Is it just me…or are millennials not as different as we think when it comes to learning?


There is no denying the sheer volume of posts, blogs and commentaries that abound, focused on how ‘traditional’ methods of development are to be forced into obsolescence by the rise of ’70:20:10′, ‘millennial learners’, ‘micro learning’ and ‘user generated content.’ In some cases these can feel like apocalyptic warnings for us learning professionals to change our ways or be left by the wayside, like some kind of powerpoint riddled roadkill.

Now, I like to consider myself a realist. No, honestly, I do. I understand that our delivery methods are likely to change (although I was surprised to see that Euroffice still sell overhead projectors. A small twang of nostalgia swept over me when I saw it.) and I’ve been using You Tube and TED as part of my development for years now, but I refuse to believe that our lives are destined to be those of content curators (or, more likely, librarians) and this is why.

Understanding that self directed learning is likely to become the norm is one thing, but believing that this can be delivered purely by having a set of You Tube links and some reading lists is missing the point. As is thinking that this is all about investing in your technology infrastructure (as some blogs, written by technology providers, would have you believe, that expensive LMS now being obsolete) or some clever bit of curation kit.

Learning is applying found knowledge, skills or behaviours to establish new working patterns that make you more productive. This hasn’t changed in millennia. Our basic capacity to learn was born from the need to survive, to hunt, to procreate. it doesn’t matter that we now focus our attention on areas further up Maslow’s pyramid, it’s all the same. Experience something, apply it to our own world, does it make it better? carry on or discard appropriately.

Our biggest mistake as learning professionals will be to assume that these millennials actually know how to apply their learning in a meaningful way. Let us not forget that our education system has not really changed for over 100 years, and therefore these millennials are no better prepared to do this than anyone before them. They will need our support to understand what is really useful to them, to use their social learning networks for feedback, not just content and to understand that true learning needs space and time, not five minutes grabbed here and there to read the odd article or watch the odd video.

Yes, the L&D role will shift and adapt, but it should actually move to a more rewarding period of dialogue with learners, relationships based on depth, not breadth, of helping people navigate the world of 24 hour content, make sense of it and use it wisely. All of those things that I truly believe people join this profession for. Just because the delivery mechanism changes, doesn’t mean the people are any different, they will still need our wholehearted support.

In the meantime, I’m off to buy an OHP…


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