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Designing impactful instructor-led learning experiences with the millennial in mind

Before becoming an instructional designer, I spent 22 years in the classroom teaching the millennial learner: those learners now between ages 22 and 37 and who are still entering or who are well-entrenched in the workforce. Within the next 10 years, this demographic will make up the majority of the global workforce.

Consequently, when it comes to offering face-to-face learning experiences, such as a day-long interactive workshop or a 75-minute breakout session at a conference, associations must carefully consider the millennial learner’s needs and expectations if they want them to have a worthwhile, enjoyable experience. Fortunately, by understanding these learning needs and employing strategies, based on best practice, to address those needs, the association will more than likely meet the learning needs of the larger association audience as well.  

One surprising thing that I noticed when working with millennial learners in the classroom, at both the high school and college level, is that despite all their tech savviness, they still prefer the in-person, social learning experience. They craved and even requested authentic, social interaction with me and with their fellow learners. With that said, despite all the online learning options available, face-to-face, social learning can still be a relevant way for associations to offer a rewarding experience. This learning experience can address gaps in skill, knowledge and attitude while providing an effective and efficient ways for participants to not only conveniently learn necessary skills and knowledge to transfer to their respective jobs but also have the delightful, and perhaps credential worthy, learning experience.

For this to happen, workshops and other types of instructor-led sessions must be improved, and they must work. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your next instructor-led learning experience:

  1. Content is important, but the learner comes first: After ensuring that the learners are recruited appropriately for the session, make sure learner-centered objectives are stated clearly and well-understood by participants. The session design should provide opportunities where the facilitator states clearly and often the objectives. Additionally, after considering any ways that he or she can personalize the content for the current challenges of the learners, the facilitator should tell participants: “Here’s what you’ll be learning; here’s why you’ll be learning it; and here’s what you will do show me that you learned it.”

Also, learners should have opportunities to articulate objectives in their own terms. They, too, should clearly be able to tell the facilitator and one another “Here’s what I’m going to learn; here’s why I’m going to learn it; and this is what I’m going to do to show that I learned it.” The instructor-led session expectations and participant expectations must match up. If they don’t match up, the experience will not only be lack-luster and disappointing from both perspectives but also a waste of time, resources and money.

  1. Make learners co-creators of material: Today’s learners want concrete skill enhancement. This enhancement could help give them the competitive edge for career advancement or perhaps even help them remain relevant in the ever-changing workplace. But it is very difficult to learn a skill by just listening to a facilitator talking about a subject. Participants must become invested in the session’s material. This is best accomplished through active, learner-centered strategies and activities that engage the learner and has them doing and not just sitting. There should be varied activities that offer participants opportunities to display work, hold conversations, participate in group work and present. In the end, what the participants can say and do is more important than what the facilitator can say and do.
  2. Make material manageable: Bite-sized portions of content will work best with today’s learners. Actually, chunking material is just solid, instructional design best practice for any type of learner. Give a little information and then have participants engage in the material. Give them a little more and then have them engage. It will be quite counter-productive to have learners sitting and listening for more than 10 minutes without any type of interaction with the facilitator or with other participants. If millennial learners get overloaded with information with no engagement, they will quickly disengage from the content.
  3. Provide learners an opportunity to leave the session with concrete evidence of learning and post-session support for knowledge transfer: Today’s learners want to leave the session with something in hand that demonstrates skill acquisition. Give them the opportunity to leave the session with maybe a physical project that they created during a workshop that they can utilize in the workplace. Possibly, they may want a certificate for their portfolio or perhaps a certification logo to add to their LinkedIn profile or perchance a badge to put in their digital backpack. Moreover, credentialing, even though not right for all associations, may be a consideration as part of the larger learning portfolio for the association. 

Additionally, to optimize the knowledge transfer process post-session, provide the learners some avenues of support. Perhaps your association could set up a Slack station for attendees, so they can continue to network with each other and experts in the field. If feasible, you could set up an online post-session refresher. There are many support options; choose one that works best for your associations and your members.

Finally, keep in mind, even though there is a plethora of online learning opportunities available, learners choose to be in a learning environment, such as a workshop, where authentic, face-to-face social interactions take place. Offer what they expect, involve them wholly without overwhelming them, provide them evidence of skill acquisition and offer the necessary support that can give them what they need to reach their career goals and be successful in today’s workplace.

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