Gen Y: They Are So Not Interested In Your Learning

Mark Harrison of Kineo recently talked in an International Telecommunications conference about the challenges and opportunities designing elearning for Generation Y.

Don’t make me angry with your linear learning….

For many years, the elearning industry has been saying that the younger generation coming through will not be happy with the more traditional models of training – without really doing too much to change things.

Well, that new generation has arrived and now represents a significant proportion of the workforce for many organisations out there.

The fact is that this new generation are looking for something quite different from 2 to 3 hour linear elearning modules. That will make them very, very angry.

This new generation are looking for much, much more. They are Generation Y.

So, before we look at what they want and what that means to all of us in the world of training, let’s look at what we mean by Generation Y?

Who are they…

Members of Generation Y (and we’re generalising a little, but hey, it’s a title)

  • were born between 1980-1992
  • are digital natives whereas their parents were not
  • have shorter attention spans
  • are resistant to lectures
  • prefer action to talking
  • have a low threshold for print sources
  • are more comfortable sharing information

But you probably knew all of that.

This is what really makes them different: According to the TECH Tribe report 2006, they spend on average 23hrs a week online vs. 17 hours watching TV. They do ¼ of their shopping online. 60% say the Internet “belongs to them”. And you thought it was yours.

They are engine that has fuelled Web 2.0 and, unfortunately, they seldom get a learning experience in the workplace that looks anything like the world they inhabit so significantly in their spare time.

What they want for a learning experience can be summarised by these key principles:

…and what do they want?

Gen Y learners prefer:

  • visual imagery
  • creative thinking
  • going in to get what they need then get out
  • large variety of activities
  • not to be locked in learning loops
  • engaging, gaming activities
  • sharing openly

Great - but how often, do corporate training programmes deliver this? Hardly ever.

Why is this? Well here are a few reasons:

  • Who are the decision-makers? What do they know about 20-30 year olds?
    Also how many L&D departments are run by technical literate heads who know about new tools and technologies that Gen Y is using?
  • Sharing is risky. Senior managers can be exposed by what they don’t know. Junior staff can ask difficult questions. If you grew up hearing the term ‘Knowledge is Power’, it’s hard to start telling everyone everything without thinking you’re making some horrible career mistake.
  • A lot of the tools that Gen Y use to share (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube) are supposed to be fun. If you start co-opting them for formal work purposes and the dreaded hard work of learning, you can it very wrong and alienate both Gen X and Gen Y. Careful design is needed. You can’t plant formal linear patterns on top of open systems.
  • It has to be informal (like the Web) – so how can you plan it? How do we know when people have completed it? How do you measure it? All the more reasons for L&D managers to lie awake, twittering to themselves (but not each other).

Your average Generation Y-er is used to being part of vast community who share huge amounts of information about themselves. Just look at the growth of Twitter to see this in practice – again driven by Generation Y (ok, and Ashton Kutcher). The trouble is they often work in organisations who must seem like impenetrable and very inhuman entities – they don’t look and act like social networks, even though they must be at some level.

So what are we going to do about it? Get an iPhone.

So, that’s why it’s important to have a completely different mindset – and the inspiration has to be the way that the iPhone (and similar devices) provide such a wealth of media and communications options and takes everything that a Generation Y learner and puts it literally in the palm of their hands.

The world of iPhones offers: Videos, podcasts, messaging, blogging, networking, microblogging, and rapid supply of information. It’s not the only way of delivering but it’s a great blank canvas to start your ideas with.

Gen Y love-in, in 8 easy steps:

Here are some ways to acting like you want employees under 25:

1. Let’s get everyone to share ideas by video or pictures - It’s easy to do and it’s authentic – upload or email

2. Take your own medicine: start using at least one new social networking tool now. They’re all doing it, how hard can it be?

3. Use a SWAT squad to go in and do interviews for vodcasts/podcasts. Cheap, fast, easy and portable. Better for this generation than boring old e-learning.

4. Let’s encourage everyone to ask questions of everyone else. Make sharing more of a status symbol than knowledge holding.

5. Get debates going and a buzz around new things – develop small informal communities. Someone has to start it – why not you?

6. Get the latest facts and expertise from those who know (cut out the middle man...) – Web 2.0 hands over multiple channels to the expert. Set them up and let them at it. Experiment, weed out stuff that doesn’t work, but don’t stop experimenting.

7. Make it easy to find the things that people want to know. The Search button is more important to Gen Y than multiple menus and LMSs. Gen Y don’t want to know what an LMS is. And when you explain it stands for Learning. Management. System…man, those are three boring words when you spell it out like that.

8. Getting to know their colleagues makes Generation Y happier! So, encourage everyone to share things about themselves and what they are doing. Especially those rafts of invisible middle management.

This isn’t a task list for tomorrow – it’s about changing behaviour. But it’s a place to start. Get an iPhone, download and play with some apps. That’s contextual, mobile learning in action – but don’t use those words to a Gen-Y’er. It’s all just useful stuff. And tomorrow’s stuff is going to be better.

The tools that will change learning in the future are already being used today – just probably not by you. You need to go looking for them. Or as William Gibson (honorary Gen-Y’er) put it: “The future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed.” Short enough for a tweet – but it speaks volumes.

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