Decoding the New Generation: How Millennials Learn

Millennials continue to increase their presence in today’s workforce. According to KPMG’s Meet the Millennials report, millennials are expected to comprise of 50% of the global workforce by 2020. That number is staggering. 

It 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 and millennials who are making their presence felt.

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

While Gen X (born 1961 to 1981) is an entrepreneurial, independent, and result-oriented generation, millennials (born 1982 to 2002) are a more connected generation that thrives on being connected and collaborative. 

Being a native digital generation, millennials behave and learn differently due to their lifelong relationship with technology. More so, they increasingly value learning as a key component of their individual growth within an organization. In Deloitte’s survey on millennials 8 in 10 millennial employees stated that they consider on-the job-learning and continuous employer-led training as vital instruments that help them perform better. Millennials have a unique perspective on how information is delivered to comply with digital needs. Consequently, the learning landscape has witnessed a shift from theoretical learning to experiential learning. 

While Gen X is a largely self-motivated generation, millennials seek constant inspiration and motivation. They understand the need for continuous learning and its impact on their personal and professional growth. L&D teams therefore have to ensure that learning adapts to the changing needs of this demographic. therein 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 is 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 to stay continuously engaged and connected. They no longer depend on information provided to them. Instead, they value research and additional sources to build an in-depth understanding of a topic. 

In our case, Aaron browses the website of an online course aggregator and looks for a course on marketing through LinkedIn. Unlike a Gen X learner, Aaron does not bother to go through the course sequentially. Like most millennials who are used to content on demand, he simply skips to the part which is focused on running campaigns on LinkedIn. He also searches for the key steps to keep in mind while running a LinkedIn campaign and reads a few blog posts on the 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. A learner-centric approach suits them -  they focus on what they want to learn, when they want to learn, and how they want to learn it.

Aaron has gleaned the information he needs from the course. On his evening train back from work, he watches a YouTube video that highlights some successful LinkedIn campaigns and the necessary steps that one needs to be mindful of while running campaigns on LinkedIn. Most millennials spend a significant time on digital devices. Organizations can leverage this to create greater learning impact. E-learning modules, gamification and learning nuggets are good examples of learning modalities which are being adopted by various organizations to appeal to a millennial audience

Collaborative Learning

Building interpersonal relations with peers and trainers is also very important to this generation. Christy Price in her research explains the importance of personal rapport with learners to make millennials pursue learning effectively.

To further verify his understanding, he speaks to a friend who is an expert on digital marketing. This creates a just-in-time learning experience for Aaron and gives him an in-depth understanding through multiple sources. 

Active Learning

Millennials are motivated to learn in an experiential and realistic learning environment. They want to learn with the help of real-world examples. Millennials understand a concept better if it is supplemented by examples of how the concept can be practically applied. Millennials 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.

Aaron has now spent a considerable time learning about running LinkedIn campaigns. As a final last step, he accesses the courseware again and navigates to the simulation section where he can create and test a dummy campaign. This gives him the confidence he needs to go ahead and run the actual campaign.

Time-bound Learning

The campaign turns out to be a success. Aaron has spent a fraction of the time that a person from an older generation may have spent to learn the same skill.  L&D organizations must realize that putting millennials through training that takes up a lot of time may not be the best strategy for millennials. Millennials not only have a lot on their plate at work, they value their personal time. Therefore, learning has to be seamlessly integrated into their work day. This explain the rise of learning experience platforms and curated content.

An Open Learning Environment

While Gen X is more measured in its approach, millennials are not afraid to speak out and voice their opinions. Whether it is on-the-job training where a millennial may unhesitatingly express feelings of boredom to a supervisor or a collaborative forum where employees can discuss upcoming projects, millennials believe in expressing themselves. While this may be regarded as disdain for authority or hierarchy by an X-er, millennials 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 consider learning as 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 empirical for companies to shift from traditional learning techniques to newer forms of learning adapted to the changing workforce.