Learning and Development The learning and development (L&D) world seems to be confused by, if not outright afraid of, millennials.

Curious about the ruckus, I did some research. And admittedly, as a millennial, I was curious to see what there was to see. What I discovered surprised me. The rush to understand millennials isn’t really about millennials. They’re the catalyst, but they’re not the source.

I ran across the same general sentiment over and over. The recommendations for making training and workplaces appeal to millennials actually apply to everyone. The same pattern appears when you read about gamification, the basic principles apply to “non-gamers” too. Complaints about short attention spans and disengagement can be found in any organization that’s struggling to connect with their learners.

This is a crisis of outdated L&D practices.

Notice that I say “practices.” L&D theory has lots of innovative, scientifically backed methods in its corner. The hard part is getting organizations to try something new or figure out how to update their training with limited resources. There are organizations that stay on the cutting edge of training and roll out some amazing initiatives. The winners of ATD’s BEST awards and the eLearning Guild’s DemoFest are great examples. But I think it’s pretty safe to say that for every shining example there are several more that haven’t kept up.

This isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s like having a slow leak in your attic. You might notice it one of the few times you go up there and think, “I should get that fixed.” But what’s out of sight is out of mind. You put off getting it fixed while you deal with the more pressing needs of daily life. Then there’s a major storm and that leak is suddenly flooding the house. Chances are you’ll get it fixed after that.

Millennials may be the unexpected storm, but the outdated L&D practice leak has been in place for a while.

Organizations have been able to keep using dull manuals, droning narrated PowerPoints, and old videos because they’ve been sufficient. In many cases, the shift from classroom training toward blended learning and eLearning has just meant the learners can sit somewhere other than in a classroom while they endure a lecture or get pelted by bullet points. Technology and instructional theory have been improving every year, but real learning experiences stagnate when they don’t follow best practices.

Especially in today’s fast-paced “information age,” it’s easy for people to see when something is behind the times. The catch is that while past generations of learners may have sat through a humdrum online training and thought “This isn’t so great,” millennials have more past digital experiences to compare it to. It hurts to face it, but we’re in a position to think, “I had much better than this as a kid.” That thought definitely doesn’t instill confidence and trust in the organization providing the training.

Change is always challenging. And sometimes it takes a flooding house to get the leak in the attic fixed. Organizations should not just be looking for quick band-aid fixes “for the millennials.” If they take this opportunity to evaluate their L&D honestly and work on improving it, everyone will benefit. After all, who doesn’t want to be genuinely engaged or have a reason to look forward to training? The good news is the “secret ingredients” are already out there, solid instructional design and experience design.

If the influx of millennials is the push L&D needs to reinvigorate itself, I welcome it.

If you’d like to learn about custom course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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