Engaging The Next Generation of Learners

Engaging The Next Generation of Learners

In Order To Attract Gen-Y/Millennials, Organizations Today Must eE-Examine Their Approach To Learning.

BY Jerry Roche

If Tom Kalinske had his way, companies already would be adapting their learning and training programs to the newest generation of workers: Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 (aka Millennials). It’s also the largest generation to come along since the Baby Boomers.

Generally speaking, members of the Gen-Y/Millennial group are:

>> ambitious, confident, hopeful and goal-oriented;

>> wired, accessing information 24/7 through the Internet, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace and other social networks;

>> well educated;

>> technologically sophisticated;

>> social volunteers;

>> effective multi-taskers;

>> good communicators; and

>> globally aware.

“We are in the middle of an educational revolution,” says Kalinske, chairman of Global Education Learning and former CEO of LeapFrog, Knowledge Universe, Sega, Matchbox and Mattel. “Knowledge has become a currency, as valuable as money in the wallet. We are moving toward personalized knowledge portfolios and adaptive personalized content (APC) for all.”


Employers already are beginning to tap into resources from the Millennials to help replace the aging workforce. Not only will the next generation help to fill positions left behind by retiring Boomers, but their upbringing allows them to bring a fresh, new perspective to the workplace, adding to their value.

But Millennials are also very demanding. They don’t hesitate to ask employers to go beyond traditional compensation and benefits to create an environment that is creative, challenging, team-oriented, fun, and financially rewarding — which includes the on-the-job training and education they want to receive (Fig. 1).

figure 1

One of the benefits that corporations can offer the next-gen workforce is to provide leadership and feedback. Millennials look to their leaders as role models and have a strong desire to learn from them. Establishing a clear career track that’s supported by a performance review process also helps employees understand how they are doing in their job and encourages them to keep improving and moving forward in the organization.

Another benefit that Millennials seek from their employers is the opportunity to interact and work with others. To that end,
chief learning officers and their managers should strive to create an office space that allows co-workers to share ideas and promotes teamwork and collaboration. Allow them to participate in group projects to gain valuable hands-on experience. And make the learning process high-tech and interactive to achieve never-before-reached
levels of engagement.

A good learning program for Gen-Y workers should:

>> Socialize learning into everyday behavior, shifting your organization toward a more informal learning culture.

>> Let employees learn when, where, and how they want to, not restrict it to just the classroom or even the desktop.

>> Allow employees to gain experience that can’t be acquired through coursework.

>> Provide advanced capabilities that encourage instant engagement.

>> Offer guided decisions for managers.

>> Simplify instant two-way communications with mobile management.


APC helps create learning tailored to the particular educational needs and personal characteristics of each individual learner. In many cases today, mobile devices — because their use will surpass desktop use for Internet access next year — are the tools that allow employees to learn in real-world situations, whenever and wherever they so desire.

Adaptive personalized learning through APC is “the process of enabling the system to fit its behavior and functionalities to the educational needs (such as learning goals and interests), the personal characteristics (such as learning styles and prior knowledge), and the particular circumstances (such as location and movements) of the individual learner or a group of interconnected learners.”


“What does a good job look like?” Kalinske asks. To the next-gen workforce, “what’s most important is not how much you earn, but how much you grow.”

Kalinske contends that employees want to feel like they belong; that someone in the organization really cares about their professional development; that the work is challenging; and that individual contributions toward fulfilling the company’s mission are self-evident. Just as important is employee engagement. Gallup found that 29 percent of workers are engaged on the job, 53 percent are not engaged, and 19 percent are actively disengaged (Fig. 2).

figure 2

“Engaged workers are terrific,” Kalinske says. “They help with profitability, with morale, with customer relationships, and with productivity. But employees who are not engaged are not psychologically connected to the company. They’re more likely to miss work days. And the 19 percent who are actively disengaged are really unhappy and harmful, because they will try to share their unhappiness with fellow employees. The impact of lack of engagement is certainly greater absenteeism, greater turnover, safety incidents, quality defects, all of which affect your profitability. But the opposite is true with highly engaged workers.” (Fig. 3)

figure 3

“[So] we want to aim for career well-being and career happiness where your employees like what they’re doing and are doing what they do best. They want their leaders to know them, care about their development, and be their friends in the workplace.”

Kalinske says that managers should discover and build on the talents of their workers, give them more pathways to success, and encourage practical skills and experiences.

“The reason we’ve had so many issues until recently is because we haven’t had enough entrepreneurial attention to education and worker development. There’s something wrong there, but it’s changing.

“We’re starting to talk about personal knowledge portfolios, measuring return on education (ROE) spending, and we’re see-ing more partnerships — something we all have to push for. We need to partner with companies like Middlebury College, EdX, MyEdu, 2U and Coursera.

“Learning platforms are being accessed by more and more companies. Intel, Yahoo, Facebook, IBM, Dell are all starting to access courses as part of their corporate development programs. It cuts development and implementation costs.”


Our nation’s teachers and professors are laying the foundation for corporate learning. “If you’re a star teacher in Korea, you can make $3 to $5 million,” Kalinske notes, adding that the nation’s K-12 teachers are vastly underpaid by comparison. But in on-line education, things change. For example, Udemy’s online teachers are now making up to $500,000 per year, and much of their education is workplace education.

“We’re seeing a lot of next-generation content like Lumosity, lynda.com, EverFi, and schools like Charter Schools USA and the Florida Virtual School,” Kalinske notes. “Return on Education (ROE) accelerator technologies like edSurge and LT media.lab also are having very important impacts.”

He believes that K-12 and secondary educators must change the curriculum to adapt to 21st-century employer needs. “That means there has to be more math, science
and I.T.,” he says. “We need to move to a competency-based model. What you know is important; not just sitting in a classroom for a semester and graduating with a C.

Learn More: Hear Thomas Kalinske’s presentation on “The Quest for Talent: Developing the Next Gen Workforce” at www.2elearning.com under Video Gallery.

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