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Gen Zers Need A New Kind of Learning: Introducing the Digital Native Advancement Program

Doug Segers

Head of Original Content at Cornerstone OnDemand

Move over, millennials—the era ofGeneration Z is upon us. Born between 1995 and 2010, Gen Z isset to occupy 36% of the global workforce by 2020. Already, this generationis predicted to become the most diverse, entrepreneurial and educated generation of workers to date. These workers are digital natives, and they are more technologically savvy than previous generations since many don’t remember a time without the internet or when information wasn’t just a click away.

But being so digitally reliant has come at a cost: Many digital natives might lack the interpersonal communication skills they will need to succeed in the workplace because they spend so much of their time interacting with their devices instead of communicating with people face-to-face. In fact, 42% of Generation Z said theyinteract more with their phones than they do with other people. This can spell trouble in the workplace, where technological prowess is equally as important as knowing how to communicate effectively with colleagues.

So how can organizations take advantage of the digital strength that digital natives bring to the workplace while helping them improve professional skills like communication? It comes down to creating a learning program that has their unique preferences and needs in mind—one that provides resources to improve their interpersonal skills but delivers these resources in a way that resonates in the digital age. To that end, Cornerstone is introducing Digital Native Advancement, or DNA, an entirely new class of learning program. DNA combines the tenets of nanolearning—a new, shorter kind of learning format with a multimedia approach—with the preferences of Gen Zers to foster learning that appeals to this new workforce.

Gen Zers Need A Heightened Focus on Interpersonal Communication Skills

Despite Gen Z’s impressive technological capabilities and speedy pace of learning, certain soft skills liketeamwork andinterpersonal communication don’t come as easily to them. Having noticed this trend, Cornerstone designed its DNA program to include courses like "You: Online & Off," a set of lessons that teach employees how to communicate professionally while still being authentic and developing connections with others. For example, when responding to feedback on a recent project, an in-person conversation typically works better than a message sent via a workplace collaboration platform like Slack because it helps the employee explain their thinking, gather learnings from the feedback and, in effect, grow.

But many Gen Zers may not understand or see the value in this kind of interaction because they aren’t used to them or don’t know how to carry them out effectively. The DNA program teaches these digital natives how to approach or define different workplace interactions and why, in some cases, one is better than the other. By choosing a learning program that teaches and emphasizes the importance of these skills, companies can provide their incoming workforce with the interpersonal tools they will need to succeed.

Gen Zers Want A Program with Multimedia Courses

From Instagram and TikTok to YouTube and Candy Crush, multimedia communication and entertainment platforms have made Generation Z accustomed to engaging, lively content. Studies show that47% of Gen Zers prefer interactive learning apps or games when learning something new. It’s no surprise, then, that nanolearning is a natural preference for these workplace newcomers.

Drawing on the success of itsmicrolearning courses, Cornerstone took its content approach a step further, using nanolearning in its DNA program to create courses that feature mobile-first, interactive videos with on-screen graphics, emojis, sound effects and interwoven video testimonials that mimic Instagram stories. This kind of content is familiar to Gen Z, which is what makes learning delivered in this format so effective.

Gen Zers Prefer A Program That Delivers Information Quickly

Brief and fast-paced learning resonates well with the average digital native, perhaps due to shortened attention spans:Some researchers believe that growing up in a world of continuous updates, like three-second Snapchats and six-second Vine videos, primed Gen Zers to digest content quickly and with less focus. Others believe that growing up with so much digital content has given them a sophisticated, almost-expert approach tousing the internet and social media to find and process the information they need, and filter out what they don’t.

Regardless of what you believe about Gen Z, one thing is clear: They prefer content that’s fast and self-paced. With this in mind, Cornerstone’s DNA program tailors all of its courses to be two-minutes or less. DNA lessons also aim to hook the viewer quickly—ideally within the firsteight seconds—before diving into a two-minute discussion. After all, the average human attention span is eight seconds, so today’s content needs to strike a chord within those first few moments.

As Gen Z enters the workplace, companies would be wise to reconsider the best way to promote learning and development. This generation grew up in a different environment than the generations before them, but by understanding this group’s strengths and potential deficits, organizations can set up digital natives—and themselves—for career success.

Photo: Creative Commons

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