By Roy Saunderson
It’s one thing to have four generations—Seniors, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials—in the workplace, but what are you supposed to do when you get them all in the same classroom?
Most adult learning methodology today focuses on learner-centered instruction versus the traditional instructor-centered style of the past. We know the benefits of experiential learning methods and ways to generate reflective insights in order to generalize principles and practices to job situations where learners can apply these skills, knowledge, and perspectives back in the workplace. Over time, learning has become much more active, participative, and a shared experience.
Since we know there are certainly differences in work habits, expectations, and motivation across the four generations in the workplace today, one can expect similar unique learning characteristics for each generation, as well.
Like the workplace itself, learning should be inclusive and respectful of each generation while sharing in a common learning objective.
Generational Learning Differences
To understand any given generation’s outlook on learning, look to the parents, and society in general, that each group grew up with. One of those subcultures includes school and how education was delivered.
We must be careful not to classify learners simply by these 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, he or she should be regarded with dignity and foremost as simply a learner. However, the style we experienced learning in the classroom growing up generally will stay with us for each generational era.
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 enamored with books such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
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 as you are teaching.
Perhaps one of the most important things to help learning happen is to provide opportunities and enough time for group members of diverse generations to get to know one another and be comfortable with different perspectives. You can’t ignore differences, but giving the learning objectives upfront and an end goal task will keep everyone focused even if competitively 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 multitasking, technology, and social media savvy of a Millennial will bring creative solutions to whatever issue is being addressed.
Don’t be afraid to get each 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.
Strategies to Cross the Generations
Keep the following ideas in mind when striving to recognize the contributions and challenges of each generational learner:
Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and president of the Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right!” It focuses on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.RealRecognition.com.