10 tips for designing training for Millennial change makers

Less knowledge, more learning. An 8 minute brief on structuring training content for a new business age.

As an active consultant trainer, I have seen and… er… admit to good, bad and ugly. I invite you to learn from my mistakes before you assess training needs, then design and develop content for millennials and mobile natives?

“You can facilitate learning of anything, to anyone, at any age”    

Professor Ted Wragg

That education professor’s one liner, delivered one morning in Exeter, UK, inspired my love of training and communication.

love training


My tip #1 starts with Ted. And TED, twitter and JK Rowling. It starts with you seeking inspiration wherever, whenever and from whoever. File them – by applying those inspirations you will own and ‘burn’ for your content. Trust me, that makes a difference.


Protecting children online, digital marketing, sustainable transport – whatever the content I’m burning for – my ‘red thread’ starts with the new age of change:

  1. the growing demand for transparent and sustainable business
  2. automation and electrification disrupting transportation,
  3. digitalization and new ‘industry 4.0’ production techniques coming to all sectors

These, together with (#4) the rapid pace of change of 1-3 and elsewhere, are the pillars of a new industrial revolution.  A revolution streching from whole markets and to requirements and roles.

New competence requirements are evolving and may not yet be clear. I focus on tools and skills to enable those I train to be change makers rather than victims of change.  It means focus less on the what-you-know and more communication and learnability. A borrowed term from machine learning, I mean that we aim to support and improve the capacity to learn after the training.

training millennials


Ask yourself the questions “what do I need to get across” and “what’s most important?” Being clear from the start allows you to prioritize, cut out excessive content and make time for meaningful learning experiences.


Possible Key Questions
Knowledge Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Understanding Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Skills Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Values Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
Learnability points Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?


Communicate a strong framework at the start of the training. This provides the signposts for the path you want your students to explore.  For me, it is an extension of the presenting adage “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them”.

Taking a 30-40 minute lecture as an example, I like to provide a framework of between 3-5 bite-sized ‘lecturettes’ – activities each with a maximum of five key learning points. I use a theme, for example a colour, to link each lecturette. Then summarize the lecture.  Applying the communications ‘ABC’ of accuracy, brevity and clarity and avoiding jargon are ever more important. Millennials are no more impatient than baby boomers but they have been led to expect more.


Experience-based learning was a given for the generation before Millennials. Millennials will judge you first and foremost on whether they, and you, are going to have fun. It is a key part of their experience based learning.  So, build in fun, engaging scenarios and challenges into your learning experiences. Where possible provide for immediate results and feedback.

Table: Millennials swap between learning styles

Doer Actively involved in the learning process. Wants to know how they will apply learning in the real world.  Prefers information presented clearly and concisely.
Feeler People-oriented, they focus on feelings and emotions. Expressive expressive, Feelers thrive in open, unstructured learning environments.
Thinker Reason and logic are their comfort zone, and they like to share ideas and concepts. They analyse and evaluate and welcome independent work.
Observer Often reserved, they watch and listen carefully. They often reflect before participating. Learning through discovery is where they excel.
source: author, based on Hamza, 2012

A trainer of children (pedagogy) and adults (andragogy) I recognise that both demand a clear structure, fun and relevance – but key differences arise as adults link to their greater experience.


Millenials, like most adults, approach training with the expectation that it will help them solve real issues, now. In short, training focus must be problem-centric rather than content-led.  The journey should allow for engagement and discovery.


Unspoken by so many are the questions, “What does this mean?” “So what?” “Why?”  Further, Millennials look beyond themselves to the bigger picture. So, take care to build in the meaningful ‘whys’ into your content.


Trainers compete for attention and memory retention in an information-overloaded world.  Video and e-learning materials allow greater access to information efficiently. In training I have made effective use of video ‘explainers’ and case studies, but also blog resources, infographics and webinars.

millennial video

source: hubspot 2016, retrieved April 2017

I like the scenarios, flexible pace and repetition that e-learning materials allow. From the millennials’ perspective they provide the touch, simplicity and on-demand style expected. From the training administration perspective the also provide automated KPIs to monitor, track progress and record achievement.


Flipped classroom means you share lecture content before the lecture. Students study the materials, or do the required reading/research before class. It suits millennial learning styles and results in more meaningful learning and debate in class. It works – try it!

I’ve taken the next step of challenging small groups of students to deliver the lecturette to the rest of the class. My business inspiration was a customer presenting their supplier’s account development plan back to the supplier’s account team. Risky? Counter-intuitive? Maybe but it builds genuine trust and clears misconceptions. I think the loss of control is justified purely by clearing out that mother-of-all-evils – assumptions.


Prepare your learning environment with boards for student sourced information. Give students sticky notes and ask them to record their unspoken or ‘parked’ items and put them onto boards at any time. News, Examples, Questions, Time-line and Glossary are headings I’ve used. The point is to increase relevance, link to students’ own experience and gather up-to-date examples. Building in a daily review also ensures thorny terms and questions get covered. I find it a vital part of training groups and a useful way of addressing the gap as modern academic textbooks deliberately drop case study and example material  to protect their shelf-life.

So, there. Ten useful tips the obvious ones of 1 new concept at a time and use great imagary.  Was it useful? Do comment with what works for you.

Author: Neil Johnson, BSc MSc PGCE, BotniaBlue


BotniaBlue is a start-up that supports your business to connect confidently.

Our content, communications and training services have an international business perspective.  We track ‘what’s turning our world upside down’, and share clarity and actionable insights for those that will drive better business.


Sustainable: Your business, customers and IKEA

A 10 minute brief on a clear and present danger for your business.

Sustainable long ago broke out of corporate social responsibility (CSR). It has served time with communications and content marketing teams. In 2017 it is demanding release into your business. You must mentor and integrate it.

Key Takeaways

  1. End-users are demanding that you doand demonstrate – sustainable business. If you don’t, expect them to shame you – or walk away.
  2. Sustainable business must be part of your corporate DNA, not a CSR cost or issue.
  3. The new business ‘black’  has a ‘triple bottom line’. One judged by action, innovation and agility.
  4. Beyond 2017 a sustainable focus will ever more important… just as business leaders will be called on to deal with more short-term crises.
  5. Industry 4.0 will bring an exponential rate of change that is as disruptive as the automation and self-learning computing that it will usher in. Expect as many threats as opportunities.

Lets get started

Isn’t “sustainable” suspiciously liberal, fluffy and, well..less pressing?


I agree that it does relate to tomorrow’s world. But it is directly relevant for your customers and therefore to your business – today.

Always start with THE definition

“Sustainable [insert your activity] is [insert your activity] that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

I was a boy listening to Guns and Roses as Gro Bruntland’s UN Commission came up with that. She set in motion a new paradigm, a new mindset if you will, honed in Rio (1992) and Paris (2015) and other bucketlist places. Thirty years (a generation) later a new  ‘bottom line’ has emerged in business. More on that later.

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You have a more pressing crisis to handle?

Really? I understand how you feel. Others have felt the same way. Even at the UN and perhaps, IKEA.

The important safety work done by two UN specialized agencies is today overshadowed by their abdication of responsibility for (un)sustainable shipping (IMO) and aviation (ICAO).

“IKEA drivers living in trucks for months” is a BBC news item alleges breaches of employment and transport regulations by its UK distribution contractor. Yet became a become a ‘top 5’ global new story (read crisis for IKEA) within 8 hours.Repeating a google search on the headline returned an additional 100,000 items online as the scope of the story spread to other European countries.

IKEA was “saddened by the testimonies” (of its drivers). Its customers will be saddened by procurement and logistics practices that break laws and deny workers dignity. This sustainable business practice turned crisis will continue to run. A particulary irony is that Bring, IKEA’s UK logistics contractor is ultimately 100% owned by an organization that sets employment and transport laws – the Norwegian government.

So,  ignore sustainable business and it will become your crisis. And, yes, sustainable business includes the parts of your supply chain that you outsource.  And be ready to respond to shaming by your stakeholders.

Other definitions reflect strength of political will

When Bruntland’s definition gets twisted it is usually to reflect compromise. But increasingly it’s to reflect strenthening of stakeholder pressure. For example:

  1. The Trump Administration’s EPA. (sustainable = ? – but its gonna be great)
  2. The Paris climate agreement: positioned as tough by so many, commits states to restrict emissions to modify global warming to within +2°C warmer / worse . (sustainable = less unsustainable, acknowledging “still a way to go”).
  3. IKEA, the world’s largest furniture retailer, has sustainability and affordability at the core its brand. And it includes a high degree of transparency. Its 2017  ‘democratic design’ is both a philosophy, in-store campaign and best practice from which we can all learn.(sustainable = sustainable with transparency for direct operations)
  4. The Swedish EPA: their interpretation is expressed as its generational goal, below.  (sustainable = sustainable <30 years plus a clean desk policy, and an ‘åäö ‘ wrapped present for all our neighbors)

“To hand over to the next generation a society in which the major environmental problems in Sweden have been solved, without increasing environmental and health problems outside Sweden’s borders.” – Swedish EPA, 2017


Corporate sustainability: what is the new black?

 To be in the black in 2017, businesses need to consider red (its societal/social impacts), green (its environmental impact) and blue (its economics).  This is the sustainable business ‘triple bottom line’.  Whether you’re an AB, GmbH, Inc., Ltd, Plc, or Pvt sustainability means paying attention to these three pillars of business. Businesses as diverse as BAE Systems and Facebook are doing it. Telia and Vodafone are trying. Amazon remains, well, very trying.

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At first glance the pillars seem independent, but in the long run none can exist without the other. In 2015 the UN moved the sustainability paradigm forward from a “profit, people and planet” focus with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG or the goals). SDGs provide a 17 area framework, advice and resources and an invitation for corporates to engage and showcase.

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Source: UN Sustainability Goals, retrieved  March 2017

Are corporates playing ball?  How?

An optimist’s check of top US Fortune 500 companies finds acknowledgement, intent and increasing transparency toward SDGs.  The pessimist finds little systematic quantifiable goals, targets or metrics to track progress. PWC (Sept, 2016) reported similar findings for European headquartered companies: 66% supported with intent, only 13% with specific targets and tracking.

Even a realist must ackknowledge a generation of progress and a support industry that can now:

  1. Guide, audit and stamp approval (e.g. ISO14000, LEED) your corporate processes and facilities.
  2. Certify your sustainable products
  3. Guide investments in sustainable businesses; and
  4. Track trends, assist and benchmark reporting activities.

Sustainability ratings are published based on transparency, a basket of measures and industry specific issues that now cover over 14000 businesses around the world.

Our customers demand it

The process toward greater corporate sustainability is no brainchild of Branson, Buffett or Musk. Sustainable capital investing, for example, has seen 135% year on year growth. When Morgan Stanley surveyed  400 investment managers it was clear: customers asked for it. So, this is very much a bottom up, end-user led demand. Fueled by a flattening world of access to information and the power of social media.

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Source: author, based on Morgan Stanley, 2016

Marketers have been quick to realize that consumers increasingly want to engage with brands perceived as sustainable and that take a stand on what is fair. B2C brands in particular, are realizing that the cost of doing bad increasingly exceeds the cost of doing good. Feeling less of the direct pressure, B2B businesses have now to catch up.

What of the future?

While the past does not predict the future, but it does serve as a frame of reference. As war raged in 1945, 44 countries laid the foundations of economic sustainability. More recently as development and then environmental conflicts emerged, again cooperation for sustainability widened.

Revolution Year Information
1 1784 Steam, water, mechanical production equipment
2 1870 Division of labor, electricity, mass production
3 1969 Electronics, IT, automated production
4 ? Cyber-physical systems

   Source: author, based on World Economic forum, 2016

Fast forward to 2017 and we are on the starting blocks for a technology-driven race. Industry 4.0 will see cyber-physical systems (widely deployed automation coupled with self-learning computing) deployed at an exponential pace. It is a revolution from which there will be conflict, winners and losers.

Sustainable – 100 year perspective


5 years

· Industry 4.0 – the adoption of cyber systems at exponential scale. · Increased pressure for agility and innovation in businesses

·Security – a more unstable internet due to compromised IoT devices. · Emerging online and the threat of identity theft conflicts

Now ·  Sustainable – 266 million online search results for sustainable, a Google trending news item
2 years ago ·  UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched
25 years ago ·   Sustainability enters mainstream institution thinking following the Rio Summit
30 years ago ·   “Our Common Future”, the report of the UN’s Bruntland Commission
73 years ago ·  In 1944,  44 nations agreed a financial system to promote growth, minimize imbalances, and foster stability. Sustainable international economics saw the setting up the IMF, World Bank and benchmarking of currencies against the US dollar
93 years ago · First recorded use of sustainable in 1924

Source: author, 2017

The World Economic Forum, argued that technological innovation will lead to long-term gains in efficiency and productivity of supply. As a consequence, Transport costs will fall, logistics and supply chains will become more effective. As the costs decrease, new markets will open to drive economic growth.

Others counter that automation will remove jobs across whole economies. If this happens, the gap, inequalities and tension between the “haves” and “have nots” will grow. It is, of course, possible that new roles will emerge, which results in an increase in safe and rewarding jobs.

Even an optimist has to acknowledge the unknown and risk:

“There has never been a time of greater promise, or one of greater potential peril.” Klaus Schwab, Chair World Economic Forum, 2016

 In summary, new inequalities and insecurities are going to emerge. History shows us that sustainable actions are, and will be, important. Its just whether they will prevent, or be a response to, crisis.


Author: Neil Johnson, CEO and Consultant, BotniaBlue


BotniaBlue is a start-up that supports your business to  connect confidently.

Our content, marketing communications and training services have an international business perspective.  We track ‘what’s turning our world upside down’, and through blogs share clarity and actionable insights for those that will drive better business. http://www.botniablue.com