4 Misconceptions about Millennials that Are Damaging Your Online Course

If you want to market your online course to Millennials, you need to know your audience.

It seems like generational prejudices are a perennial problem, with older cohorts consistently critical of the way the young aren’t living up to expectations, and the younger groups dismissing the older generations as being out of touch.

These complaints are as old as time and are unlikely to go away, but paying too much heed to them can be a dangerous trap—especially for online educators.

Why? Well, if you’re designing a course for a particular age group, you need to know something about them. And if most of what you think you know is actually based on incorrect generalizations, then you may end up alienating some of your core audience or missing out on important marketing opportunities.

So without further ado, let’s dispel four major myths about Millennials so that you can make a better online course.

1. Millennials = “kids these days.”

Let’s start with some basic demographics: do you know what generation you’re part of? Many of the people I hear making criticisms of Millennials don’t seem to realize that they are themselves members of that much-maligned group. As far as I can tell, their complaints are leveled at modern teens, who are actually part of a different generation entirely (Gen Z, or iGen).

While generational divides are always a little fuzzy, most researchers classify Millennials as having been born between the early 80s and the mid 90s. In other words: Millennials are post-college, but have yet to hit their mid-life crisis. They’re mostly in the early-to-mid stages of their careers, and are generally starting to settle down, get married, and raise kids—admittedly a few years later than their counterparts from previous generations, but it’s still happening.

All of which means that many of your biggest misconceptions about Millennials may stem from not even knowing who the Millennials are to begin with. Focus a little less on teens and college students and a little more on those who are in their late twenties and early thirties, and you’ll start to see a much more nuanced picture.

2. Millennials need constant affirmation.

The educational environment one experiences growing up plays a tremendous role in shaping how you approach learning opportunities in the future. And as the American education system over the past few decades has consistently moved toward more standardized tests and structured extracurricular time after school, the children who grew up in that system naturally are more accustomed to more structure and guidance than prior generations, who were mostly expected to work things out and fend for themselves.

However, it would be unjust to characterize these preferences as a need for mindless affirmation. On the contrary, what Millennials crave is feedback.

And don’t mistake this for insecurity, either. Simple feedback mechanisms are a useful and important way to help learners know they’re understanding the material properly, it can strengthen memory by moving key information from short term to long term storage, and it can forestall learners from absorbing ideas or concept incorrectly. A short review quiz of just a handful of simple questions can go a long way toward improving learner outcomes, and will satisfy the Millennia desire for quick, low-key feedback.

3. Millennials are technological gurus.

Millennials are typically described as “tech natives”—a designation that is certainly applicable as a sweeping generalization, but often falls apart under scrutiny. While it’s true that Millennials are, on average, more at home in technological environments than older generations, this does not mean they are universally adept at every function.

Technology comes in any number of applications and user interfaces, and most of us have some systems that we’re more comfortable with than others (just look at how frustrated a Mac user can become when suddenly switching to a Windows OS, and vice versa).

Furthermore, apps and interfaces are constantly updating and coming in and out of style. There’s also a huge difference in mobile vs. desktop use, with older Millennials more comfortable on laptops, and younger Millennials more comfortable on smartphones.

What this means for online education is that you should assume your learners know how to use your program. Don’t neglect a tutorial introduction that walks your learners through how to submit an assignment or where to access important information.

4. Millennials switch jobs too frequently for training to be a good investment.

One final misconception about Millennials which is particularly important for online educators is that, given how quickly this generation switches jobs, training them will only prepare them for a job at another company. Company loyalty, the narrative goes, is a thing of the past. And in that case, cutting training is a sure way to cut both the expense of the course itself, and the loss of future brain drain as Millennials use their training as bargaining power to move into a better job with a different company.

It is true that Millennials switch jobs a lot—a trait that is probably not uncommon among younger work forces generally. But Millennials also place a high value on training, which means that organizations who aren’t offering it are part of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Millennials are more likely to work with a company that offers training, which they rightly view as a necessary for career advancement. But when a company doesn’t offer training, it’s a sign that their future at the company is limited. So while employee training isn’t a binding agreement, it is a good-faith offering that most Millennials are eager to accept.

Many businesses turn to online educators for help in devising effective employee training courses. But there’s another lesson to learn here for educators operating solo: Millennials are eager for courses that will be useful to them in their professional lives. If their employers aren’t offering that material, they will probably still seek it out on their own.

So, what do Millennials want to see in an online course?

Like any generation, Millennials are a diverse group with many needs and interests. There are several important things we can say about them, however.

First, they want to learn. Second, they especially want to learn about topics that will advance their careers—including soft skills such as how to be a better leader, management techniques, and working well with coworkers. They’re also highly entrepreneurial, and are interested in courses that build their business skills. Millennials have also broken down many taboos about mental health, and are keen to find material that will teach them healthy strategies in this regard, such as cognitive behavior therapy, or how to work with anxiety.

Finally, many Millennials lead busy lives. They want courses that will be flexible and work with them, while also helping them achieve their goals. These are high standards for any online course to meet, but educators who succeed will find support among a base that is eager to spread the word among their social networks.

Author

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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