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Tutus and Training

by Tracy Bissette on October 14, 2013

Learning for MillennialsBallet has been a revered art form since the 15th century but I recently read an article about the widespread decline of ballet ticket sales. “Ballet Internationale, Oakland Ballet and Ohio Ballet all closed their doors over the last several years” while other companies have remained on hiatus. (Tossing away the tutus? Ballet companies seek to modernize their image) Why the decline? As you might imagine, younger generations fail to be enticed by the traditional elements of ballet. The same can be said of traditional corporate learning.

About four years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Carolina Ballet, one of America’s premiere arts organizations, on a campaign to attract a younger audience. We implemented a number of strategies including the following:

Make it personal

We produced short emotionally-compelling videos about each of the principal dancers to help the audience relate to the individuals they see on stage. We highlighted each dancer’s personality, background, sacrifice and athleticism. Dancers also walked around the local mall in costume, mingling with the general public. Millennials realized that the dancers were very much like themselves and suddenly the ballet became more relevant.

Make it memorable

It isn’t enough to get them to the ballet. Once there, it’s important to grab and maintain their attention so they become ongoing advocates and repeat supporters. The seven most popular ballets of all time include Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and a Midsummer Night’s Dream. In each of these ballets, the story drives the performance. They’re also visually stunning.

Many ballets are taking bold steps to be different. The English National Ballet Company recently pulled dancers out of their ballet tutus and tights and dressed them in designer evening wear. The Boston Ballet Company followed suit at the annual Nutcracker. Both the music track and the attire were contemporary.

Make it social

We helped Carolina Ballet develop a social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter as well as other social channels. We also established fun, informal events before and after the ballet such as Ballet Meet-ups.

So what does all of this tutu talk have to do with training?  The corollaries are striking. In the book The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman remind us that the Millennial generation (those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) is the fastest-growing segment of workers today. Trends that they believe personify this generation include Meaning, The Need for Speed, Social Networking, and Collaboration.

It’s not enough to design a thorough, well-structured, training program that has previously been the status quo. It may have all the traditional elements — three-part objectives, content that follows Bloom’s Taxonomy, and appropriate assessments — but to reach today’s workforce, we need to make it personal, memorable, social and fun. There are many ways to do this in learning.

Make it personal

Millennials are “all about customization” (The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, p. 73). Some strategies for customization and personalization include adaptive learning, creating a role and personality for the learner to represent in training, and allowing learners to select the rewards that they work towards as well as their training schedule.

Make it memorable

It’s critical for Millennials that their work be meaningful. Be sure to tie training not only into the learner’s individual role, but also the greater good and goals of the organization. Move past recall-based learning and into learning that develops critical thinking skills. Appeal to the need for speed by chunking content into bite-sized pieces. Gamification is a fantastic way to appeal to this audience as well and make learning hard to forget.

Make it social

“‘Connectedness’ for Millennials comes chiefly from the opportunity to collaborate with their peers.” (The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace, p.231). Social media tools such as Yammer and Facebook as well as collaboration tools like Jive and SharePoint enable this beautifully, however, don’t overlook opportunities for virtual coffee chats and live get-togethers. In addition to social gatherings, design training where learners work together in teams to achieve a goal.

Elicit an emotional connection from your learners and make it relevant. Encourage discussion and collaboration, and try something bold that you’ve never tried before. Chances are you’ll be surprised by how well you efforts will be received.

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