How To Make Learning Stick Across the Generations

Educating employees from across the different generations in the workplace is no easy task.

Most adult learning methodology today focuses on learner-centered instruction versus the traditional instructor-centered style of the past.

You know the benefits of experiential learning methods and ways to generate reflective insights. This helps generalize principles and practices to job situations where learners can apply acquired skills, knowledge, and perspectives back in the workplace.

Seems like learning has become a more active, participative, and a shared experience.

You and I know there are differences in work habits, expectations and motivation across the four generations in the workplace today. You can expect similar unique characteristics for learning by each generation too.

Like all of our workplaces – learning should be inclusive and respectful of each generation while sharing in a common learning objective.

Understanding Generational Learning Differences

To understand any given generation’s outlook on learning you can look to their parents, and society in general, that each group has grown up in. One of those learning factors to consider includes school and how education was delivered.

You must be careful not to classify learners simply by generic generational labels. Each of us is an individual first and should not be stereotyped by a label. And when each person comes into the classroom they should be regarded with dignity and foremost as simply a learner. However, the style you experienced learning in the classroom growing up will generally stay with you no matter what generational era you are from.

Seniors are more likely to prefer the traditional lecture from the front of the classroom and may have some difficulties with participatory group tasks.

Generation Xers prefer individual to group learning while not as dependent on lectures.

Boomers and Millennials are very comfortable with collaborative team exercises since they’ve been brought up on interactive educational television and immersed in video games.

And as the pendulum swings, Seniors love to read and so do Millennials who became enamoured with books like JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Some Generational Points to Keep In Mind

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so don’t feel you have to appeal to all generations at the same time when you are teaching.

Perhaps one of the most important things to help learning happen is to get to know each other. Provide opportunities and enough time for group members of diverse generations to get to know one another and be comfortable with each other’s perspectives. You can’t ignore these differences. By giving the learning objectives upfront and an end goal, learning task will keep everyone focused even if competing against other participating groups. A united cause always helps the learning.

Create and allow opportunities for groups to draw upon each person’s life and work experiences no matter the generation. Such diversity brings rich content and innovation. Mentoring with long term knowledge and work experience of a Senior mixed with the multi-tasking, technology and social media savvy Millennial, will bring creative solutions to whatever issue is being addressed.

Don’t be afraid to get each generational participant to move out of his or her comfort zone. Empathy and being able to understand another person’s point of view is a powerful intrinsic motivation for real learning.

Appeal to Learning Strategies Across the Generations

Keep the following ideas in mind when striving to recognize the contributions and challenges of each generational learner:

  • Since adult research shows the attention span of a typical adult to be around 15 to 20 minutes try to vary the learning activities as often as you can.
  • In utilizing groups give clear objectives and roles for all participants and rotate these roles across the group members.
  • Hold everyone individually accountable for learning application with agreed upon group goals to transfer the knowledge and skills to the workplace and following up with them after a specified time period.
  • Use recognition everywhere you can to acknowledge group task completion or reports as well as individual comments and contributions.
  • Let some assignments be strictly individual work so each generation can appreciate a different perspective and better appreciate one another.
  • Share and discuss outcomes of group exercises to provide participation, learning and cross-pollination of ideas and generational respect.

Question: How do you maximize learning across different generations at work?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

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