Leadership / Management | Organizational Development | Technology & Social Media

Rules be damned for ‘free-agent learners’

Evans"Oh, come on," you're saying. "We've heard all about the disconnects between millennials and their older workforce colleagues before. Tell us something we don't know."

OK, how about this: Those disconnects might have even deeper roots than we first thought.

As part of this year's DigitalNow conference in Orlando, I sat in on a fascinating -- and somewhat frightening -- panel discussion entitled, "Tomorrow's Members: Listening to the Voices of our Future." The session was geared specifically toward associations -- hence the term "members" in the title. But it applies just as aptly to any organization facing talent-management issues today.

The discussion was led by Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, a non-profit group that has conducted some groundbreaking research on young people and the impact technology has had on their lives. It was a stats-intensive session, but some of Evans' numbers left a particularly strong impression.

Let's start with the reasons why young people use technology in school. According to Evans, students are using emerging technologies to write and check assignments; conduct research; create assignment-related slideshows, videos and Web pages; and communicate with friends and teachers.

Next, let's look at students' top tech-related complaints, according to Evans: (a) Schools have installed filters that block the Web sites they need to conduct their research; (b) teachers limit the use of technology in school; and (c) there are too many rules and restrictions related to the use of emerging technologies.

Does that sound familiar, anyone? Does it sound, for instance, like your own workplace?

Here's the point: As digital natives, young people need this stuff to be productive, yet we're reluctant to give them access to these tools.

Sure, there are security concerns. But it's a new era, people. According to Evans, your future employees (a) want to learn at their own pace, in their own space; (b) want to help develop the online content they use; and (c) want control over their own learning environments. It's the era of what Evans calls the "free-agent learner."

Are you ready to give them that control?

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Bill Sheridan