Training a Teenage Millennial

A couple of months ago I added some family members – my new husband and his two wonderful sons. My 17-year old step-son, Sean, is very good with learning new software, so I taught him how to edit and time audio in Captivate so he could work with me over the summer. It was an interesting first-hand study for me on how Millennials learn.

Let’s look at what we know about the Millennial Generation for a minute. Born 1977-1998 (also called Millennials, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Generation Next, and Net Generation) have been raised in child-centric households with technology, showers of attention, and high parental expectations. As we know from the research, this has created a generation of learners who…

Technologically literate Highly technical courses, if online training is used
Team-oriented and prefer to work in groups Social learning and teamwork so they can be resources to each other
Good multi-taskers, since they have often balanced sports, school, and social activities The ability to multi-task between learning activities, if at all possible
Social and want a relationships Mentoring
Diverse and celebrate diversity Diverse characters in learning examples
Respectful of positions and titles The ability to earn a new position or title


Let’s add one more very important element for teens (actually, through about age 25). The new brain research reported in the March 2011 issue of Discover Magazine uncovered how the teenage brain works with regards to rewards and decision-making. The research focuses on why teens take what adults consider to be unnecessary risks. The findings tell us two specific things:

  • The adolescent reward system network (Ventral Striatum) is extra sensitive to rewarding signals – especially if the rewards are unexpected.
  • The adolescent cognitive control network (inferior frontal gyrus) where risk analysis takes place isn’t fully developed yet.

When you put these finding together you see that teenagers will do what is most rewarding – and are willing to work to get the desired reward. However, the area of the brain that allows them to choose the reward that is best for them verses the risk involved (for example, studying to get the A on the test so they can get into the college of their choice, rather than staying up all night the evening before a test playing an online game with friends) isn’t fully developed – and won’t be until they are about 25 years old.

So, based on the research, what is the trick to training teenage Millennials? Answer: Find the right treat! Find what motivates teens – and develop training that interests them and rewards the behavior you want to develop or change.

Now, we’ll add the “teenage” finding to what they expect. Teens…

Willing to work to earn rewards Rewards
Willing to take risks to earn rewards Rewards


Most online courses created for the Millennial learner do some combination of the following:

  • Uses available technology.
  • Uses tools that allow social learning where learners can interact and share ideas about the training.
  • Allows learners to multi-task within the course. For example, have them take notes about a topic online while they are learning about it or participate in an online scavenger hunt while they are taking the course.
  • Creates a scenario-based course where the learner can select what they would do in a situation and then a mentor narrator gently guides them through the right/wrong points of their chosen solution in each scenario.
  • Uses examples throughout the course of diverse people in diverse situations.
  • Allows learners to take risks as they explore a topic. For example, creating a customer service course that allows the learner to select options when talking to a customer that could escalate or de-escalate the customer’s level of frustration on a telephone call.
  • Uses a reward system for module or course completion. For example, the learner earns badges, points, titles, levels, etc. throughout the course.
  • Allows learner to earn special rewards for course completion (new title, bonus, etc.)

Each of these bullets can be rewarding to the teen Millennial, and finding out what rewards the group of learners you have will be key to the success of your reward strategy.

I look for the WIIFM (What’s in it for me) for learners of all ages, but the new research for teens makes it even more important to me when looking for what motivates my step-son. Sean knows how to do his job and does it well, now. He does good work for his hourly pay, but there is a different treat that makes a completed project exceptionally rewarding for him – Juju Fish!

Desiree Pinder
Artisan E-Learning

3 Responses to “Training a Teenage Millennial

  • Lnardolillo
    10 years ago

    Those are some pretty big conclusions from a sample size of one.

  • Very nice post. However I would be very carefull with the rewards. If they are expected (i.e. I get a badge for finishing a course) they can demotivate learners and divert their attention from learning goal.

  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Thank you both for your comments. Fortunately, the research had a positive impact on this particular situation. I’d love to hear how it impacts your training.

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