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Training Millennials: A New Generation of Learning


Move over Gen Y—there is a new generation in the workforce today—millennials. They’re young and bright—between the ages of 18 and 34—and their presence in the workplace grows every year. A few things to note about this generation—they don't remember the Soviet Union, grew up post 9/11 and have a vague recollection (if at all) of landline telephones, road atlases, and printed newspapers. The world these up-and-comers are accustomed to was at one point considered 'science fiction'. This group is used to having information instantly accessible to them in the palm of their hands. They communicate with emojis. And, the smartphone in their pocket that has more computing power than the entire Apollo mission—but it’s mostly used to watch cat videos or video chat with friends.

Is it any wonder that there is a rapidly growing void between this generation and the one that came before? The term “millennial” has been coined in response to this group of people, born at the turn of the century, in a world radically different than any that has existed before it.

So how do you bridge the generational gap in the workplace—especially when it comes to training and development? Should you make adaptations to your training environment when training millennials?

Use Training Technology as a Tool, Not a Crutch 

Millennials have never known a world without technology. The days of looking things up in the library, leaving a voicemail on a home telephone or using a calculator are as mythical to them as the days of Greek Gods. As a result, training millennials without using some element of technology is like taking a vacation to the dark ages.

While most trainers understand this, the common mistake in their teaching methods is overcompensating and relying too much on training technology in the learning environment. Instead of using the whiteboard and story-telling to expound upon concepts, they develop dozens of highly-scripted PowerPoint slides and overly use video clips to illustrate concepts. When trainers rely too heavily on the technology to instruct, they become just a 'presenter' instead of a trainer. The most important element to the learning environment is you.

Use training technology to enhance learning, but don’t lose sight of the instruction methods. There are great technology-based teaching resources available, such as cloud-based virtual labs where students can instantly put their newly learned skills to the test, video resources to demonstrate that which would take too long to explain, and hundreds of other technological innovations that would make our grandparent’s heads spin. But don’t forget, engaging with students is the most important aspect of effective learning for any generation.

Incorporate Interaction into Training

Millennials have just recently left behind long days of sitting in a classroom, and are looking to put those days behind them. Thus it's difficult for them to sit in a training classroom and stay attentive for hours at a time. The longer they are fastened to one spot, just listening, the greater chance of glazed-over eyes, wandering minds and maybe even the hidden cellphone under the table. To capture the full attention of the millennial, you must first break the mold they have come to expect.

Hands-On Learning Activities Can Increase the Success of Training. Read Our Post on the Benefits of Incorporating Hands-On Learning into Your Training

When creating a learning environment for millennials, interaction is essential. Ask questions that lead them to supply their own examples or lessons and ask for their insights and feedback on course topics. This approach will help break the monotony of traditional lecture-style instruction and will demonstrate to the millennial that you care about their opinion and want to engage them in the learning process. Mary Bart, of, tells educators, “Millennials are extremely relational… They appreciate it when professors show that same interest, and they seem to be more willing to pursue learning outcomes when instructors connect with them on a personal level.”

Training Millennials to Self-Train

A recent article from Training Industry, Inc. notes, “Digital users are required to process more information in a month than our predecessors did during their entire lifetime.” The millennial has only ever known this digital era. Out of sheer necessity, they have been trained to identify key pieces of information to retain, make note of where to find more information if needed, and promptly forget the rest.

Consequently, the approach of a completely rounded education on a topic has become less effective than enabling a millennial to find the information themselves. Instead of teaching a complete overview of a subject, an instructor should instead teach a millennial how to find the information themselves.

If a learner is expected to learn 30 pieces of information, but only uses five of them routinely, the chances of a student remembering the other 25 are drastically reduced. On the other hand, if a student learns the five functions they will regularly use, and then three resources for how to find the other 25 functions (should they be needed) the student would become much more effective in the long run at the task at hand.

Training millennials can be challenging. The era they have been raised in and dubbed the “Information Age” does not mean that technology is the best way to impart knowledge. In this world of competing information and mixed messages, it can be difficult to bridge the gap and establish connections with the next generation. The important thing to remember when engaging millennials is that education is, at its core, a relationship. Millennials who are engaged and empowered are interested and motivated. While the world they grew up in is different, the world we live in together is the same. Bridging the generational gap will go a long way towards establishing an effective learning experience.

No matter what generation of learners you need to train, having a comprehensive training plan can help ensure the success of your training program. Download our Complete Training Program Planning Guide for tips on how to start or enhance your plan.

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