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How Millennials learn may be reshaping the way employers plan and implement training and development programs.
Millennials, defined as those born between 1982 and 2004, are often referred to as “digital natives” because they are the first generation to grow up during the Internet age. Some experts say this generation’s knowledge and familiarity with digital technology mean they learn and process information differently than their older counterparts do. But others believe technology is at the root of changed learning processes and that generational differences have had little or no impact.
“There’s no doubt that Millennials are very adept at using technology,” said Chad Udell, managing director at Float Mobile Learning in Morton, Ill. “But the way they learn really isn’t that much different than the other generations in today’s workplace. Millennials are certainly comfortable in using technology to learn, but then again, anyone who hasn’t adapted and embraced the changes technology has brought to today’s workplace has been left behind.”
Udell doesn’t buy into the idea that younger workers are pushing the training and development trends. He claimed the changes come from rapid advances in technology and online connectivity.
“Technology is one of the key drivers of all the trends you see in training and development programming,” Udell said. “There is so much content available, and access to this content has become virtually instantaneous. The way we all learn and how the learning content is delivered is undergoing some incredible changes right now.”
In fact, Udell added that within five years, training and development programs will be nearly unrecognizable. An almost overwhelming amount of learning content is available online, and access through mobile platforms will only improve as technology advances. Training and education courses are available on demand, and many of the world’s best universities have jumped on board by offering MOOCs (massive open online courses). Some top-level business schools confer degree programs via the Internet. For example, students can earn a Master of Business Administration online through the Kenan-Flagler School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
According to Udell, the technological trends will lead to self-directed and open-sourced corporate training and development programs.
Mike Broderick, chief executive officer at Turning Technologies LLC in Youngstown, Ohio, said many of these changes have already happened at his company.
“Leadership development in our company is very much self-directed now,” he said. “Managers can choose to learn about what in our organization interests them. They then can choose from a variety of educational and training applications related to those interests.”
The self-directed approach works well, Broderick said, because people learn how different business functions operate together.
“It creates a very holistic view of the company, and we’ve discovered that it allows everyone to learn at their own pace and find the best fit for their learning styles,” he said.
However, Broderick said he believed that some of the changes to training and development programs have come about due to generational differences in learning styles. He said the younger workers in his organization have pushed for many of the changes, such as increased access to training and development content, and the older generations have adapted.
“I think the different generations on our staff are learning a lot from each other,” he said. “Certainly, many of the changes like increased mobile access have been pushed for by the younger workers, but it’s definitely something we are all benefiting from.”
Millennials have been especially effective in changing attitudes about collaborative learning initiatives, Broderick said. The trend is now to have everyone contribute to the learning process and ensure that everyone’s input is welcome and considered important, according to Broderick and Udell.
Udell said Millennials excel at collaborative learning and collaborative working compared to older generations. He said growing up in the Internet and social media age made them open to and accepting of concepts like crowdsourcing.
“Baby Boomers are much more used to business strategies and ideas being driven from the top down,” he said.
Changes in career and life goals are other generational differences that are driving new trends in corporate training and development programs. Jane Stevenson, vice chairman of board and CEO services at Korn Ferry, said the trend among executives for several years has been to find and maintain an appropriate balance between life at work and at home.
“For Baby Boomers and also to some extent Generation X, the concentration at work has been to advance and move your career forward,” Stevenson said. “Now, it’s evolved into a much more holistic approach on how to become not just a better executive but a better person.”
Broderick said the emphasis on work/life balance could also stem from changing priorities for older workers.
“My goals and career focus are much different now as I approach 60 than they were when I was 23 or 24 and fresh out of college,” he said.
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
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