ExtensionEngine Blog

How MOOCs Can Attract and Retain The Millennial Workforce

We recently came across a survey that took a peek into the mind of the Millennial workforce with regard to training, professional development, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It yielded some noteworthy results.

Software Advice, a training software review site, conducted the survey which asked 1500 working adults a series of questions about their attitudes toward professional development and Massive Open Online Courses. We’ll get to the results shortly, but first a few words about the focus of the research: Millennials.

Millennials (the generation that are now young adults) are an interesting cohort. Often maligned for being tethered to smartphones, as workers, they are bright, promising, energetic, and a force savvy business leaders want to tap into.

Besides their considerable energy, Millennials are driven by the desire to make a real contribution (the bigger, the better), and they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. They work easily in teams, perhaps an outcome of having participated in numerous group projects during their school years.

Millenial professional developement

Professional development is exceedingly important to them. A 2009 Deloitte survey of Millennials found that over 60 percent cited the chance for growth and development as a deciding factor in employment decisions.

Once employed, they expect to make a contribution. The same 2009 survey indicated that nearly 53 percent were swayed by a culture that accepts contributions from all levels of employees. They don’t mind starting in the mail room and working their way up to senior management — as long as the journey doesn’t take too long.

Say, six months or so.

Humor aside, Millennials are as impatient as they are energetic and enthusiastic. And because they are impatient, they will apply themselves with bulldog tenacity. That’s the up side of their impatience.

On the down side, they will blithely jump ship to join another business if that business seems to promise a greater opportunity for professional development. In fact, a 2014 survey by MSLGroup found 60 percent of Millennials leave their jobs within two years. Loyalty is not their strong suit. They will go where they can grow.

The other unique characteristic of Millennials is their ongoing connectedness and use of technology. A study commissioned by Time Warner revealed that the typical Millennial “switches media” 27 times an hour. Think about it. That’s a switch in focus every two minutes or so.

This means that the Millennial brain is wired differently than any generation before it. They are adept at consuming information in small, easily digested chunks that they retrieve when and where most convenient for them. In fact, they not only prefer this method of accessing information; they seem to require it. This is how they learn best.

Which is exactly what takes place when learning with MOOCs.

MOOCs present information in chunks with plenty of opportunities for interaction. Thus, MOOCs provide a way for both new and established employees to access the data they need via the technology and methodology they prefer — and learn best with.

This would seem to make MOOCs ideally suited as a training vehicle for the Millennial workforce. But do Millennials see it that way?

According to the Software Advice study, they do. Of the 1500 working adults surveyed:

  • More than 50% of respondents ages 18-34 said access to MOOCs would positively affect their decision to submit an application.
  • Nearly 75% of respondents ages 18-24 would participate in a company sponsored MOOC.
  • More than 50% of respondents ages 18-34 said access to MOOCs would affect their decision to stay at a company.

The above results make sense, given what we know about Millennials, their drivers, and their aspirations. From a Millennial point of view

  • The availability of online professional development tools
  • That can be accessed whenever and wherever they want 
  • Via the device they happen to be holding is very attractive.

It puts the control of the learning process in their hands, and gives them a reason to continue their professional development within the company providing them with these tools rather than looking for new opportunities to grow elsewhere.

And there’s another advantage to MOOCs.

Not that we like to eavesdrop, but we overheard a conversation in a café recently where a sales manager at the next table had just hired an enthusiastic new salesperson. The conversation became a bit quiet as the sales manager raved about the 12 weeks of intensive training the new hire would undergo before being let loose to make his mark on the organization.

12 weeks. In a classroom. It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the impact on a bright but impatient Millennial. (By the same token, as we noted in an earlier blog, it would be three months before this enthusiastic new employee would start contributing to the organization.)

Like all good research, the study also triggers a new set of questions:

  • How much of an organization’s onboarding and training could be taught online via a MOOC platform?
  • Given that some learning — like role playing and simulations — require some face-to-face classroom time, how can that time be reduced by blending that training with a MOOC?
  • What kinds of ongoing and advanced professional development training could an organization make available to employees via MOOCs?

And, more to the point,

  • How many more of the best and brightest Millennials could an organization attract and retain if they offered MOOCs as a training option?

We suspect quite a few.

Learn more about the benefits of creating online courses with MOOCs.