study-1231396_640I grew up in the era of latchkey kids. I was used to figuring out and doing things for myself. After getting home from school, I had to figure out what snack to eat as well as how to get my homework done and dinner started. In addition, I was responsible for “babysitting” my three younger siblings until my parents got home from work.

Many Millennials did not grow up like this. Rather, they grew up with helicopter parents who swooped in to structure, schedule, problem-solve, and protect them from the consequences of failure. Because these well-meaning parents did so much for them, though, Millennials are showing up in the workplace lacking skills that former latchkey kids just can’t fathom.

Here’s the thing. The Millennials I’ve worked with have proven themselves to be whip smart, ambitious, hard workers with a lot to offer. Like any employee new to the workplace, they just need a little help to develop the skills they lack. And, how we design training for Millennials, especially onboarding programs, can make a big difference.

Below are 7 key principles to design training to meet the needs of Millennials.

  1. Tell them why. “Because I said so” doesn’t fly. The reality is that many millennial children didn’t just get to pick out what clothes to wear to school, they also got to weigh in on summer vacation plans and other topics previously reserved for adult decision making. In other words, their opinions counted for as much as those of their parents. The fact is, “Because I said so” may never have been uttered in their household. This makes it critical that you include a detailed explanation of “why,” not just “what” and “how” in any training you design. Leave out “why” and you’ll have a hard time getting Millennials to comply with “what” and “how.”
  2. Get super specific. It was not uncommon for helicopter parents to structure the lives of their millennial children. This means that Millennials may not know how to structure their work or their time. As a result, you need to make sure the training content is detailed enough to explicitly answer the question, “What do I do when I get back to my desk?” You should also include the thinking behind the structure you teach in the training so that next time your millennial learners can structure the work themselves.
  3. Plan for implementation failures. Helicopter parents often swooped in to problem solve and protect their millennial children from the consequences of failure. This has important implications. First, many Millennials may not know what to do if something isn’t working. So, make sure the training you design includes how to anticipate, identify, and troubleshoot possible problems. Second, many Millennials may expect personal help, much like a private tutor, to succeed on the job. Given typical manager-to-employee ratios, expecting a manager to step into this role isn’t terribly realistic. A terrific option to address this need, though, is to train and assign peer coaches. The peer coaches can provide feedback and coaching with the added benefit that in teaching others, they continue to learn and grow themselves.
  4. Set expectations and provide opportunities to level up. Because Millennials’ attention has been focused on excelling in school, their job with you may be their first work experience. This means that school, in which they advanced a grade every year, is their paradigm. So, many Millennials may have unrealistic expectations of how long it will take to advance in their careers. While you can’t accelerate their progress up the rungs of their chosen career ladder, you can create levels within training so that Millennials can see progress in their mastery of competencies key to their job. They can also level up by becoming a peer coach. (See #3.) In addition, if they are fresh out of school, many Millennials simply won’t know what is appropriate in the work place. This is why it is so important, especially in onboarding programs, to explicitly spell out where they fit in, how and what they contribute to the overall mission of the business, and what is expected of them in a variety of foreseeable situations. Don’t make them guess and then slam them for behaving like they are still living in a dorm.
  5. Stop with the page-turner courses already. Millennials are digital natives. This means that page-turner e-learning courses just won’t cut it anymore. (Did they ever?!) Want to know what works for Millennials? Short, focused, actionable, high production value videos. I know this because I take courses on Internet marketing in which the majority of students are Millennials. They are anteing up $2,000 a course, which is not reimbursable by an employer, in droves. I am also seeing that gamification is making a come back and virtual reality is gaining ground.
  6. It’s about collaboration, not competition. I know. In real life, competition exists and everyone does not get a trophy. But, you can harness this preference to collaborate to amplify learning. These high-end Internet marketing courses I take always include membership in a private Facebook group. Learners are able to post their wins, ask for advice, share lessons learned, and vent their frustrations in the privacy that these groups offer. And, the instructor is able to post links to additional resources, assignments, and words of wisdom to keep everyone engaged, inspired, and moving forward. Why not borrow this idea for your next course?
  7. Create just-in-time learning. Perhaps it’s the impatience of youth, but Millennials want it now. This means you’ll need to design short, targeted learning experiences that focus on an immediate learning need instead of taking the throw-everything-in-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. And, it means you’ll need to make information conveniently available for easy reference post training.

I wrote this article about instructional design for Millennials. But, really, everything I’ve covered is just plain, old, good instructional design for everyone. Us former latchkey-kid generations may not have complained, but I’m sure we would have preferred learning that was designed following these 7 key principles.