eLearning development has always required an understanding of the way students learn and a talent for making it easy for students to do so, as well as making its topics seem both interesting and worth learning.
But a new type of learner has emerged in workplaces and colleges. eLearning development needs new approaches to its material if it is to capture and keep the attention of these new learners: the millennial generation. We are talking about the largest generation in US history! The millennials are the children of baby boomers, and are sometimes referred to as Generation Y. They differ considerably from earlier generations both in their learning style and in their expectations for their education and training.
It is critical to note that general group characteristics of millennial students in order to create eLearning courses that adapt to their learning styles:
That they will use the Internet is a foregone conclusion. The ubiquity of the web means that millennials see little point in learning facts they can easily look up, and are more likely than their parents to want to learn skills and tactics rather than facts and figures.
Like the hypertext-based nature of the web, the learning style of the millennial generation is more visual and less linear than that of previous students. A picture really is worth a thousand words with these learners. Millennials are achievement and goal oriented, easily bored, and want training materials that are pragmatic and inductive. They are also social learners and like learning materials that allow plenty of opportunity for interaction, like chat, blogs and messaging. Group learning is a great strategy. Streaming audio and video, games and avatars will make training material more engaging for them as will podcasts, interactive quizzes and flash cards.
Attention spans are reducing with the newer generations. Some authors have suggested that the attention span of millennials may be as short as eight minutes, the average time between commercials, and that therefore eLearning development should format material in small chunks with a definite punch line. Certainly, millennials are easily bored by slow-paced presentations, and do not want to sit through an hour or two of lecture in which someone reads to them from text-heavy Powerpoint slides. These learners grew up on Sesame Street and expect their educational materials to be interesting and fun. An online scavenger hunt, in teams, is another great example of the kind of teaching strategy that millennials might find interesting.
Top ways to engage them through eLearning:
- Scenarios: Incorporate concrete scenarios into your eLearning development, as these will help millennial learners to process your material.
- Relevant content: you want to include detailed and solid explanations of why and how what they are learning will matter.
- Offer diversity: The people in your scenarios should be diverse not only demographically but also in their workplaces and the wisdom of their choices.
- Be challenging and unpredictable: They want something a little less predictable than Dick and Jane have a problem, but then they do x and that solves their problem. Millennials want learning opportunities to grow and develop.
- Dynamism: Avoid including only one style of screens. Keep the pace fast, create dynamic and interactive course with frequent screen changes.
- Let them take control: Studies reveal that freedom of control over course content definitely increases motivation to complete an eLearning course.
- Use tools that allow social learning: Millenials prefer collaborative experiences, therefore enhace their learning experience with resources that allow learners to interact and share ideas about their training experiences and knowledge (chats, discussion boards, blogs, etc).
- Allows learners to multi-task within the course: For example, have them take notes about a topic online while they are learning about it.
- Enable learners to take risks: Allowing students to explore and discover increases their attention level. For example, creating a customer service course that allows the learner to select options when talking to a customer that could escalate or de-escalate the customer’s level of frustration on a telephone call.
- Gamify the course with rewards: Uses a reward system for course completion. Use tactics such as earning badges, points or levels throughout the course to quickly add challenge and motivation to their learning experience.
- Chunk information: content needs to be created into small bite sized modules.
- Be flexible. Millenials aren't going to give up their activities just because of a job. A rigid schedule is a sure-fire way to lose the Millennials.
The truth is today's learners are often on the cutting edge of technology and, in most cases, are beyond the knowledge of their teachers and even their employers or trainees. What does this mean for eLearning developers? If we want this new learners to be engaged, we need to get to know them and adapt our courses.
What are you waiting for adapting your courses to these new learners? What strategies have you applied? Tell us!