned online. 

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To meet learners where they are and adapt to their learning styles, blended programs typically offer various ways to access content: text, interactive elements, video-based scenarios, audio files, game mechanics, quizzes, and user-generated information. The interface is best designed to be intuitive to use, adding broad appeal to all generations. 

Blended learning should take into consideration the learner’s entire journey: before, during, and after training occurs. Before ever walking into a physical classroom, the online focus is on awareness of strengths and opportunities to improve selling skills, along with learning the fundamentals and practicing these concepts using a cloud-based platform. The next phase involves instructor-led workshops, where learners can internalize and hone their selling skills through role plays, feedback, redirects, and practice.

The post-training element can be the most crucial because it’s about sustaining the learning. This involves coaching, sustainment tools that provide access to searchable on-demand modules, analytics to inform managers and promote coaching opportunities where needed, and a final check to validate each seller’s progress.

“Training is an event, but learning is a journey” is a mantra that ensures learners don’t just “go to training,” but have a transformative and sustained learning experience that genuinely empowers sellers with better skills—and helps them unlock revenue for their organizations.

Want to learn more? Join me at ATD 2017 Conference & Exposition for the session: Engaging Multigenerational Learners Through a Blended Learning Approach.

About the Author
Christopher Tiné is chief product officer at Richardson, where he leads the company’s product development and innovation activities and has global responsibility for content development, instructional design, facilitation, measurement, and digital.
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