Millennials are often referred as the “failure-to-launch” generation — unemployed, saddled with student loans and still living with their parents well into adulthood. Older generations tend to attribute this to a lack of marketable skills, combined with a low work ethic and an attitude of entitlement. Studies show many young adults are indeed delaying major life milestones, but does this really mean millennials are simply spoiled slackers with no direction?
It’s hard to reconcile such claims with the statistics about millennials and online learning. Five of the most popular online learning providers report that millennials make up the largest group of users, in most cases by significant margins. This is a major factor driving rapid changes in the education marketplace, with even elite universities adding online course offerings. Here are seven reasons online learning is so popular among millennials.
- They Love Technology
It’s readily apparent that millennials are tech addicts. From smartphones to tablets to desktops, this group spends many hours glued to their devices. Having grown up using digital tools from an early age, they have a very high comfort level with technology and can easily adapt to the format of a non-traditional educational setting. In a recent study, 50 percent of 1,345 college students said they did not believe they needed a physical classroom to learn.
- Online Courses Are a Bargain
With many young adults struggling financially — some are heavily burdened with student loan debts — a major appeal of online courses is the price tag. Many of the top online providers and platforms offer free courses. The fees other providers charge are still far lower than the cost of tuition at both nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities.
- Convenience and Work-Life Balance
Research shows achieving a work-life balance is more important to millennials than it is to Baby Boomers. In fact, during their time off, many millennials are disconnecting from digital technology in favor of timeless pleasures like reading an old-fashioned paperback. This emphasis on quality of life is another reason they choose online courses.
Unlike traditional classroom training, most online training can be completed at the user’s pace, at any time — from a mobile device during a daily train commute, or from a desktop at the office. This frees up precious time outside work for millennials to spend time with friends and family, read, travel or pursue other interests.
- Online Learning Feels Like Entertainment
Whether streaming House of Cards episodes, playing a game of Grand Theft Auto or getting cooking tips from a YouTube video, millennials relish engaging with online content. This means the online course format automatically appeals to them. Paul Sebastian, vice president and general manager at content provider Udemy for Business, explains: “Millennials expect the experience to feel like entertainment.”
- Course Content Is Specialized and Customizable
Online students can select highly specialized classes and modules that interest them, with a tremendous range of topics available. Many providers offer also custom-designed course tracks for students with specific learning goals.
- It’s a Career Booster
With the pace of technological development constantly increasing, millennials in the workplace must keep up. Online courses are a fast, cost-effective way to add new valuable skills and stay competitive in today’s job market. This is particularly true of computer programming and data analytics skills, which continue to rise in importance across all industries.
- The Joy of Learning
Millennials are the top users of online courses, so clearly they want to learn new skills. But there’s another motivation besides the practical considerations of career success. A 2016 Udemy report revealed millennials were twice as likely to be bored at work than baby boomers, and the boredom was mainly due to a lack of opportunity for learning new things. This suggests millennials strongly value the joy of learning for its own sake, which might best explain the massive popularity of online courses among this group.
Online course offerings not only continue to expand, but they have actually begun to force traditional educational institutions to adopt new methods. Much of this revolution has been driven by the preferences of young adults, and especially by their enthusiastic embrace of technology. Some may label millennials as irresponsible slackers, but it’s clear this generation is already shaping the future.