Provocative title, isn’t it? After all, we’re trained nearly from birth to regard cheating as anathema to learning…especially in a traditional educational environment that, in the US at least, has come to represent more of a test mill than an actual educational institution. After all, if someone is cheating, how else can you determine if they’ve learned the material they were supposed to learn? Well, this quote came out of a recent webinar from The Training Magazine Network on how to build L&D for Millennials, and I think the idea has some merit.
Build a Millennial Solution for Tomorrow’s Workforce was presented by Corey Canaan, a National trainer at Prospect Mortgage. The webinar was mostly about how to leverage L&D practices for not only the Millennial generation (which Corey defined as anyone born in the 1980’s or 1990’s), but also for future generations entering the workforce. To a certain extent, much of the information was typical if you’ve attended webinars or trainings on the topic of Millennials in the workforce. For example, Corey pointed to the Oxford Economics Workforce 2020 report to demonstrate that while Millennials are different from previous generations when it comes to key factors in workplace engagement, they aren’t as different as you would suspect from all of the media hype.
What Motivates You At Work?*
What is Important to You? Millennials Non-Millennials
Positive Difference 20% 20%
Compensation 68% 64%
Work/Life Balance 29% 31%
Meaningful Work 14% 18%
Achieving Income Goals 32% 30%
*Data as presented in webinar taken from Oxford Economics Workforce 2020 report.
Where the webinar got very interesting for me was when attendees started asking questions. Of course there is no way to know how many of the attendees were Millennials vs. Gen Xer’s vs. Baby Boomers, but one of the questions in particular were fascinating for me. (Full disclosure: By some measures I am a Gen X, by others a Millennial; I’m stuck between the two of them).
The best question related to how Millennials prefer to access information, and how that impacts L&D Professionals. One attendee pointed out that she was under the impression that Millennials wanted access to everything “On Demand”, for example, being able to access Google to find the answers they need. She asked if others had that same experience with the generation, and whether that meant that L&D should be focusing on providing more on-demand options for education and training. Corey answered this in a way that I think highlights something that is often missed in the craze towards Micro-learning and other bite-sized education formats: It’s not necessarily about being on-demand…it’s about providing the right answer right now. This is slightly different from on-demand, as Corey explained, because Millennials are completely comfortable with going to non-traditional sources to get the answers they need.
This is something I think is key for many education professionals, as well as managers and others working with Millennials. Millennials grew up with mass media…we don’t remember a time without multiple TV’s in our home which were capable of viewing 100+ channels. The younger Millennials also don’t know a world without computers; the older cohort such as myself began using computers in elementary school, but may not have had them in our homes until we were closer to our teens. While this is something most people acknowledge, Corey hit on an implication from this that many people miss: Millennials are not only tech savvy, they are media savvy. We’re grown up with mass media, and as such can recognize spin/sales pitches/non-answer answers without even blinking. So it’s not as important for a response to be on-demand if that response doesn’t give us the answer we are looking for. The important thing for Millennials is having the right answer, right now, which is different from just giving an on-demand response.
As a part of this discussion, Corey highlighted how they have encouraged the use of outside technology in their educational process, so long as it’s content related and sensitive information isn’t disclosed. He mentioned that they don’t have a policy of making students surrender their cell phones during training, partially out of acknowledgement that Millennials grew up with technology and can’t live without it and partially as a way to encourage them to interact with the information presented however it works best for them. This is where the “Cheating is OK” comment came into play.
If you define cheating as finding the answers to a question wherever those answers exist, then you can see why in traditional education and testing environments this is verboten: you are trying to make sure they are pulling the knowledge from their head, not from a text or website or other place. But once you get into the real world, finding the answer wherever the answer happens to exist is simply the way it’s done. If you don’t know something, you have to find the answer, and you have to find it wherever you can. So discouraging people from doing that in the L&D process is actually counter-productive to what you should be fostering to encourage success.
If you think about it, you can see how much sense this makes. We have all had that colleague in the workplace who can’t admit when they don’t know the answer to something, and when that occurs a very unpalatable set of responses occur: They either ask everyone they can think of for help every time they have a question, which hampers productivity in general. Or they simply try to muddle through, too proud to even type the question into Google and wind up making a giant mess of their project. How much damage is caused by this expectation to know everything, and only know it from your head, rather than being willing to find the answers wherever they exist?
It may be that encouraging cheating, at least in the sense of finding the answers wherever they exist, is something that should be encouraged in workplace L&D.