Getting Up-Close and Personal(ized) – Designing Professional Development for Millennials

Today, everything is personalized—from recommendations you receive during your shopping experience on Amazon to the way you want your latte prepared at Starbucks (Pumpkin Spice for me, thanks!).

Younger generations are especially motivated by self-learning, and truth be told, younger members of your workforce are skilled at finding information. They’re already used to personalized, self-directed learning and finding answers to their questions.

What may be lacking is the ability to decipher good learning from bad, once they find it. If they are given tools that are vetted by your learning organization, there is a high probability that employees will drive a lot of their own development, seek out new roles as their self-awareness increases, and gain deeper insight into their own strengths and growth areas.

The Benefits of Personalized Learning

Personalized learning puts each employee at the center of his or her own professional development. One size doesn’t fit all—every learner has individual learning needs and styles, and this is where personalized learning comes into picture. Personalized professional development opportunities engage learners by providing a far more immersive and meaningful learning experience.

When creating personal learning paths for each individual learner, the goals and objectives of the learning must still be an integral part of the overall learning experience. Personalization empowers learners to select what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and how much time they would like to spend on it. Being more focused (particularly, through the control on picking the right learning path), they get exactly what they need.

The key to creating a successful personalized professional development strategy for your company is to develop a plan that seamlessly blends the essential learning with the needs and wants of each learner. In addition to the individualized goals and objectives learners set for themselves, they must also walk away from the experience with knowledge of the key subject matter.

Crafting a Personalized Learning Plan

Use the following four strategies to implement a personalized learning plan for professional development in your company.

  1. Promoting Empowerment

Millennials crave flexibility! Professional development is no different. They don’t like being told that they must attend or complete a training on a certain day or time. Instead, they want to feel as though they are in control of their learning experience. This can be achieved by empowering employees to plan and complete professional development opportunities at their own pace.

Offering multiple variations of learning elements is another way to promote empowerment. Provide flexibility to allow learners to learn through experiences that are most relevant and engaging to their own preferred style of learning.

Here’s an idea: Offer choices within the learning experience itself to empower employees to choose to complete the training in the most effective manner for their own learning style.  Record audio for auditory learners but allow learners to choose to select to listen to the audio or not. Provide video options to entice visual learners but provide text opt-out for those who don’t want or need it. Additionally, break the training into bite-sized nuggets (microlearning) to allow learners to complete only the relevant components and to schedule the ideal time to complete each nugget for their schedule.

  1. Making It Relevant

Millennials want to learn. In fact, professional development is the number one perk Millennials seek when evaluating prospective employers. This generation is clamoring to advance professionally, and they don’t want to wait for the slow climb up the corporate ladder—they want to take a rocket ship.

ttcInnovations conducted a nationwide survey of both Millennials and managers and conducted a more intimate and informational focus group with a variety of Millennials in different industries and experiences.

The survey found:

– 63% of the respondents stated that opportunities to advance their knowledge and practice in their profession were an important component in creating the ideal work environment.

– 44% of the respondents stated that opportunities to explore new ideas, concepts or innovations were important.

This generation has grown up learning, developing and exploring. Millennials want to continue this practice by being able to personalize learning so they can focus on the skills they need, but also develop in other areas as well.

What they don’t want is to sit through a webinar or go through a training program that doesn’t apply to them. Offering personalized learning plans is great for employers as well. Together the employee and their manager can decide what training the employee wants and needs.

Here’s an idea: We recently launched a professional development campaign for our team. Since it’s fall, we tied it into a “Back to School” theme. This challenge encourages our team to select from a variety of “homework” assignments. Assignments included options to read industry-specific blog posts or books, listen to applicable podcasts, attend webinars or industry events. We also offered bonus points for trying new tools or completing a project using their newly gained knowledge.

  1. Setting Milestones

Personalized professional development offers employees a way to help them achieve their own professional short- and long-term learning goals. Personalized learning is based on the belief that employees will be more motivated to learn and will feel a stronger sense of ownership over their career if they decide what they want to learn, how they are going to learn it, and why they need to learn it to achieve their personal goals.

Milestones give employees the chance to check their progress along the way and ensure that they are on the proper path. They also provide incentives to get things accomplished.

Here’s an idea: It’s a great idea to make weekly checklists that your employees can follow to stay on track and up to date. You can even use project management online platforms to keep them organized, or integrate the checklists right into the home page of your company’s learning management system.

Find ways to communicate employee’s success at completing milestones. A visual representation of co-workers succeeding at achieving milestones is a great incentive for others to do the same.

In our back-to-school challenge, we have a running scoreboard of accomplishments. Not only do we share these accomplishments internally, but also in our social media posts. We love giving shout-outs to our team members who commit themselves to professional development.

  1. Offering Feedback

Even though personalized professional development is, well, personal, employees still need some form of direction and feedback. For Millennial employees, this is vital.

Millennials want to know how far they have progressed in developing their new skills. And you also need to ensure that they are provided corrections immediately so that they are not memorizing incorrect information or picking up unfavorable learning behaviors.

The key is to give learners constructive criticism they require, while still allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Likewise, you should also solicit their feedback so that you can fine-tune your company’s learning strategy and ensure that every employee is getting the personal support he or she needs.

Here’s an idea: Use a variety of feedback opportunities in your eLearning programs. Consider including interactive-branching feedback in your next eLearning program. This enables you to allow employees to fail and learn from their mistakes in a safe environment. Set the branching scenarios to mirror real-life scenarios that they will face on the job to uncover how the choices and actions they take affect different learning outcomes.

Your Next Step for Managing Millennials Effectively

It is becoming very clear that the influx of Millennials in the workplace may give companies a much-needed push to reinvent professional development. Companies must stay current with learning opportunities and look to provide effective and personalized professional development.

Need assistance in helping to move your company culture forward? Effective generational trainings like ttcInnovations’ The Millennial Project have become go-to programs helping companies attract, retain and engage Millennial employees. The Millennial Project will teach you and your team the best ways to engage your new and current employees, while discovering what your organization can do to keep the best of the best.


Written by: Debbie Wooldridge is the founding president and CEO of DW Training and Development, Inc., dba ttcInnovations, which provides businesses with engaging learning solutions that adopt a host of performance support options. Debbie’s company has also created The Millennial Project. Debbie currently lives in Carlsbad, California, with her husband and is a mother to twin Millennials.

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