There are now five generations in the workforce, from those born in the 1940s to the youngest employees born in the 1990s. In many organisations though, it seem like the millennial generation is taking over. A recent PwC report, Millennials at Work, found that by 2020, millennials – those born between 1980 and 1996 – will form half of the global workforce.
As a result, many organisations are focusing their training specifically at this group of employees. Often companies believe millennials need specialist treatment, but the creation of so-called ‘millennial-focused’ L&D programmes can run the risk of excluding other age groups.
The millennial myth
Recent Skillsoft research suggests it is a myth that millennial learners require radically different learning content and approaches than previous generations. For example, one common myth is that millennials do not like to read books. It is often believed millennials respond better to digital content assets, such as short, high production quality videos.
Skillsoft’s research found that millennials view digital books as a vitally important learning mode. In fact, they rate digital books as a more important learning asset than any other generation.
This group of learners also shows a strong preference for handouts and other written material for learning reinforcement – something commonly associated with older generations.
Millennials are the first true digital natives – a generation raised on digital technology and most familiar with computers and the internet. This natural aptitude means that millennials have been falsely credited with the drive for new work practices and expectations.
The truth is the ubiquity of technology, an accelerated pace of work and the changing nature of customer experience are at the root of new workplace practices.
Meet the modern learner
Rather than creating a segregated training approach designed exclusively for millennials, organisations should adapt to meet the needs of a much broader, more diverse group: the modern learner.
Successful L&D teams are embracing the informal, ‘always on’ nature of learning by creating an ecosystem that offers diverse learning modalities with multi-generational appeal.
Time pressures, the ‘always on’ lifestyle and pervasive technological change are driving more digital learning because it offers simplicity and accessibility to the whole workforce.
Modern learners are ready to assume more accountability for their own development. The expectation, however, remains on the organisation to facilitate this.
The landscape is quite different from the past, when L&D design focused primarily on formal, classroom-like learning experiences typically separated from day-to-day work. Just as collective generations have evolved, so must the formula for modern learning.
Progressive L&D teams are embracing a more informal learning culture by creating an ecosystem that provides diverse, yet personalised, learning.
The modern learning formula
Modern learning has a formula with six important and inter-related elements:
Learner-centric: Learning experiences need to attract the modern learner by providing ‘just-in-time, just-for-me’ options. They must allow for relevant opportunities to gain new skills or take on new challenges, while providing personalisation that enables learners to choose what, how and when they learn.
Micro-sized and modular: Given learners’ current access to vast amounts of information, knowing where to find an answer is often just as important as having the knowledge. Since uninterrupted time is limited, providing short bursts of information that can either stand alone, or be combined into broader programmes, is key.
Incorporate varied treatments and formats: The use of video in learning is on the rise – but not all video is created equal. Modern learning should purposefully apply the right video treatments for the right purpose, using animation, interactive scenarios or facilitated discussions for different training needs. Modern workers still learn in multiple ways; combining formats increases engagement and facilitates more effective learning.
Modern learning should drive retention: Although a key ingredient to modern learning is having access to information, the need to learn new skills and adapt behaviour remains crucial. This requires more than a short burst of knowledge via a video. It needs continuous application of formal and informal learning by reading, watching, experiencing and interacting. This ongoing practice and application helps learners recall new knowledge and use that knowledge to change how they work.
Embed and connect learning to work: Advancements in technologies allow for new methods to embed content where and when it is needed, but this also enables a much higher degree of personalisation. Gone are the days of browsing through a static learning catalogue. Instead, modern learning must use intelligence about the learner to push and recommend the right resources at the right time.
Think mobile: In a world where more than half the population has a smartphone, learning must be with the learner, wherever they are. A formula for modern learning considers the most appropriate mode for access on the go. Traditional learning courses may have a designated location, but videos, e-books and audio books can be consumed on the go – while walking, running, biking or commuting.
Learning leaders should not assume that modern learning preferences only apply to younger generations. Fully embracing creative learning solutions is effective across all generations precisely because it speaks directly to the modern learner, regardless of age.