Demographics matter for e-learning. Here’s how to make sense of them—and market your course accordingly.
Generations are always a bit nebulous. While we tend to discuss them in discrete groups (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z), the reality is that these generations blend together, and that the transitions from one generation to the next can be difficult to define.
Many statisticians can even agree on what year one generation ends and another begins. However, it’s generally considered that theMillennials were born sometime in the early-to-mid eighties, and that they extend some fifteen years or so, ending sometime in the mid-nineties or early two-thousands. This means that most Millennials today are in their thirties, and that almost all have graduated college.
Gen Z, on the other hand, have very few memories of the twentieth century—if they were even alive at that time. They don’t know life without the Internet, and their most formative years have been within the past decade. They’re only now becoming adults, and many are still in high school.
These dates are significant because of the norms different generations have when it comes to the Internet and online education.Millennials are digital natives, in that they have grown up with computers and the Internet. Online functions are “intuitive”to them in ways that they are not too many older generations, because they never had to learn them as adults.
Gen Z, by contrast, are social natives. They grew up with Instagram, SnapChat, and Vine. Most Millennials encountered Facebook for the first time in college, whereas Gen Z grew up with it in middle school.
Of course, these are all broad generalizations. Not everyMillennial or Gen Z will conform to these stereotypes. But being aware of the broad strokes can help you target your course more effectively by appealing to common behaviors among these groups. Here’s how.
Social collaboration is expected.
Learning, has almost always been a social affair. Taking the long view, autodidacts are the exception rather than the rule. Most of us learn best when working with others, because the social collaboration gives us opportunities both to learn from and instruct our peers.
For online educators, the trick has always been how to find a way to bring this social aspect to the learning experience. Boomers and Gen X have found this transition rocky, with some picking it up faster than others.Even those who adapt may find themselves struggling more with feelings of isolation, missing the familiar classroom environment and the interactions with teachers and classmates it entailed.
By contrast, Millennials and Gen Z find online social interactions the norm. They take to chat rooms and online forums quickly, and are highly responsive to email, chat, and text communications. And because these forms of communication are so ubiquitous, they have higher expectations for feedback.
The advantage here is that you won’t have to work hard to encourage these generations to use your forum. But you will need to put in extra effort to provide responsive feedback. The more you can automate grading and other digital communication, the more time you can devote to personalized feedback.
Career-focused courses are in demand.
Both Millennials and Gen Z are highly pragmatic when it comes to education, but for different reasons. Millennials spent more on their college education than any prior generation, and then entered the job market just in time for the housing bubble to burst. In the resulting financial crisis, many found themselves saddled with mountainous student loans, but with few job opportunities to repay them. Consequently, they have turned to online education as a means of gaining a competitive edge in the job market.
Meanwhile, Gen Z have witnessed the struggle of their older generation, and want to avoid landing themselves in the same situation. They look to online education both to cut down on college costs, and to prepare themselves for future careers. They are drawn toward STEM subjects, and tend to have a high level of social-consciousness.
These generations have less discretionary income than Boomers and Gen X, which means they need a good practical reason to take your course.If your program is career-oriented, you’re in a good position. But if your course is more for personal enrichment, then you will need to find a strong practical appeal. For example, if you’re offering online cooking lessons, your selling point to Gen X and Boomers might be “host an impressive dinner party,”but to Millennials it should be “eat healthier with low preparation time.”
Gamification is a hit for a reason.
Millennials and Gen Z didn’t just grow up with computers—they grew up with computer games.Not just as a nerdy sub-culture, either: Millennials were the generation where gaming became mainstream.
Even so, most Millennials grew up in an environment where video games were still viewed with skepticism. By the time Gen Z came along, educators had tapped in to ways to exploit the fun, addictive elements of gaming, turning them into educational opportunities.
That said, Millennials and Gen Z grew up with different kinds of games. Millennials more often grew up with a gaming console in their homes—such as a Nintendo or a Play Station, and their games were largely solo adventures, disconnected from larger Internet communities.
Gen Z not only entered gaming on mobile devices, they also did so online. They expect other people to be involved, if only as a leaderboard score.
These experiences make gamified elements in e-learning especially appealing to these generations. They’re not only familiar with how these games work, they also view them as a natural part of learning. You don’t need to sell them on the concept—just on your course.
Generations don’t define individuals.
As I said at the beginning, generations are generalization.Individuals within these groups will behave in line with their generations on some points, but contrary to expectation on others. It’s easy to find members of the Boomer generation who are far more adept at desktop use than members of Gen Z, who are more accustomed to mobile. And among Millennials, there are plenty of digital hold-outs who have avoided technological advances far more than previous generations.
The purpose of using generations in marketing is not to paint everyone with the same brush, but to calibrate expectations based on known trends. You should feel comfortable relying on your knowledge of generational characteristics when talking to broad audiences, but don’t forget how adept individuals are at bucking the trend.