Meeting the eLearning needs of Generation Y

April 22, 2015 Trina Cody

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

This almost proverbial opening line to L. P. Hartley’s The Go Between sums up rather nicely the reality of generational change.

Students working together

While it is dangerous to assume anything about an individual, how newer generations work, play and learn is very different from previous eras. Compared to other groupings, Generation Y, also known as Millennials (anyone born between the early 1980s and 2000), now represent the majority of the workforce* and are forging a distinctive path into adulthood. They are politically independent, relatively unattached to organized religion, more liberal in their views on relationships (yet in no rush to marry), and less trustful of people than previous generations.

How does Generation Y learn?

The millennials are the best-educated cohort of young adults in history – a third of Americans aged 26 to 33 have a four-year college degree or more. But perhaps of more significance to societies is the fact that this group has taken the lead in seizing on the new platforms of the digital era. They maximize the internet, mobile technology and social media, to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups. Millennials are ‘digital natives’, and, unlike previous generations, these technologies are inherent in everything they do; they have not had to adapt like previous generations.

It should come as no surprise that web-based learning has become the fastest growing education segment, and it is currently estimated that more than 46% of college students are taking at least one course online. Learning opportunities need to reflect this shift, and scholarly and professional societies need to take note.

What motivates Generation Y?

Millennials have different values, needs and expectations to any previous generation. In order to make the necessary commitment to join or retain interest in an organization they need to feel involved and have an emotional attachment to what the organization represents. Consequently, the actual values of a particular membership society will have a massive impact on whether Millennials choose to actually join or maintain membership.

Generation Y values leadership, learning and making a difference. While all society members need a sense of belonging, trust is particularly important for this segment. Empty promises will certainly not be tolerated, and it is imperative that Millennials feel involved from day one.

The recent recession has personally impacted millennials at a critical point in their coming of age, not only limiting their own job opportunities, but presenting huge social and economic repercussions for their parents. This means they place even more value on professional development and career services than older generations.

How can societies better engage Generation Y?

Societies and membership organizations need to ensure they are meeting the needs of this cohort. Generation Y want to feel a sense of ownership for anything to which they are signed up. They need to feel involved from day one, and to feel that they are of equal value to a membership organization as elder generations.. They don’t expect to wait five years before they have a voice, and they want to use their skills immediately in partnership with society colleagues, no matter what the age gap.

Their biggest turn off is not being listened to. So, societies need to ask them how they actually want to be involved, and, most importantly, to act on it – instant feedback is high on the expectation list of Millennials. And it won’t work to limit involvement to a few. Generation Y are all about collaboration and what their peers think, so societies will quickly be found out if they ignore the whole group

Communication should come via mobile devices, and social media. Societies that focus on marketing on these platforms will reach more members of younger generations.

So, what are the implications for eLearning?

In terms of learning solutions, it is obviously worth acting via Generation Y’s preferred media. Digital fora would not be out of place, and it’s worth considering providing different options to engage your audience at events, whether in the flesh or online. Above all, efficient technology is a must. They want to be able to learn anywhere, anytime, and with no excuses.

It’s worth focusing on other millennial traits: provide a structured environment in which they can easily see results and be rewarded, develop self-assessment activities, and include ways learners can customize their learning.

With the right eLearning solutions, societies can certainly better engage with Millennials. You’ll be genuinely providing something they need in a manner to which they have not only become accustomed, but actually expect. A robust curriculum, multimedia activities delivered on an easily accessible platform, engaging webinars and customized learning all go a long way to reaching Millennials. These are worthwhile developments that can only be good for recruiting and retaining more members, while enhancing a society’s reputation.

Our suite of eLearning products is designed to reflect the eLearning revolution inherent in Generation Y, but we would like to know your thoughts. Let us know what you are doing to reach out to younger members of your society in the comments section below or tweet us @WileySocieties.

*Based on the US Bureau and Bureau of Labor’s findings

Source: Shutterstock

About the Author

Senior Customer Experience Manager, Wiley // Trina Cody is Manager, Strategic Market Analysis at Wiley. She has been focusing on learning everything she can about the challenges associations are facing and figuring out how Wiley can help. She also recently completed her MBA at Boston University in May 2014, concentrating in Strategy and Organizational Transformation.

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