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Trouble Training Millennials? Wait Until You Meet “Gen Z”

“Gen Z” – those born after 1998 – will soon surpass Millennials as the largest segment of the world population, particularly in fast-growing economies like India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the United States.  

While it’s debatable how much generational differences affect people’s attitudes and worldview, there’s no denying that recent generations have fundamentally different relationships with technology.  Where most Baby Boomers made it into their thirties or forties before having to use a computer at work, Millennials entered the workforce with smartphones in hand, and it’s transforming how organizations operate.  

So, what will Gen Z bring, and how can we prepare our learning programs for their arrival?  

  • It’s time to start talking (and thinking) about “online learning” as simply “learning”.  Even today, we still hear some people talk about “online learning” as if it were completely separate from what goes on in physical training rooms.  But Internet and mobile technology have permeated every aspect of Gen Z’s lives since childhood, such that they couldn’t imagine shoe shopping or project planning without using an web or mobile app.  Their expectations for technology-driven convenience are high, so if your learning programs miss obvious opportunities to make participation easier through appropriate use of technology, don’t be surprised if Gen Z tunes out.  

  • They are mobile and visual.  Members of Gen Z typically access information across 5 different devices in a day, often looking at something briefly on one device then coming back to it later on another.  They expect online content to look as good on their phones as on a laptop screen, so if your training content doesn’t scale elegantly across devices, it will likely be ignored.  If you’re an e-learning developer, consider adding some “responsive” tools like Adapt, Rise or Gomo to your repertoire (or ditching the “e-learning” tools entirely in favor of video and embedded quizzes).     

    Most mobile devices have cameras built in, and Gen Z has been communicating as much in photos as text their entire lives.  If you text a member of Gen Z and ask what they’re up to, don’t be surprised If they respond with a picture of the fish tank in their dentist’s office.  Trainers looking to score points with Gen Z might want to replace a writing assignments with something that involves snapping some quick photographs. Studying branding?  Great, upload some pics of the brands you interact with throughout the day.

  • Gen Z are used to having friends, family and colleagues a screen tap away.   If a member of Gen Z is sitting in a corner, starting at their device, don’t assume they’re antisocial: odds are they’re talking and/or working with a small crowd of people.  This generation couldn’t imagine being cut off from the collective, so asking them to complete assignments alone or come back to class next week with their questions can be a bit unnatural. Consider adding real-time collaboration platforms like Slack (or Teams if you’re a Microsoft shop) to your organization’s learning ecosystem, to keep facilitators and learners connected.

If your organization is dealing with these issues, or any other learning-related challenges, please contact Sonata Learning.

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Emil Heidkamp is the founder and senior learning strategist at Sonata Learning.  He works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners in over 50 countries.

2018-05-08T15:24:34+00:00 Sonata Notes|