Seven ways organizations can make their learning programs appealing to Millennials.
By Audrey Roth
It’s no secret that the Millennial generation is taking over the workforce. Employees born in the 1980s and 1990s, also known as the Millennials or Generation Y, will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Between text messaging, YouTube, Photoshop, and memes, Millennials have become accustomed to a certain level of engagement. These employees will not be satisfied with an antiquated training program. Organizations need to adopt new approaches to learning and development to meet the contemporary needs of millennial employees.
Take advantage of technology. The expectations Millennials have for their training programs have significantly changed from those of their generational predecessors, and this incongruence is rooted in their tech-savvy upbringings. Although training Millennials appears difficult, their differences can actually be used to make the training process easier. This is a generation that knows how to use a variety of software and devices; these discrepancies can be used to the organization’s advantage, and employees can get more out of their training than ever before.
“As Millennials increasingly populate the workforce, barriers to the introduction of new technology on the grounds that learners might not be able to cope with it have largely disappeared,” says Dr. Gregg Collins, senior vice president of design for global learning outsourcing company NIIT. “Some of us have lived through a time when companies insisted that e-learning modules needed to ship with training on how to use a mouse. We’ve come a long way from that point.”
Technology-driven training and development programs can include anything from digitized gamification to web-based portals with 24/7 access to training materials. “In some sense, all new technologies are being utilized, experimentally at least. Virtual reality, augmented reality, real-time 3D gaming environments… you name it, [and] we are working to figure out how to exploit it effectively as a learning resource,” says Collins.
Stay social. Millennials spend an average of nearly an hour each day on the Facebook app alone. The constant use of social media paves the way for an effective social learning initiative. Companies can incorporate a learningfocused social platform (or integrate it with their other HR programs’ social platform) for even greater impact. Users can comment on and rate courses, share course completion with their peers, or engage in discussions. “Group chats and communities based on individual courses, teams, or onboarding classes have been shown to be effective,” says Vice President and General Manager for Raytheon Professional Services, David Letts. “[This includes] micro-blogging and commenting, social bookmarking and sharing, and blended learning with video-chat and live courses.”
Make it look good. The design of the distributed content is also vital to a program’s success. If organizations want employees to be consumers of their employer brand, value must be placed on a superior user experience. “One of the key shifts that we find ourselves talking to learning leaders about is, while staying true to solid instructional design principles, how can we borrow from fields such as content marketing to create compelling, relevant, and engaging learning moments that are also beautifully designed and remarkable or buzzworthy,” says Kenna Ose, senior vice president at Pearson. “With Millennials, there is a social currency moment in learning—give Millennials an amazing learning experience and they will be the best buzz agents in your culture.”
“We’re seeing a lot of investment in videos, games, and other forms of high-end content and more attention to making that content engaging,” says Collins. “That’s very encouraging, but there is still an enormous backlog of e-learning content that looks it came from 1995. Training content, unfortunately, still seems to be among the worst offenders for long-winded and dry content, but at least we are seeing some progress.”
Make use of mobile. Fifty-one percent of Millennials who own a smartphone check their devices a few times an hour, and 22 percent check their phone every few minutes, according to a 2015 survey from Gallup. Reaching the Millennial generation with a mobile training and development platform, or “mLearning,” can be easy when they are glued to their smartphones. “If you are a learning leader not deploying mobile learning already, your digital natives are probably craving the right level of engagement using their mobile devices that enhance their work life and performance,” says Ose.
Millennials value flexibility, and employers can cater to this interest with a mobile learning app that can be accessed anywhere and at anytime. “The learning should be easily accessible, readily available, and fit within their lifestyle so that it doesn’t feel like training,” says Ose.
Letts of Raytheon Professional Services says that another method of deploying mobile learning is through the integration of GPS technology, which allows learners who are close to one other to meet in person. This adds additional social functionality through group text, video chat, and geotagging, or using podcasts to add a portable audio dimension to training.
Keep programming short and sweet. According to research from Bersin by Deloitte, most learners won’t watch videos longer than four minutes. Training programs that can provide short but impactful learning experiences, such as brief videos or engaging games, will be much better suited to the younger generation’s needs than dull and lengthy videos or lectures. “While claims that Millennials have a shorter attention span are dubious, it’s certainly true that Millennials are used to content that gets to the point quickly—and [used] to switching to something else if the content they are interacting with is boring,” says Collins. “Tolerance for long-winded and boring training content is thus in short supply.” Thus, the training programs need to provide premium content in order to compete with the vast array of engaging content everywhere else.
These employees have become accustomed to the instant gratification of searching the internet for the answer to any of their questions and finding it immediately. Spending a day reading procedures and facts verbatim to these employees is a waste of time if they can just as easily look up this information from a provided source. “Millennials have grown up with Google and other internet tools that make quick access to information easy. As a result, they see little value in memorizing information that they can simply look up later,” says Collins. “This has two major implications for learning strategy. One, courses that simply spoon-feed factual information to learners have lost whatever value they had. Two, information resources that can be accessed efficiently when needed are expected.”
Encourage active engagement. “[Millennials] expect training and development to be a dialogue—both in terms of the instruction and in terms of collaborating with fellow learners,” says Ose. “The perception of ‘I am here – now teach me’ is not the Millennials’ preferred method of learning. Rather, they are active learners, and they embrace their role as learners as much as that of the instructor or the organization.”
The ability for users to contribute should be possible and encouraged, whether it is through reviewing content or having the learner generate their own. “Millennials are used to creating and consuming user-generated content, including training content,” says Collins. “Make tools available that allow learners to design and manage a training plan that meets their needs as well as the needs of the organization.”
As learning and development programs change, organizations should track what is working and what is not, which can help create a more productive program and home in on what is working for each individual. This can be done by collecting feedback, tracking user progress and access, and then using analytics to determine the effectiveness of the programs, even for individual learners, explains Letts.
“By tracking the learner’s experiences, their on-thejob performance, as well as their learning records, the individual learner profile can be stored in a learning record store (LRS) and used to provide adaptive learning based on the needs of the individual. The replacement for SCORM, known as the Experience API (or xAPI) combined with the LRS, finally provide a system platform that permits these adjustments based on learner performance.”
Foster career development. Often accused of lacking drive and ambition, Millennials prove the contrary: they want quality training programs, career progression, and professional growth. Fifty-two percent of Millennials said good opportunities for career progression make an employer attractive, with 35 percent saying excellent training and development programs make an employer attractive, according to Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Millenials want to grow, and organizations should provide the means to do so.
“Millennials grew up in an era when the idea of staying with one company, or even in one career path for a lifetime was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, while at the same time the idea of a “personal brand” that might be built up through a succession of different jobs, consulting gigs, and education experiences has gained increasing prominence,” says Collins. “These economic facts of life mean Millennials tend to be more focused than previous generation on defining their own career path, including the training opportunities that can facilitate it.”
Mentorship is an effective avenue for Millennials for career development. Developmental relationships can be created through teaching-style managers, career advisers (from within the organization), organizational supporters, and mentors, explains Letts. “Many Millennials say their most valued opportunity is the chance to work with strong coaches and mentors. Millennials relish the opportunity to engage, interact, and learn from senior management. Mentoring programs can be particularly effective and also help to relieve tensions between generations.”
These non-traditional approaches to learning may have been motivated by Millennials, but that is not to say they should only be used for this age group. Each and every generation has been impacted by the technological developments of recent decades, and even if they did not learn how to use smartphones until adulthood, they still benefit from new training methods. “Older generations tend to lean on more structured, step-bystep, approaches to learning—but that does not hold true for all learners,” says Ose. “In fact, in work we have done with the AARP to provide training to their volunteers, we found that like Millennials, that audience was primed for short, micro-learning content in bursts.”
Collins explains that the comfort level with using the new technologies does illustrate generational differences. “For example, we are doing a lot of work on interactive, 3D games to deliver training. Most people across all generations in the workforce think this is a cool idea. But it has become very clear that while Millennials can more or less be counted on to be comfortable with control mechanisms that mimic those in commercial games, their colleagues from earlier generations often struggle—for example, in trying to use a mouse and arrow keys to control an avatar in a 3D environment.”
On the other hand, Letts explains that many HR leaders have found that Millennials often require training in fundamental workplace behavior and culture. “For example, they are accustomed to instant responses when they chat with friends via instant messaging yet may not realize that older workers do not always treat Ims with the same immediacy,” says Letts.
Organizations need to recognize key generational differences and create the appropriate approach to their workforce. “When we are working with our clients to design programs, we certainly encourage them to understand their audience, to know where they can push their bounds on the experience, and to ensure they are meeting the diverse generational learning styles that may exist in their organizations,” says Ose.
Learning and development may start on the first day of employment, or even earlier, but an effective program will lead to greater levels of retention in the long run. According to The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, 66 percent of Millennials expect to leave their current company in the next two years, and 71 percent of those likely to leave are unhappy with how their leadership skills are being developed. “If you want to keep the talent you have, you need to maximize your return on your investment while they’re with you,” says Ose. “Millennials are known for not staying at a company for a long period of time so it is even more critical they’re actively engaged, mentored, and being developed while on the job.”
David Letts of Raytheon Professional Services shares some insight into the utilization of gamification for Millennial training programs.
Adding gamification elements to your e-learning will feed that millennial hunger for benchmarks and visual progress. Immersive, interactive games with a solid story and gamification add the elements of fun and competition, both internally for the individual and socially with others. “Leveling up” has become a strong motivator in learning games, and game rewards feed the desire for achievement.
Examples of game-like functionality that may appeal specifically to Millennials include:
• Badges. Award badges can be distributed for anything from completing a specific class to having the best score on a test, to having the fastest time for a module. Let learners display these on their profiles.
• Social currency. Gaining “money” for helping others or for adding more connections appeals to both the ambition and social savyness of Millennials.
• Progress bars. This kind of real-time feedback during training is extremely valuable to Millennials, who want to know where they stand at all times.
NIIT in Action
In 2008, fast food restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was working to not only reach their mostly Millennial workforce with training and anti-theft programs, but also to have the employees emulate the training. Once KFC’s learning and development provider, NIIT, applied their “critical mistakes analysis” approach, a solution was implemented in the form of 20 engaging e-learning modules. These were targeted at their primarily Millennial-aged shift supervisors and team members.
The different modules contain a series of scenariobased decisions, with realistic characters played by actors, accurately depicted storefronts, and realistic situations, to keep stories engaging. It allows users to navigate the courses like a game, but with coaching and feedback throughout.
The courses ask users to track down theft in their virtual stores, help their virtual managers, and conduct virtual conversations with the fictional employees. Once the online portion of the course is completed, learners download a guide that describes the mentoring sessions with their managers who shares case studies of thefts that have occurred. This varying approach keeps the training engaging, yet to the point, targeting the areas learners need the most attention.