e-Learning modern

Modern e-learning: How Gen Y and Z want to learn

Generation Y is fully engaged in working life. Its successor, the Genz Z, is waiting in the wings. What they both have in common is that they want to learn differently, and above all more digitally, than their parents. And they want e-learning to be modern and contemporary.

Hey, stop flexing, it’s pure cringe!
Well, did you understand everything? If you are part of the Baby Boomer, X or Y generation, then probably not. That’s how the young generation, Generation Z, speaks – at least according to the Youth Word Ranking 2022. The fact that we old people don’t understand every word is no big deal. Every generation has its own language and that is good. It is much more important to understand and respect the concerns, wishes and skills of the respective generation. Especially in the e-learning sector, this plays a decisive role. Only if e-learning is modern and takes the needs of the respective generation of learners seriously will it be accepted by them. But what exactly do the generations that are currently shaking up the world of work want? We’ll bring a little order to the generational jungle and take a look at what generations Y and Z really want and what that means in terms of modern e-learning.

Generation Y: In search of meaning

Generation Y includes everyone born in the 1980s and (early) 1990s. There is no clearly defined start and end date. Key buzzwords of this generation: flexibility, self-realization, individuality, meaningfulness. The members of Generation Y question traditional structures and place meaning and joy above status and prestige. Since Millennials, as members of Gen Y are also known, have grown up with the Internet, cell phones and social media, they are extremely tech-savvy and usually have a mastery of the digital media keyboard. For the working world, this means that Gen Y has no desire for strict hierarchies and tight time constraints. A good work-life balance is important to her. Lifelong learning and ongoing education are a given for Millennials.

So what does this mean for modern e-learning?

When you read through descriptions of Generation Y, you quickly realize: this generation is made for e-learning. That’s why it’s important that e-learning is made for them, too – and made fast. The members of Gen Y have now fully arrived in working life and often hold management positions. You can’t reach them with stale e-learning offerings from the early 2000s that feature a grotty layout and multiple-choice questions. Rather, the advantages that e-learning offers anyway must be played out properly and brought into line with the needs of this generation. In concrete terms, this means that if Generation Y wants to learn on their smartphone on the train ride to work, they must be given the opportunity to do so. If she likes to experience her own story, she needs to be offered different choices and storylines. And if Generation Y wants to work and learn in a meaningful way, you have to make that possible for them by telling engaging stories in e-learning that offer real value to learners.

Generation Z: More digital, but more traditional

The members of Generation Z were born around the turn of the millennium. And they do differ significantly from their predecessor generation in some respects. While Generation Y wanted to be as flexible as possible, Generation Z tends to focus on security and stability. Traditional values such as family, friendship, safety and health are central to Gen Z members. Social and environmental issues are high on their agenda. When it comes to work, the most obvious difference to Millennials is that overtime, home office or flexible working time models are not very attractive to young employees. Generation Z prefers a clear separation between work and private life. But commonalities can also be identified: Just like Gen Y, Gen Z wants to do something that is meaningful and enjoyable. Often, this meaningful engagement takes place in the digital space. After all, Generation Z is even more digital, even more tech-savvy and even faster when it comes to following trends and setting them themselves. Social media platforms such as TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, which focus on images and especially videos, are particularly popular with young people. Learning and continuing education are important to Generation Z, but not as significant as they are to Millennials.

So what does this mean for modern e-learning?

One thing is clear: If companies want to get members of Generation Z to learn digitally, e-learning must be modern and contemporary. However, modern e-learning for Gen Z means something different than modern e-learning for Gen Y. Millennials, for whom the line between work and personal life was blurred, often completed e-learning in their free time. You can’t ask Generation Z to do that, at least not on a large scale. Instead, companies must integrate e-learning into everyday work and make it accessible on a low-threshold basis. If the smartphone is the extended arm of this generation anyway, e-learning needs to get there too. Central in this context: mobile learning and microlearning. Short videos, as Gen Z is familiar with from TikTok & Co. can also be used in e-learning.

3 Theses on the Future of e-Learning

After our short tour through the generational jungle, we now know roughly what Gen Y and Z want and what this currently means for modern e-learning. But what does this mean for the (near) future of e-learning? How do companies and e-learning providers manage to keep up with these generations? We concluded with three theses:

  • e-Learning must focus on meaningful stories: Storytelling will take on an even greater role in e-learning. If both Gen Y and Gen Z are looking for meaning, companies and e-learning providers need to focus even more on meaningful stories and map learning content that moves the generations (sustainability, social, etc.).
  • e-Learning needs to become more visual and crisp: Brevity is the spice of life. This time-honored saying could become the credo of e-learning. Learning nuggets such as short videos that are geared to current social media trends are becoming increasingly important for reaching learners in a low-threshold way.
  • e-Learning must become even more individualized: Both Gen Y and Gen Z strive for self-actualization and self-staging. For e-learning, this means that learners as individual persons must come into even sharper focus. Different courses of action, options for choice and individualization must already be considered in the e-learning conception.