How eLearning Retains Millennials, Part 2: Doing eLearning Right

By Sherman Morrison October 03, 2017

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Millennials, elearning and you

In part 1 of this two-part series, a more thorough understanding of Millennials as a generation was established in order to lay the groundwork needed to identify how eLearning can be shaped and tailored in ways that will shed further light on how eLearning retains Millennials. After all, it’s not just any eLearning that will boost Millennial retention in the workplace. Companies trying to solve the Millennial retention dilemma need specific approaches and strategies to fully realize how eLearning retains Millennials.

As John Zogby wrote in Forbes back in 2014, Millennials “…simply see things and do things differently, want to be productive and learn, and bring new approaches to problem-solving and team production. Millennials need to be embraced rather than simply shoe-horned to conform” (source). A PwC survey from several years ago revealed that among Millennials, “excellent training/development programs” ranked third among desirable traits of employers, and the single most important benefit to them is “training and development” (source). Below are six major characteristics that describe the kind of eLearning that will help retain Millennials in the workplace.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it Shows High Production Values

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth highlighting when the focus is on Millennials. Learning content with lower production values that might be fine with Baby Boomers and tolerable for GenXers will quickly drive Millennials away. And they’ll feel resentment that the company they work for doesn’t find them worthy of a higher investment into better-quality content. Learning departments need to up their game significantly if they want to produce the kind of eLearning content that will help retain millennials.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it is Instantly Accessible in Small Chunks

One of the aspects of Millennials older professionals have the hardest time digesting and understanding is the effect of them being true digital natives. Millennials do seem to have rewired brains that make them different from previous generations. The scientific evidence probably does not support this rewiring idea. If anything, it’s just that Millennial brains have gotten much better at processing information much more quickly than everyone else. In this sense, it’s just a matter of where they put their time. Millennials are using digital media in various forms for up to 18 hours every day, and of course, much of that time is spent on social media. The way to translate this into eLearning for Millennials is through microlearning. This is learning content that is delivered in very short bursts, as in usually less than 5 minutes, rarely longer and never more than 10 minutes max. But this is a whole new way of thinking about eLearning. Keep the following in mind:

  • One learning objective per chunk. eLearning professionals who are used to working on longer traditional courses might come up with a long list of learning objectives – all the various things they want learners to know or be able to do after having completed the course. Microlearning means carefully parsing out the content into very small chunks, and each of these chunks or assets as they are often called, can realistically only be assigned a single learning objective.
  • Effective delivery mediums. Obviously, traditional face-to-face instruction would be silly for microlearning. After all, the whole point is to make it instantly accessible anytime, anywhere, so it has to be digital. And when it comes to Millennials, by far the most appealing medium is through video, with podcasts coming in close behind. Infographics are also a possibility but pale in comparison to video and audio.
  • Keep the quality high. The need for high production values has already been mentioned, but just because microlearning content is short doesn’t mean it’s okay to take your eyes off this prize. If anything, production values need to be even higher the shorter the piece. It has to be compelling enough to grab a short attention span and make every minute count.
  • Creative assessment. How do eLearning professionals prove learning has taken place within the context of microlearning? This is a real challenge but is also an opportunity to be more creative than just asking a couple of multiple choice questions. Find a way for them to demonstrate what they’ve learned and let them document it with their own video or audio recording.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it is Designed for Mobile and Wearable Devices

Whether it’s smartphones, MP3 players or smartwatches, Millennials use these kinds of devices to stay connected way more than desktops, laptops or even tablets. It may seem not that long ago when people started talking about responsive design, making sure online content was designed for more than just the large screens of desktops and laptops and would render properly on the smaller screens of mobile devices. But with the rise of Millennials into the workforce, what’s most appropriate is reversing the traditional flow of responsive design. Rather than designing for larger screens and then figuring out how to shoe-horn it onto smaller screens, eLearning retains Millennials when it’s designed first for the mobile environment. It needs to render perfectly on the devices they are most apt to be using to access it.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it is Gamified

Millennials are playing all kinds of video games like no other generation. The following statistics from a Zogby poll (same source as the quote in the opening paragraph of this article) show how important this is:

  • 57% of Millennials play video games at least 3 times each week.
  • 67% feel gaming helps them learn to create winning strategies.
  • 70% say gaming helps them develop problem-solving skills.
  • 63% claim gaming helps them build teamwork skills.
  • 66% believe gaming helps them understand technologies that will be useful in life.
  • Nearly a third have an online avatar or second life.

The question eLearning professionals should be asking is not if they should be gamifying eLearning, but how it will be gamified. The science behind this is relatively simple: Achieving a new level in a game releases the chemical messenger called dopamine, a neurotransmitter that tells the brain whatever it just did is worth doing more of. In this case, reaching the next level of the game or the next learning achievement level.

Because of how connected Millennials are to peers and colleagues, gamification can be used not only to incentivize moving through content but also to show learner achievements relative to others. In other words, try to work in a social component to the gamification.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it is Social

Speaking of the social aspect – it is so important to Millennials that it deserves primary focus when developing and designing eLearning content. If eLearning is to help boost Millennial retention in the workplace, it needs to meet them where they are (which is online) and in the way, they tend to interact with each other (social media). This is also an opportunity to incorporate the kind direct and immediate feedback Millennials crave in the workplace. The social media environment can be a very effective channel for delivering both coaching and mentoring.

eLearning Retains Millennials When it can be Personalized

Photo by Anter Blackbird on Unsplash

Millennials want lots of development opportunities, but they also like being able to exercise some control over their own development. The more flexibility that can be built into the system to let Millennials choose the learning content they want or need when they want or need it, the better.

While it may seem like Millennials have just been a distant ship on the horizon, that ship has now come in. Millennials have not only arrived in full force to workplaces across the country, many have already risen beyond entry-level positions. Just eight short years from now in 2015, Millennials will constitute fully 75% of the workforce. In spite of this, research shows less than a third of companies are trying to cater to Millennial learning and development needs (source). In fact, another study showed that when employed Millennials were asked about what has shocked them most about being in the “real world” of work, their number-one answer was “lack of company support for training and development” (source). This is an unfortunate state of affairs for those employers and the Millennials who work for them.

Companies that choose a business-as-usual approach to learning and training while Millennials continue to swell in numbers within their ranks will soon find themselves perplexed by why they’re not getting the results they need. Ignoring the unique learning and training needs of Millennials will surely doom many of these companies to failure. Staying ahead of this curve is possible if employers are willing to put the time and effort into understanding how eLearning retains millennials when it is done right.

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