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Millennial Managers Are More Likely to Trust Online Education Options

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The entrance of millennials into the workforce spurred many HR discussions in the early 2000s. As you may recall, the perceived generation gap caused a lot of hand-wringing back then, primarily in regards to recruiting, organizational values, and work ethic. But it all turned out all right. As millennials started working alongside three other generations, HR professional changed recruiting methods, fostered value-based corporate cultures, and shifted long-standing attitudes toward work/life balance.

That was more than a decade ago. The youngest millennials will be entering the workforce soon. The oldest millennials will be 37 years old this year, and already running things in some industries.

Even with the workforce filling with millennials, a recent study CBT Nuggets still found stark generational differences (and similarities) among 610 IT managers. Namely, how they prepare for technological changes and fill technical skill gaps. Millennial managers are more likely to know where to look for appropriate training, trust their people to use company-sponsored educational opportunities, and plan to use more training in the future.  

Key takeaways:

  • Technical managers in tech companies are on average 20 years younger than managers in government, education, manufacturing, and health.
  • Younger managers are much more aware of online training options than older managers.
  • Younger managers tend to have a more balanced view of the benefits of online training and give more weight to the pedagogical benefits, as well as the cost savings.
  • For those who are already using online video training, nearly three-quarters expect their use to increase.

Younger managers see the benefits of learning online

Work ethic was likely the biggest talking point in the generational shift, and anxiety that manifested itself in one phrase — “work-life balance”. Though as the younger generation entered the workforce, SHRM research found that millennials simply worked differently. Given the proper tools, millennials were (and are) highly productive. CBT Nuggets research closely aligns with those findings. Younger managers use a variety of training methods to teach technical skills.

One particular disparity is the widespread use of boot camps or other off-site technical training methods. Younger managers aren’t necessarily less likely to send an employee to a boot camp. But they’re more likely to use online training, instead. One contributing factor might be the perception they have of self-paced training. Younger managers tend to have a more balanced view of its benefits and give more weight to the pedagogical benefits highlighted in the findings of another CBT Nuggets study.

Productivity. Self-directed, online training enhances productivity and output. A survey of 1,024 technical professionals found that 92% improved their productivity and quality of work with online training. Online video training conducted during work hours helps people bridge the transfer gap, which means they learn something but never put it into practice. Also known as “transfer of learning,” it’s an organizational development issue that’s been examined thoroughly since the 1970s. Conferences and boot camps are compact learning environments that separate the knowledge acquisition from praxis. Self-paced learning options close that learning gap.

Internal training programs. Cost savings were cited as a reason for both young and old managers turning to online training solutions. Off-site training tends to be expensive — and, once again, creates a transfer gap. Internal corporate training programs are more common middle-ground. Take, for example, Littlefish. The IT service provider built an in-house training program called Littlefish Academy. With training primarily delivered through online videos, they augmented the online element with individualized training plans, peer mentoring, and group learning sessions.

You can hear more about how they build Littlefish Academy here.

Trust of online programs. Finally, younger managers are less likely to doubt the efficacy of online, self-paced learning. There are generational implications in their trust of online learning. One study indicates that people with less exposure to online education perceive the environment as less conducive to learning. Conversely, exposure to online learning environments creates a positive perception of the learning environment. CBT Nuggets found similar generational results.


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Younger managers know their options for online training

CBT Nuggets also found that younger managers are much more aware of the online training options in their field than older managers. Most likely because they’re already engaged in some form of online learning themselves.

HBR research about massive open online courses (or MOOCs) elucidates this generational gap. The study found that younger employees are more likely to already be taking online courses without support from their companies. While it might be heartening to see this self-motivation, the problem here is clear. Managers could be helping direct their employees toward competencies that close their company’s skill gaps — if they were involved. With only 20% of employees receiving formal training, most companies are missing out on an effective way to improve productivity, engagement, and retention.

Younger managers, however, are more likely to trust and use online training, even informally. The HBR study points out that younger managers typically initiate MOOC-based training. As domain experts, younger managers can guide course selection and help balance workloads to help their employees study. When this happens, completion rates for online training rises from 15% to 58% — and those learners are less likely to “see the acquired knowledge as a stepping-stone to a new employer.”

These findings align with CBT Nuggets research. The study found that the younger manager subset is on average 20 years younger than their counterparts, putting them in a generation where technology has always been a part of their lives. They’re in the same generation that perceives the quality of online education as equivalent to face-to-face courses — and even superior in terms of flexibility.

Younger managers are guided by these generational perceptions. Thirty-five percent of younger managers who don’t currently use online technical training find it “very likely” that they’ll use it down the road. Older managers are more skeptical that they’ll use online video training in the next two years. Only 9% of older managers who don’t currently use online training plan think they’ll use it in the next two years.

Generational differences are expected to decline

It’s important to note that the CBT Nuggets study is a preview of online training adoption. In 2016, millennials became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, comprising 35 percent. Older generations are moving into retirement age, and millennials are moving into more leadership positions. Within the next 10 years, even industries with older managers, like government, education, manufacturing, and health, will find their senior ranks filled by millennials. When that happens, with the passing of the torch complete, millennials will be well-positioned to shape their company’s training practices — and all the benefits that they bring.


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