There are a couple of aspects to learning that have changed in the last decade. Historically, learning and development focused on what the organization wanted employees to learn. Today, employees demand that their learning needs be considered. Secondly, with shifts in the pedagogy in higher-education curriculum, the way in which employees prefer to learn has evolved. Both aspects correlate with generational identities.
All generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zs) possess unique and often differing values, behaviors and expectations, including a difference in what and how they want to learn. If organizations want to leverage their learning and development (L&D) programs as a retention tool, they need to create an L&D strategy that considers the content, design and delivery mechanisms that will engage multigenerational learners. Moreover, L&D specialists must understand the multigenerational learning environment in order to design and facilitate programs that effectively transfer learning and affect behaviors.
|Traditionalist*||1922-1945||74 – 97 years old|
|Baby Boomer||1946-1964||55 – 73 years old|
|Gen X||1965-1980||39 – 54 years old
|Millennial||1981-1995||24 – 38 years old
|Gen Z||1996-2012||7 – 23 years old
|* While Traditionalists may no longer exist in your organization due to retirement, you will have employees who possess a traditionalist mindset because they have come from a traditionalist culture, background or upbringing. Therefore, understanding all generational mindsets is important.|
Learning Preferences: How Learning Experiences Become a Preference
When looking at the process of learning, different preferences exist across the generations, based on past experiences. Traditionalists and many Baby Boomers were accustomed to having facilitators, trainers and instructors stand at the front of the room teaching to and talking at them. The assumption was that the facilitator was the expert and the participants were the novices.
Today, the belief is that the participants in the room often have as much (if not more) to offer to the learning process as the facilitator does. This has resulted in a shift to experiential, peer and action-based learning, which Millennials and Gen Zs were exposed to in the school system. In a multigenerational learning environment, all five types of learning preferences may be present.
Here are four techniques to respond to multigenerational learning environments:
1. Go Virtual…But Not Entirely
Engaging learning requires that it be available where and when employees need it and leverages technically that is easily accessible. Not surprisingly, younger employees are eager for more digital learning while older generations may be less inclined to transition to digital learning paths.
Use online sessions as a way of providing key concepts and educating learners in new theories, models and approaches. Then create learning labs where employees of all generations can come together to apply new concepts and complete application exercises face to face.
2. Co-Create with New Hires
New hires (Gen Zs) often struggle with rules that are imposed on them. Involve this generation in creating the protocols for the learning environment by explaining the importance and relevance of all aspects of the design and delivery (course content linking to building competencies/skills, attendance, timeliness, learning objectives, activities etc.).
Encourage all learners to create ground rules that foster a respectful learning environment and involve diverse learners in the design and delivery of the curriculum to ensure you gather a multigenerational perspective.
3. Provide a Risk-Free Learning Environment
Baby Boomers tend to avoid taking risks in the learning environment. They are often afraid that if they do not perform new tasks well, that they will be vulnerable back on the job. Create multiple ways in which learning can be practiced in a safe environment before applying it to day-to-day functions.
4. Answer “What’s in It for Them?”
Gen Xers are entrepreneurial in nature and devoted to developing their professional skill sets and achieving results. Create activities, stretch assignments and/or action-learning programs that are results oriented. Answer the question: What marketable skills could they put on their resume as a result of participating in the learning?
Designing and delivering learning programs has never been more complex. The learning environment has shifted from an organization-driven mandate to a mutually beneficial arrangement between an organization and learners. Not addressing the expectations and learning preferences of each generation is risky. Organizations, L&D specialists and facilitators need to create integrated learning programs that motivate, engage and support multigenerational learners.
Giselle Kovary is president of n-gen People Performance. Email Giselle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan Armstrong is managing partner, Global Training Transformation. Email Susan at email@example.com.