Most studies show that Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are already a majority of the U.S. workforce and will be a majority worldwide in the next few years. Millennials are digital natives, for whom digital technologies form an integral part of their lives—in the way they communicate, entertain themselves, and most important, acquire and share information with others.
When it comes to how they learn, they are more autodidactic than earlier generations, and unbelievably collaborative in sharing with and learning from others. They are nonlinear in their learning, autonomous in their thinking, and consider learning to be a fun, 24/7 activity that can be done virtually. They are adept with multiple devices and are good at multitasking. Always being connected is a way of life for them.
While traditional methods of training—such as classroom training, coaching by senior colleagues, and on-the-job mentoring—have their own place, they may not be completely suitable for this generation.
I recommend five strategies (by no means exhaustive), to be adopted by learning and development (L&D) systems so that we can achieve a higher degree of success not only in training and developing Millennials, but also in retaining them.
Create Bite-Sized, Stand-Alone Learning Units
Millennials prefer content in bite-sized chunks of information. They have notoriously low attention spans and retention rates. They squeeze learning into small pockets of time during the numerous times they go online every day. Also, research suggests that bite-sized learning delivered to handheld devices can increase information transfer by 17 percent and results in greater understanding, application, and retention than a daylong equivalent of training. Cost-wise it can be up to 30 percent cheaper, too.
If you have a long course, break it down into several small learning units, each targeting a single learning objective. These units can be strung together to form a module, and a group of modules can form a course. When courses are created in this format, learners find it easier to access them and complete them unit by unit.
Structure Curriculums Into Multiple Levels of Learning
Millennials are extremely goal-centric and prefer just-in-time learning. So, it is wise to structure larger chucks of learning into multiple levels based on difficulty. Learners may have different learning needs and their knowledge of the subject may be at different levels of proficiency. If you can provide an option for them to move to more advanced levels if they qualify, you will be able to motivate them to move quickly to more advanced levels of the curriculum and ensure completion.
Provide Incentives in the Form of Certification and Recognition
When you structure courses into multiple levels—basic, intermediate, and advanced, for example—make sure your learning management system can generate a certificate of completion or a badge. Millennials value growth and are likely to move out of an organization if they do not see their career growing. Providing learning opportunities and recognizing their achievements is one way to motivate them to stick around in the organization.
Provide a Collaborative Platform for Sharing and Peer-to-Peer Interaction
Millennials have grown up using social media. Social media allows them to acquire knowledge instantly. It provides them with a platform to share ideas and experiences with a larger group. When they are stuck somewhere, they instantly turn to social media to post their query and are used to getting a response quickly. Using a collaborative learning platform at work will allow them to collaborate with peers, mentors, and subject matter experts to instantly share knowledge and experiences and seek answers.
Make Courses Compatible With Multiple Devices
It is common to see Millennials switch between their smartphones and laptops to perform different tasks simultaneously. Making courses compatible with multiple devices ensures that they can access courses instantly anytime, anywhere, and particularly when they have the need to learn a certain skill.
As L&D practitioners, we need to make the necessary effort to understand how Millennials learn; they are smart, aggressive, and tech savvy and can deliver amazing results. We have to change ourselves in order to accommodate them. After all, the future belongs to them.