Everything has to be bigger and better to the millennial generation. We’ve grown up in a time where there’s never a lack of innovation or ideas. The next big thing has always been around the corner, and it has always been accessible. We have grown up with instant communication technologies such as laptops, cell phones, MP3 players and all the other electronic devices that define modern life — we don’t see them as a luxury; we see them as a necessity.
For example, according to results from “Generations and Their Gadgets,” a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey, the MP3 player may be the defining product of the millennial generation, with 74 percent owning one. Just 56 percent of the Gen X group claimed ownership, with other percentages dropping off sharply. It’s not just because we claim to be tech savvy that we own these things — if we like it, if it’s different, fun, compact or original, we think we need it.
We’re in an age where there’s so much creativity out there that if something isn’t bold and engaging, it’s not going to stick. Even our condiments have to be trendy. After H.J. Heinz Co. created red, green, purple, pink, orange and teal ketchup, it had to make blue to keep up with the other products’ incremental success. It’s different and mildly disgusting perhaps, but it’s unusual, and since only 500,000 blue bottles were produced to be sold, it was seen as innovative and elite.
That’s what a company’s learning strategy has to be: novel. It has to be different, engaging and attractive; it has to be cool.
Late last week, two dozen millennial business people, many of them already millionaires, attended the Future of Entrepreneurship Education Summit at the University of Central Florida. Attendees were able to hear speeches from Priceline.com co-founder Jeff Hoffman, Kauffman Foundation senior fellow Jonathan Ortmans and Redbox co-founder Michael Delazzer, among others. They attended roundtable sessions to discuss their own goals and challenges. They attended the Orlando Brewery for a private, behind-the-scenes tour of Florida’s only certified organic brewery. They networked at formal sessions and at informal sessions in the hotel as well. They visited the Amway Center in Orlando, the newest and grandest NBA stadium in the country.
They learned from each other while having fun.
Similarly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been attracting and retaining young talent by advertising its cool mission to embrace of Web 2.0 technologies and its culture of respecting smart people, regardless of their age or pay grade. NASA leaders have been coaching younger workers and recognizing the technical skills young employees bring to the table. Millennial employees have been engaged while feeling appreciated.
I do not agree with those who state that millennial students do not respond well to traditional lecture methods. I do not agree that we have a short attention span from an overload of information. I simply think that in a world bursting with creativity and originality, we should engage in learning strategies that mirror the same.
As I’ve mentioned before, games and virtual worlds are a new, effective way to engage employees — young and old. Training through these methods increases a learner's knowledge, recall and retention of material, while increasing the learner's confidence for performing a task. The Microsoft Learning Content Development System (LCDS) for example allows anyone in the Microsoft learning community to publish e-learning courses completing the LCDS forms that generate highly customized content, interactive activities, quizzes and games.
This isn’t about being the cool boss or merely keeping younger employees satisfied; it’s about keeping up with the times. You can’t expect the 74 percent of millennial’s that own an MP3 player to be satisfied with a portable audio cassette player. It’s time to be creative. Everyone can use a little fun.