millennials

Much has been written about the changing demographic of our workforce, along with the changing landscape of learning techniques.  Often these assessments have been full of fear and dread.  Our jobs are changing and the new generation isn’t paying attention to us!

Let me offer a different perspective: The year 2016 is the most exciting time in the eLearning industry since it’s coming out party in 1999. More solutions are possible than ever before. The new technologies and technique are offering us many more options. However, the challenges are larger than ever before. Not only are the business problems increasing in complexity, but the new generation has also introduced a new dynamic.

This new era has introduced exciting technologies to the learning world.  We now have multi-device capabilities, social networking, embedded performance support systems, virtual reality, dynamic portals, xAPI analytics, gaming, powerful search engines, and (finally) really good user-generated content! All of these technologies are readily available to even the most novice learning developer.

In contrast, the Millennials brought to light issues that we can no longer avoid. The boring eLearning techniques of the past will no longer be tolerated by the largest demographic in our workforce.  Slide shows and hours of mandated learning are totally misaligned with this generation’s natural approach to gaining knowledge.

Embrace it! The Millennials have given us the green light to do it right. They’ve broken the barriers and gained the attention of the C-Suite. For those of us with long histories in our industry, it hasn’t been this exciting since 1999!

In the early 1990s, a woman named Gloria Gery showed us the first hint of Millennial-thinking. She was a visionary pioneer in performance support systems whom I had a chance to work along side. She was famous for saying, “I want what I want when I want it.” Unknowingly she forecasted the attitudes of a generation only then being born.

Something magical happened in 1999. The infrastructure we needed to produce eLearning was finally readily available.  The major LMSs were online. Authoring tools and native web languages enabled course authoring. Universities, both pubic and corporate, began to leverage this new technology to democratize education.

The eLearning movement began, but the adoption of eLearning was slow as many companies doubted its value and the capabilities of the providers were slow to evolve. Throughout the decade I founded and built a custom eLearning development company (Option Six) and it seemed that each new client was still developing their first online course. While we pushed the limits, the advent of online slide shows masquerading as eLearning was spreading fast.  eLearning hit the doldrums that would last for many years.

Simultaneously, during the 2000s, a new generation of technology and workforce began to mature.  As the decade progressed, Google opened the web’s potential and something called Facebook had changed the way this generation interacted.

This began the first wave of confusion in the learning industry. The role of the instructional designer was changing. The 70/20/10 model became a threat to their very existence as the effectiveness of “formal” learning was increasingly criticized.  Social networks permeated every aspect of our personal lives, but how they fit into the corporate environment was still a point of uncertainty.

As we entered the 2010s, the new breed of learner rejected the traditional approach, challenged the norms, and put increasing pressure on the learning development community to “get it right.”  Thought leaders like Jennie Meister warned us, but as the Millennial population overtook the Boomers, the C-suite finally took notice as they recognized the impact this new generation had on their very existence.

How wonderful for us! We have reached the most exciting point in time since 1999. There is nothing easy about our current challenge, but the Millennials aren’t really that scary. The Millennial essentially lives a life of information on demand and pulls the skills they need when they need them. The learning strategy needs to spoon-feed them just enough to get started, then provide the ability to rapidly access new skills as needed. They see their employer as an equal, not a master. They are offering their value to the company and expect the company offers value in return, or else they leave. They learn skills at a rapid pace and will depart just as fast if they are not consistently provided with more challenges and worthwhile skills, but the linear approach doesn’t work for delivery or even development. As Millennials essentially follow an AGILE approach to gaining knowledge, IDs must follow an AGILE approach to developing their solutions.

It indeed creates an exciting time for us in the industry. So, whereas the “e” in eLearning historically implied web-based training, it may now imply “exciting” new technologies and techniques to provide learning anywhere on demand, or as Gloria said, “I want what I want when I want it.” I think her vision has finally come true. Thanks to the Millennials.

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