Corporations and organizations are facing a significant challenge when it comes to training their employees—how to train across the generations.
Now, more than ever before, there are employees who span the generations coming together in one work environment. A primary reason is because an increasing number of older workers are holding off on retiring, as younger workers are entering the workforce simultaneously.
One of the most common issues faced by employers of multiple generations is how to create eLearning and training materials that speak to the differences between age groups.
How the Generations Learn
The most important thing to note, before delving into the generational differences in learning styles is that while this information holds true in a general sense, it doesn’t of course hold true for every individual in your workplace.
It is however, a good place to start when considering multi-generational learning, development and training materials, but you also have to consider individual differences, regardless of generation.
- Matures (Born 1909-1945): This is the oldest generation potentially still in the workforce, and they’re the most likely to be unsure of new technology. Their primary objectives tend to be quality of work, rather than speed or efficiency. Their learning style tends to be very linear, and they expect one concept to logically lead to the next, without questioning this sense of ultimate authority. They’re also less likely to branch out and perform their own research, and are instead very willing to accept the information provided.
- Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964): Baby boomers still make up a pretty large percentage of the workforce, and while they tend to be team-oriented, their goal is most often success and prosperity, as measured in their own terms. They tend to be focused on time management, so they’re more likely to value efficiency than the generation before. Baby boomers like a structured learning and work environment, and they’re hesitant to embrace change in the workplace. They’re also linear in learning, so they embrace logical and progressive materials.
- Generation X (Born 1965-1979): Generation X tends to shun authority and hierarchies of powers, and is more likely to question these concepts. Generation X is also fairly open to new technology, as compared to the previous two generations. Generation X favors an informal approach to learning, and they see changes or disruptions as potential opportunities for career growth. Generation X isn’t afraid of interactivity, and in fact they often prefer it. They also want to learn things that are applicable immediately, rather than a skill they won’t use until six months or more in the future.
- Millennials (Born 1980-2000): This is the newest generation to enter the workforce, and they’ve often lived very protected and insulated lives. They’re prone to enjoy lots of open communication and they’re the most technologically-savvy generation. Millennials are very fluid in their work style, and the same goes for their learning style. They also like to connect with other people when learning, and they thrive on constant and instant feedback on their performance. Millennials don’t tend to favor linear learning—they want to be able to move at their own pace, navigate materials as they see fit, choose their own order of things and do their own research if they feel it’s necessary.
How These Differences Can Be Incorporated into Corporate eLearning and Training
The best type of learning for a multi-generational workplace is often an informal approach, which is eLearning, because this approach is inherently flexible and accommodative to a variety of learning styles.
The number one way designers of training materials can speak to the differences across the generations is to create eLearning coursework that’s flexible.
The best types of eLearning build on prior knowledge and also provides opportunities for interactivity, based on the comfort level of the individual.
An employee from the Mature or Baby Boomer generation may feel most comfortable learning by simply clicking a link and reading training material, Generation X may prefer audio options, and a Millennial may want to learn through a video and then completing an immediate self-assessment which allows them to gain instant feedback.
When designing eLearning coursework, it’s possible to incorporate all of these different components and make learning scalable to the individual.
Other generational tips include:
- Let older generations gain an understanding of why they’re learning something – show them concrete ways it will impact them in their job performance. They tend to enjoy knowing not just the how’s but also the why’s of learning. Including case studies is a great way to show how the skills or information they’re learning can create an impact.
- Provide multiple options to receive help and support. Regardless of the generation, when employees are learning something, they like to feel assistance is nearby when needed. For older learners, it may be best to speak with someone on the phone, while Millennials may be more likely to utilize a help forum scenario. Let your employees have options to determine what’s best for them.
- Sometimes creating effective training materials for employees can be as simple as asking how they learn best. Do lots of assessments, both before introducing new eLearning modules, as well as after. This is the most direct way to gauge how your employees learn, and incorporate these components into materials.
- Don’t assume older generations aren’t going to be receptive to eLearning. While they may not be as tech knowledgeable as younger generations, that doesn’t mean they aren’t open to it, when it’s framed in a way that’s accessible to them.
While a multi-generational workforce creates unique challenges, it also creates unique opportunities that can be fostered through innovative and effective learning opportunities. When there’s multi-generational learning, the organization thrives and grows, and eLearning is the ideal way to promote and foster that multi-generational learning.