· 2 min read · Features

Millennials: How generational differences are shaping L&D


The 'generation gap' is important when it comes to L&D – so how can workers of all ages learn?

This year KnowledgePool is championing a major research project into the future of learning and development by interviewing some of Europe’s biggest employers about what is shaping their needs. As responses come through from HRDs across a range of sectors trends are beginning to emerge.

One of the biggest factors regularly noted by respondents is the 'generation gap': differences between the new generation of workers – the millennials – and their predecessors. As a large generation they are one of the most different and transformative we have seen in decades.

Most of them grew up with parents from the boomer generation, who told them to 'go out and grab it'. They were given a positive message that they could work hard and achieve what they want. It’s unfortunate that this has been turned into a negative trait by some who accuse young people of wanting everything handed to them on a plate. Millennials have been told that the world is accessible and are aiming towards things that older generations wouldn’t have aspired towards.

When people leave academia – where the concept of collaboration is often seen as cheating – and join the workforce it can sometimes be a culture shock to suddenly become part of a team. They need to share things and communicate to develop, which is very different from how they have been educated. Fortunately collaboration is instinctive and intuitive to this generation. They are used to sharing with others; using social media to connect globally with like-minded people.

Millennials have grown up in a world where questioning the establishment is the norm, and changing parameters mean there are certain things young people don’t need to be taught. For example, they already understand LGBT issues, political correctness and climate change. It is part of their nature as they have lived it all their lives, and so have gained a cultural awareness beyond that of the generation before them.

L&D, therefore, shouldn't over-emphasise what millennials already know. This generation is keen to get straight to the facts as they are used to information being easily and instantly accessible. Millennials also have an innate ability to multitask: give them the learning and don’t drip feed, let them tell you if they need to pause or slow down. This is called dual aspect or brain splitting. As long as the tasks are using different points of the brain they can handle it.

So what to do if a workforce spans generations and training for everyone is needed? L&D professionals must be wary of falling into the trap of training to the lowest common denominator. This will leave the fastest learners bored and switched off. But the reverse is that you will lose slower learners along the way.

This is where alternative learning methods such as e-learning and social learning show their true worth. They allow learners to branch out and work at the speed they want. Not everybody will want purely online learning though, so a balance with face-to-face contact may be necessary. The preferable route will be to talk to everybody first, ask what pace and environment they want to work with, and take ideas from them. Be honest with people and find out what they want to learn. Some may prefer self-study, and you could ideally look at curated learning paths for individuals, or creating social learning communities for sharing ideas and knowledge.

More often than not you will find that millennials are hungry to learn. L&D needs to get rid of the 'sheep dip' culture. Regardless of birth date adult learners will have vastly different attitudes and approaches to learning, and L&D needs to adapt to this new generation of learners.

Rachel Kuftinoff is learning consultancy director at KnowledgePool (part of Capita Learning Services)