I'm for any method or technology that increases learning effectiveness and can help organizations operate more productively, inclusively and legally. However, within the past two years or so, I've been hearing learning specialists say they're driven to employ new technologies because that's how millennial workers feel comfortable learning.
That's where I have a problem. It's not that I'm anti-technology or anti-millennial. My wife will tell you it would be a high risk adventure to try to pry me from my iPhone, iPad or laptop. And my children and other family members are millennials, or close to that generation, as well.
The problem is that how students, regardless of generation, want to learn may or may not align with methods most likely to help them absorb, retain and apply key principles. Letting students determine what delivery systems work best for them when there may be other more effective ways for them to master critical knowledge and applications is an abdication of leadership responsibility.
Imagine conversations like these:
- I want to be a surgeon but I don't want to spend years watching others before I start handling operations on my own. I'd get bored. Let me view some procedures online, practice a few and then turn me loose. This is how I've always done my best work.
- I don't have patience for reading or problem solving. Games work best for me. Let me go through as many online simulations as you have and then I'll be ready to fly for the airline.
- I have a short attention span and I want to learn when I want to learn and when I need to learn. Give me some basic stuff, put me in the nuclear operator's position and I'll figure the rest out as I go along.
Of course, no one would take those conversations seriously. They'd be quickly dismissed and the student[s] would be advised to either learn in the manner determined by the organization or learn elsewhere.
Unfortunately, in the area of compliance and workplace behavioral issues, leaders talk about how they must deliver learning via new technologies to match the preferences of their workers without considering whether they will be effective in changing behaviors. As they do this, they are essentially saying these topics are of secondary importance as they'd never apply the same approach to the kind of knowledge transfers considered above.
When delivering learning on topics like compliance and workplace behavior, let's first determine how important those topics really are. As far as possible, let the best way to learn drive decisions rather than learner preference.
Do you really want to be a passenger on the plane if the pilot's learned his skills his own way? Probably not. Do you want your key business decisions made by individuals who've absorbed information the way they wanted to but not the way it was most likely to be effective? If your answer to that question is also no, then don't give millennials and others what they want, give them what they need.