Engaging the Millennial Learner


Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to population estimates released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. Millennials (ages 18-34), now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). Let’s take a look at the unique perspective of the Millennials and how that impacts creating engaging learning experiences for them.

Who are they?

  • Born between 1981–2000
  • 41% of the total U.S. population
  • About half are currently in the workforce

What are their unique perspectives?

  • They are digital natives and are tech-savvy.
  • Millennials need to feel like what they are doing is important and that they are on the right track.
  • They like to “work hard – play hard.” and want to be at a company that appreciates this desire for balance. They also expect a more flexible work environment than previous generations.
  • Millennials expect to keep on learning as they enter the workplace and spend a high proportion of their time gaining new experiences and absorbing new information.
  • Millennials don’t just want to spend their time earning a paycheck; they want to invest time acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to grow both personally and professionally.

Creating an engaging learning experience

We have five keys to creating engaging learning experiences for this group.

  1. Think tailorable, on-line and flexible –
    Since Millennials expect to keep on learning as they enter the workplace and are digital natives, they expect their learning to be on-demand, on-line, and when and where they want it. They want the information they need when they need it, selecting the learning materials that seem most relevant. A study by Bersin suggests that L&D organizations now have between 5 and 10 seconds to grab the attention of the millennial learner. Since Millennials often multitask, greater focus should be placed on micro-learning modules. That the same study cites that the average worker will be interrupted within about 5 minutes when attempting to “learn” at work or at home.
  1. Tell me up front what I need to know –
    Millennials want to know what is expected of them, and want to see their progress towards their goals. They want to be clear about the evaluation criteria. In the training environment, clearly communicate to Millennials how the information they are acquiring ties back to their value and performance on the job. If there are going to be assessments in the training, summarize the information at the start so they will know what is expected of them.
  2. Encourage Coaching and Mentoring –
    Millennials appreciate feedback and advice. Many millennials say their most valued opportunity is the chance to work with strong coaches and mentors. So encourage opportunities for coaching and mentoring to enhance a learning experience. One way to do this might involve an on-line forum where students can ask questions of the experts. Another way is to provide opportunities to interact and learn from senior management. Establishing formal mentoring programs can be particularly effective and also help improve retention.
  1. Make it a game –
    Adding gamification elements to your learning will feed that Millennial hunger for benchmarks and clear visual progress. Game-like functionality can include a variety of elements such as

    1. Badges – award them for anything, from completing a specific class, to having the best score on a test, to having the fastest time for a module. Let learners display these on their profiles.
    2. Social currency – Gaining “money” for helping others or for adding more connections appeals to both the ambitions and social-savvy of Millennials.
    3. Progress bars – This kind of real-time feedback during training is extremely valuable to Millennials who want to know where they stand at all times.
  1. Mix the learning delivery styles – Millennials’ ease with technology means that they respond well to a range of digital learning styles and delivery methods, which might include online learning modules, webinars or interactive game-play. They are innately collaborative and accustomed to learning in teams. The best training programs will blend learning styles such as classroom instruction, self-directed study, coaching and group learning. But despite being fiercely independent, millennials want clear structure and objectives in their learning and a clear tie to their broader goals.

In your organization, what kind of learning have you found millennials to be most responsive to?

The RPS adaptive learning solution helps our clients create engaging learning experiences for their Millennial workforce. Learn more about how we can help you engage your team by clicking here.