Published on 2018/09/28

CE for the 21st-Century: Meeting Learning Needs for the Millennial Generation

The EvoLLLution | CE for the 21st-Century: Meeting Learning Needs for the Millennial Generation
As Millennials age into their careers, it’s critical for continuing education divisions to learn what makes this generation tick and ensure they’re set up to serve this growing demographic of young working adults.

As offices and industries all grapple with the challenges of the multi-generational workforce, continuing education divisions are starting to realize that they are serving a more diverse audience of adults than ever before. Alongside the Boomers and Gen-X’s, Millennials are arriving in the labor market and bringing with them their specific needs and expectations. In this interview, Amy Chester shares her insights on the expectations and needs of Millennials—both inside and outside the learning environment—and reflects on how CE divisions can adapt to serving them.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it so important for continuing education divisions to think about how to serve students from the Millennial generation?

Amy Chester (AC): As noted by Pew Research earlier this year, Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. As of 2017, there were 56 million Millennials either working or looking for work in the United States. Remember, this is the generation that is eager to find meaning in their work, and is willing to work hard to find the right and best fitting job. Therefore, institutions must be in tune to serve this generation and satisfy their needs.

As Millennials advance in their careers, we expect to see them continue looking for ways to revise, enhance, and develop their professional skills, especially when transitioning from entry-level positions to middle management and the executive suite. Continuing education divisions have to be agile, not just in what they offer but also in how they deliver education. It’s critical that CE units continue to evaluate their portfolio of offerings to ensure they are meeting market demands both in content areas and delivery format. Millennials are thirsty for quick online learning opportunities, but also crave in-person networks and community. Millennials are the largest generation in the workforce, and CE must be ready to satisfy the demands and expectations of this generation.

Evo: What are some of the most significant expectations Millennials have for the experience a university must deliver, both inside and outside the learning environment?

AC: Institutions and continuing education divisions can focus on marketing to the Millennial generation by communicating their brand promise and delivering on high expectations.

Significant expectations of Millennials include:

  • Fast response times;
  • Easily accessible services;
  • Stackable learning opportunities; and
  • Platforms for networking.

There is a lot of competition in the continuing education space right now, both at higher education institutions and professional associations, as well as at start-ups like coding bootcamps. With so much competition out there, students expect their continuing education experience to be affordable and good value, otherwise they’ll find another program.

Evo: How must CE divisions adapt their approaches to programming and student support to ensure they are meeting these expectations?

AC: Once Millennials are in the classroom, both on campus and online, we find that they learn in similar ways to other professionals.

Our professional students at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies are eager for learning that can be applied to their current and future professional lives. Case studies, simulations, and role playing keep Millennials engaged in the learning process. They are also eager for collaborative assignments, ways to utilize technology, and opportunities for mentorship.

They also need breaks to breathe, process and reflect. We usually suggest no longer than 90 minute in-classroom segments for adult learners bookended by short breaks. This gives everyone a chance to stretch, check their devices, and get a snack in order to prepare for the next stretch of learning and focusing. Breaks can and should be built into online experiences too. This could take the form of a physical stoppage of class in a synchronous environment, or maybe a break in class scheduling in an asynchronous setting so students have some down time.

Lastly, divisions should focus on and highlight values-based learning. Be sure to identify the values that uniquely frame the educational experience in the division, and use those values to guide the student experience and the student support services.

Evo: By the same token, what kinds of changes will CE divisions need to make to their marketing and enrollment processes to ensure they’re bringing Millennial professionals in the door in the first place?

AC: Traditional marketing tactics alone—like hard-copy mailers or fold-out viewbooks—won’t meet Millennial expectations. Instead, CE divisions need to think about reaching this population via digital marketing strategies, including social media, search term buys, and online and in-person information sessions.

Millennials are busy and they want to know that enrolling in continuing education is going to be worth their time and their money. This population also expects the registration experience to be seamless. From the time they learn about the program (via a LinkedIn ad, for example), to submitting an application, to registering for courses, students expect a seamless, fast and secure experience.

If they hit too many roadblocks during the registration process, it’s very possible the student will second-guess the quality and may jump to a competitor’s offering.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Key Takeaways

  • When it comes to learning preferences, professionals from the Millennial generation tend to have similar needs and expectations to working adults from other generations.
  • Outside the classroom, CE divisions need to upgrade their approach to marketing and registration to make it seamless, easy and Amazon-like, or Millennials might second-guess the quality of the offering and go elsewhere.