Natives of Barbados are called Barbadians and are of a mixed descent (Afro-Caribbean). Natives of New Zealand are called Māori and arrived on the island by canoe somewhere in the 14th century. Digital natives belong to the 20th century and the term was coined by education consultant Marc Prensky in his 2001 article entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.

Prensky states that the contemporary decline in American education is due to educators’ failure to understand the needs of modern students. His article posited that “the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decade of the 20th century” had changed the way learners think and process information, making it difficult for them acquire information using the outdated teaching methods of the day. In other words, children raised in a digital, media-saturated world, require a media-rich learning environment to hold their attention, and he dubbed these children “digital natives”.

So that was in 2001. Basic math shows that those children grew and today make up the majority of employed individuals. In order to design programs that will be both friendly and effective for them there are a few things to be taken into account.

Find out what makes them click

Every digital native has their favorite device. They may use various gadgets every day, they may even be the type who will test anything for a few days or weeks before moving on but there are always a good few that stick.

It’s easy to send an online survey to employees and find out exactly what is their preference in regard to devices and type of content to be run during training intervals. Of course the results may be that some of the staff is using state of the art exclusive devices that only run their own programs and software but for those you should always have a few spare more ‘down-to-earth’ devices to give out when an online training module is to be delivered.

Make sure the workplace is digital enough

A PwC study on Millennials and how they work showed that these digital natives find technology paramount for their jobs. The millennial generation’s world is digital and this has an inevitable effect on the way they communicate; 41% of those questioned said they would rather communicate electronically than face-to-face or over the telephone.

It’s hardly surprising then that Millennials have specific expectations about how technology is used in the workplace.

Millennials expect the technologies that empower their personal lives to also drive communication and innovation in the workplace. 59% said that an employer’s provision of state-of-the art technology was important to them when considering a job, but they habitually use workplace technology alongside their own. Over half of those questioned said that they routinely make use of their own technology at work, and 78% said that access to the technology they like to use makes them more effective at work.

Social Media is an efficient learning environment, not just a useless distraction

Yes, liking, tweeting, sharing and checking out what’s new in their groups takes up a lot of the digital natives’ time. They all have very elaborate profiles and an online network of people and organizations that are either important or of interest to them. Furthermore, expressing feelings, opinions and commenting on existing posts is right up their alley (or in the way of their mouse’s clicks).

They feel comfortable on social networks and feeling at ease definitely facilitates any learning process; it only makes sense that training sessions should include social networking online groups where digital natives can talk, share express and develop ideas.

Online training apps are… there — so make use of them

Whatever you can think of, there is an app for that. Some are free, some are costly, some work and (why not be fair) plenty of them are not that good. But it is still easy and fairly cost-effective to integrate them into a corporate online training program.

Since most of the digital natives prefer to learn something only at the moment that they need to, apps give easy and fun access to information and are designed to be used while on the go – mobility and the possibility to connect from virtually anywhere earn thumbs up from digital natives.

Also, take note of the fact that if for some people a picture can tell a thousand words, for them, a video is worth a thousand lectures.

Allow digital natives to choose and show them the purpose

It is basically Millennials who fall into the category of digital natives. They are fiercely independent, know what they want and enjoy calling the shots. Giving them a compulsory learning path and making them stick to it can prove to be time consuming and inefficient. Of course it’s natural for learning professionals to be able to assess and diagnose training needs. It is also their job to implement learning within the organization.

If there is not really the possibility to give digital natives a choice in what they have to learn, at least offer alternatives for how and when they do it.

Digital natives need to have clear goals to work towards. It is important for them to see how each training unit supports their objectives. A short but convincing “what’s in it for me” at the start of each session can go a long way. These very practical people who have always had information (literally) at their fingertips want to know the utility of the content outside the online training session. Show them how a particular skill or information is valuable in real life.

In the end

It may seem that digital natives do everything differently than the previous generations of employees but give them the time, the choice and the right technology and they will prove that different is in this case better.

Author: Roxana Mitu

Roxana is a learning and development professional with over 10 years experience in corporate training.