The biggest millennial learning myth


Millennials prefer micro-learning videos, research has found that multiple generations view digital books as a vitally important learning mode.

Many regard millennials as vastly different from previous generation. This modern tech-savvy Internet generation, or Gen Y, is often portrayed by various experts as collaborative, open-minded, job-hoppers, expressive, liberal and receptive to new ideas. However, one can’t generalise the characteristics for an entire generation.

These notions about generational differences often form the basis for developing a learning strategy for any generation. However, this itself is the biggest myth. Despite the prevalent L&D belief in generation-specific learning preferences, the truth is that the basic expectations across generations are similar—variations are much less dramatic than we’ve been led to believe.

Researchers at George Washington University and the United States Department of Defense, after a meticulous analysis of numerous generationally-focused studies, concluded that meaningful differences among generations probably do not exist in the workplace. Their meta-analysis revealed no significant differences across the generations in job satisfaction, organisational commitment or intent to turnover. Interestingly, the small differences that do appear are most likely attributable to factors, such as stage of life, rather than membership in a particular generation.

Besides, millennials on the professional front may be described as job-hoppers,. However, examining the reasons why they change jobs—to gain a better work environment, find meaningful work, earn more or improve work-life balance—reveals that almost everyone wants those things. Most millennials also seek accelerated career growth and regular feedback on the job. While all this is true for the Gen Y, the biggest myth is that they are unique: the truth is that workers across generations want the same things.

Research shows that learning preferences across generations are similar. For instance, although L&D teams believe that millennials prefer micro-learning videos, research has found that multiple generations view digital books as a vitally important learning mode. In fact, studies show that millennials believe the ability to read enables them to progress their learning at a faster pace than video. Millennials also display a strong need for job aids, handouts and written materials for reinforcement, contrary to the general belief that they prefer online content.

This means that calibrating the generational differences while planning learning strategies may impact the outcomes that organisations expect from their learning efforts. The over-hyped generational differences of employees and their preferences has created a lot of misconceptions about enterprise learning practices.

That said, organisations should rethink customising learning programmes for different generations and rather consider a single model of learning set to suit the modern-learner, irrespective of the generation. The formula for modern learning requires a learner-centric approach with ‘just-in-time, just-for-me’ options. This means personalising programmes to enable learners to choose what, how and when they want to learn, ultimately resulting in individualised learning experiences.

Secondly, content should be micro-sized and modular, which means providing short bursts of information that can stand alone or combine into broader programmes. Modern learning must also incorporate varied formats for increased engagement and more effective learning. It should drive retention through continuous application of formal and informal learning by reading, watching, experiencing and interacting. Such ongoing practice and application helps learners recall new knowledge and use that knowledge to change how they work.

Most importantly, modern learning must be embedded in and connected to learners’ work leveraging data about the learner to push and recommend the right resources at the right time. Last but not the least, modern learning must be built for mobile access. Allowing learning on the go, videos, e-books and audio books that can be consumed while walking, running, biking or commuting are compelling options to engage the modern learner.

It is clear that present-day organisations need to shift their focus from focusing learning on millennials to developing a modern learning approach that serves the broader workforce. A seamless learning experience for the modern learner can be developed only if L&D and talent leaders shun the misconception of generational differences in learning preferences.

Read this whitepaper to discover the prescription for a modern learning strategy.

This article has been published in association with “SumTotal, a Skillsoft Company”.

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Prajjal Saha is the editor and publisher of HRKatha, which he founded in 2015. With nearly 25 years of experience in business journalism, writing, and editing, he is a true industry veteran who possesses a deep understanding of all facets of business, from marketing and distribution to technology and human resources. Along with his work at HRKatha, he is also the author of the Marketing White Book. Thanks to his extensive experience and expertise, he has become a trusted source of insight and analysis for professionals across a wide range of industries.