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The Millennial Debate – Does The Generation Gap Actually Exist?

Generation Gap - Corporate TrainingAt this point, I think we all know the basic context: the millennial generation is poised to enter the workforce en masse, and the change will happen quickly. Some experts predict as much as 36% of the workforce will be made up of millennials by 2014. As happens with any major culture shift, some companies are a little nervous, and understandably so. That’s why we see article after article trying to “figure them out.” If you didn’t know better, you might infer from so much discussion that a “millennial” was a complex equation no one has been able to solve.

But are millennials really that different? Let’s look at a couple of common claims.

  1. Millennials live and breathe technology
    At this point, don’t we all? Yes, millennials generally are the largest user group for new technologies, but other generations are not far behind. For example, the Pew Research Center notes that 65% of American adults age 18-29 own a smart phone, but so do 59% of American adults ages 30-49.
  2. Millennials are obsessed with Social Media
    Again, it’s true that millennials are the largest group of social media users. They have a reputation, perhaps earned, for posting what they ate for lunch and tweeting every change in mood. However, they’re not alone. While 86% of those ages 18-29 use Facebook, 73% of those ages 30-49 and 57% of those age 50-64 do too. We don’t have exact numbers on who posted what they ate for lunch today, but we do know that millennials are hardly alone in the online social worlds.
  3. Millennials are flighty
    This is a common accusation, but is it true? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials don’t job-hop much more than baby boomers did at the same age. Younger baby boomers held 5.5 jobs by the time they were 25 and current millennials had 6.3 by the same age–not much difference.
  4. Millennials have short attention spans
    Consider the young professionals you know. I suspect there are real and important cultural differences in learning, but is it a matter of attention spans or a matter of differing habits and preferences? I suspect it may have as much to do with a technologically enabled preference for getting point-of-need information in short, rich, focused snippets-and maybe here the millennial are driving a learning approach we should all take advantage of.

Our whitepaper points out three excellent ways to engage and motivate millennials: mobile learning, video-based learning, and gamification. These techniques do engage millennials (we know from both client feedback and learner analyses), but why stop there? I believe these strategies can be just as effective for the larger workforce. Although, Baby Boomers and Gens X and Y didn’t grow up immersed in email, text, and mobile, they have obviously adapted to these technologies, and a properly designed, instructional program can and should work well across a multigenerational workforce. Consider a few high-level strategies:

  • Mobile devices, we know, drive much communication for millennials. We, at Allen, have experience developing award-winning mobile solutions that respect the way all generations use their mobile devices. For example, we worked with JetBlue on an interactive reference map of their support center, which produced great feedback from employees and earned JetBlue two top industry awards. What sets Allen apart is our ability to understand existing mobile reference habits and incorporate our instructional designs into a form that respects, rather than changes, established habits.
  • Video-based learning, as we know, can be easily accessible and engaging across many distribution channels, and the costs of media streaming and hosting are dropping as social video-sharing sites expand and internal networks improve. At Allen, we have responded to that demand with in-house, marketing-quality motion graphics and video teams, which have produced award-winning corporate training videos for clients like Amway and PG&E. We understand when and how to incorporate high-quality video pieces into corporate training to generate strong results and brand buy-in that works across roles and ages.
  • Games are driving a lot of conversation and innovation in the learning space, and rightly so. Correctly used, they can build a skill, increase knowledge, and motivate. But with the wrong design approach, games can be used simply to compensate for those supposedly short, millennial attention spans or for the fact that the training is fundamentally flawed (engage them with a game rather than with the content). But with a performance-based approach, an instructional game can add so much more value. Well-designed games encourage friendly competition, social sharing, group collaboration, and realistic practice, and of course these results aren’t limited solely to millennials. For example, recently we had the opportunity to develop a gamification strategy for a large international restaurant chain. The training incorporated advanced, scored, team-based biz sims, driven through a custom iPad app, with integrated long-term action plans that create accountability and goal-setting. Many members of this learner group are, in fact, millennials, but many are not. Either way, the game respects the learner’s intelligence and challenges them with meaningful and realistic problem-solving.

Ultimately, millennials may drive some of the new technological corporate training methods, but every generation in the workplace will gain from innovation in instructional strategies and tools. As with most of us in today’s workforce, millennials want training that will help them adapt to the work environment and find the best ways to reach business goals.

Tell us what you think about the millennial debate. Reach out to us to have a conversation. We want to share and learn from you!

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