Date: June 7, 2023

Decoding the New Generations: How Millennials & Gen Z Learn

Millennials and Gen Z continue to increase their presence in today’s workforce. As per World Economic Forum survey, Gen Z currently comprises 30% of global population and are expected to make 27% of global workforce by 2025. The Deloitte survey says that millennials are expected to comprise 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Those numbers are staggering. 

This also raises a unique challenge for companies. It’s no secret that there is a huge disconnect between Gen X which makes up most of mid and senior management in a majority of organizations, millennials who are making their presence felt and Gen Z which is young and innovative. 

How do companies bridge the significant cultural gap to reach out to millennials and Gen Z? Do traditional training paradigms that work for Gen X work for millennials and Gen Z? The short answer is no.  

While Gen X (born 1961–1981) is an entrepreneurial, independent, and result-oriented generation, Millennials (born 1981–1996) are idealists and a more connected generation that thrives on being connected and collaborative, and Gen Z (born 1997–2012) is pragmatic and focused.  

Being a native digital generation, millennials and Gen Z behave and learn differently due to their lifelong relationship with technology. More so, they prioritize good work-life balance, a positive work culture, and access to learning opportunities as key components of their individual growth within an organization. 

According to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, these generations are rethinking the role of work in their lives. “While 49% of Gen Zs and 62% of millennials say work is central to their identity, work- life balance is something they are striving for. Having a good work-life balance is the top trait they admire in their peers, and their top consideration when choosing a new employer”. 

While Gen X is a largely self-motivated generation, millennials and Gen Z seek constant inspiration and motivation. They understand the need for continuous learning and its impact on their personal and professional growth. According to the insights, “Do you know how Gen Z wants to learn?” by LinkedIn Learning, “59% of Gen Z said they would learn in order to increase their salary or get a bonus but only 33% of L&D pros thought monetary compensation would be a top motivating factor”. That means two-thirds (67%) of L&D pros may not realize how important money is to these up-and-comers.  

L&D teams therefore have to ensure that learning adapts to the changing needs of this demographic.  LinkedIn Learning Insights also states that “74% L&D pros said they plan to make changes to their L&D program to accommodate Gen Z workers”. This trend only needs to keep going upward. 

In our experience, we have come across three key components that resonate well with millennials and how they learn. Consider Aaron, a millennial who is a part of the marketing team at a large global conglomerate. Aaron’s team has decided to execute a campaign on LinkedIn to improve engagement. Aaron has been tasked with executing the campaign. Aaron hasn’t run a campaign on LinkedIn before, but he’s confident that with a little research, he should be able to pull this off. 

Focused Learning 

Christy Price, in her research on millennials, points out that the ‘relevance’ and ‘rationale’ behind information are key to how millennials react to it. They value information that they can relate to and apply practically. Since millennials have shorter attention spans, micro-learning and nuggets form an integral part of their learning style. They prefer precise learning with bite-sized content instead of going through elaborate lessons.  
Technology has allowed millennials and Gen Z millennials to stay continuously engaged and connected. They no longer depend on the information provided to them. Instead, they value research and additional sources to build an in-depth understanding of a topic. 

Personalized Learning 

It is a no-brainer that learners no longer rely on written content. With digitization, millennials tend to personalize their learning experience to suit their convenience. Gen Zs favour a collaborative approach in which everyone's learning pace matters. Millennials, on the other hand, believe that everyone gains knowledge at the same pace.  Thus, a learner-centric approach suits both generations - they focus on what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, and how they want to learn it. Personalized learning also enables learners to stay engaged in the process of acquiring knowledge by providing them with a more interactive experience. 

Collaborative Learning 

Building interpersonal relationships with peers and trainers is also very important to these generations. Christy Price, in her research, explains the importance of personal rapport with learners to make them pursue learning effectively. 

Active Learning 

Millennials and Gen Z are motivated to learn in an experiential and realistic learning environment. They want to learn with the help of real-world examples.  They understand a concept better if it is supplemented by examples of how the concept can be practically applied.  They also show a greater interest in practicing and testing their learning through a hands-on approach. Experiential learning that helps learners’ practice by utilizing a scenario-based approach works well for millennials. 
Time-bound Learning 

L&D organizations must realize that putting these generations through training that takes up a lot of time may not be the best strategy for millennials. They not only have a lot on their plate at work, but they also value their personal time. Therefore, learning has to be seamlessly integrated into their workday. This explains the rise of learning experience platforms and curated content. 

An Open Learning Environment 

While Gen X is more measured in its approach, millennials and Gen Z are not afraid to speak out and voice their opinions. Whether it is on-the-job training where they may unhesitatingly express feelings of boredom to a supervisor or a collaborative forum where employees can discuss upcoming projects, these generations believe in expressing themselves. While this may be regarded as disdain for authority or hierarchy by an X-er, millennials and Gen Z believe they are doing their job by telling it like it is.  
In a post-campaign meeting, Aaron does not hesitate to tell his manager why the earlier campaign attempted on LinkedIn did not work. 

Millennials and Gen Z consider learning an essential part of their overall development. As business demographics continue to change, the need to adopt newer learning strategies is also gaining importance. Therefore, it is empirically necessary for companies to shift from traditional learning techniques to newer forms of learning adapted to the changing workforce.