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Engaging Millennial Learners in Online Education

NextThought team — October 31, 2018

Learning Design


Millennials continue to be a hot topic around the online learning space, and the biggest question we get is, “How can we engage millennials in our online learning offerings?”

Engaging Millennials

The great news is that it’s not as hard as it seems; you just need to find that magic combo that gets the millennial learner’s attention. There are a few key characteristics that are true of almost all millennials. By developing an understanding of those characteristics, you can make the required adjustments that will attract them to your online learning offerings.

Millennials are Multitaskers

Millennials have grown up in a world where a million messages are constantly vying for their attention. Additionally, millennials have learned to multitask from an early age. They were commonly forced to juggle school, multiple extracurricular activities, friends and a constant social media presence. They learned to do their homework in the car on the way to and from soccer practice, all while texting friends. This trait is so ingrained in them that, even though we are beginning to understand the ineffectiveness of multitasking, it won’t disappear anytime soon. An overabundance of information and a reliance on multitasking has culminated in millennials’ short attention span. Millennials make quick decisions about whether or not information is useful, and the talking heads of yesteryear are no longer effective.

What does this mean for you? You need to rethink how you present information. One of the easiest and quickest changes you can make is to cut your content into smaller doses. Additionally, you should try changing how you present information. Instead of simply providing lectures and reading material, try presenting information in new and different ways, including video clips, charts, podcasts, maps and slideshows.

Millennials Appreciate Informal and Collaborative Learning Environments

Millennials thrive in informal and collaborative learning environments. This is true for a number of reasons.

First, millennials were raised much differently than prior generations. Their parents were much more involved in the day-to-day minutia of their lives, and the old adage that “children are to be seen and not heard” fell by the wayside. Consequently, millennials expect to be involved in important discussions; they want you to listen to them, they ask lots of questions and they expect answers. Also, many millennials have close relationships with their parents, which makes them more comfortable around perceived adults and authority figures.

Second, millennials engage in more tribalism than prior generations. With the advent of technology and social media, human connection is just a button push away. Millennials have been able to find people with similar interests and ideals and work with them to bring about change or implement ideas. The great news for you is that collaboration is actually an effective learning tool. If you provide a rich, collaborative and interactive learning environment, you will attract more millennial learners, and they will be more successful in their learning practices.

Associations Can Structure Online Learning for Millennial

Millennials Need Recognition and Feedback 

It’s easy to think of millennials as the generation that received participation awards. While this may be true, it makes it easy to misunderstand and dismiss a key millennial characteristic that, if harnessed, can be a great asset. Many people, especially in mainstream media, perceive that millennials want to be praised for everything they do. Millennials are really looking for feedback. You are dealing with high achievers, which we’ll discuss in more depth in the next section. Millennials want to be successful, and they want to make adjustments as they go along. Their needs are not limited to praise; they want constructive one-on-one criticism. If you provide ongoing and frequent feedback on millennials’ performance, they will be much more engaged. When it comes to online learning, gamification is an easy way to touch on this point. By providing badges and leaderboards, you can help millennials take ownership of their own learning process.

Millennials are High Achievers 

As we discussed, millennials are high achievers. Many of them developed this characteristic because of their interactions with their parents. Helicopter parents had high expectations for their children. They gave them a clear understanding and expectation that rules are to be followed, and they demanded high achievement from their children. A positive side to this type of parenting is that we’ve ended up with a generation that is motivated, goal-oriented, assertive and confident. You can tap into this characteristic by being very clear up front about the expectations for a course. If you outline and enforce guidelines and expectations, and outline course objectives early on, your learners will drive themselves to meet those goals and objectives. This will, in turn, allow them to feel as though they’ve been given tools to succeed.

Millennials Need to Know Value Add

A significant portion of the millennial generation doesn’t remember life before the internet. They have grown up with information right at their fingertips and use that ability readily. How many times have you heard a millennial say, “Oh, I just Googled how to do it.” Millennials have innumerable free learning opportunities available to them with the click of a button. When it comes to your learning content, especially if you’re charging, they want to know what value your content adds to their lives to make it worth their time and money. So let’s make it worth it! The key here is that millennials need and want more than just information; they want application. Make sure your content and information is relevant. Establish context for the information and connect it to real life experiences. Give your learners applicable skills they can take into the real world.

Much has been said about millennials, and we continue to talk about their likes, dislikes and needs. However, some of these characteristics are true of learners from every generation, and millennials aren’t the only learners who will benefit from a revamp of your content. Many of the principles that engage millennial learners will generate engaged learning for everyone. You’ll find that these practices will help even seasoned learners to better understand and retain the information you share.
How to Make Association Members Out of Millennials

NextThought team
NextThought team

Our mission... To constantly explore innovative ways to rethink education. We engage learners, build community, and deliver value. We will always go above and beyond standard learning solutions, providing perfectly-tailored educational experiences for our clients and their audiences.

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