The workforce is quickly changing its identity as younger candidates fill coveted positions. Naturally, businesses must approach a different learning strategy to accommodate the preferences of this new generation while equally helping the older   


The workforce is currently undergoing something of a generational shift, becoming younger due to high numbers of senior workers beginning to retire in quick succession. The millennial generation favours ways of working and developing that are different to the ways of their predecessors. They are increasingly in tune with using social tools to complete tasks and communicate in order to facilitate collaboration with others.

Unlike learning on the job or through formal courses, workers now tend to observe their peers and discuss their work with them in order to perform more effectively. Many businesses recognise the 70:20:10 learning model, where 70 refers to the percentage of learning done ‘on the job’, 20 refers to learning through social interaction with colleagues (coaching and mentoring, for example) and 10 refers to learning through attending formal courses and reading training manuals and textbooks. However, as the workforce accommodates more and more of the millennial generation, the 20 part of the learning model may increase to 30, 40, or even more.

What is social learning?

With this in mind, businesses must begin to change the way they facilitate learning and development, especially as the values of millennial workers vastly differ from those of Generation X and the baby boomers — they see learning and training as extremely important and beneficial to them in their careers, and they want to ensure that they have opportunities to develop in all areas of their role on a regular basis.

‘Social learning’ is a concept that is becoming more widely used throughout a number of industries in order to get the best results out of a young workforce. It is a system of learning that encourages communication and collaboration — this is ideal as younger workers can learn from each other more effectively than they would if they were to go on formal training courses or take exams. The ways in which businesses could implement social learning, though, is another matter entirely.

Types of social learning

Social learning could be implemented in a number of different ways:

  • An internal instant messaging system can enable team members to discuss any issues they might be having or share advice amongst themselves in a largely anonymous way, rather than having to speak face to face.
  • Gamification, as employees are generally motivated to compete against their peers to win bragging rights. Quizzes could work well here, for instance.
  • A system that utilises short videos would work as it has been proven that people learn more effectively by watching videos than by using text-based applications.

In order to keep the system as familiar as possible, it should take its design cues from the apps and technology that employees might use outside of work. This means that it can be introduced more seamlessly while ensuring that it will feel less like work during use (therefore encouraging greater interaction with it). The system should also be made accessible to all generations. Even though millennials outnumber the other generations, older workers are still around and it’s therefore pointless to make this a tool that only some are able to get their heads around.

Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter how effective the delivery system is if the content itself doesn’t have any clear professional value. L&D practitioners should also ensure that the content can be consumed in bite-sized chunks — this will assist with the retention aspect of learning.

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