Today’s workforce is more multigenerationally (or intergenerationally) diverse and geographically disbursed than ever before. For the first time in history, five generations may work side by side, each bringing unique strengths of values, attitudes, and work styles. Blended learning pathways foster harmony among the generations where they share knowledge, blossom innovation, and learn valuable lessons.
Each generation’s learning style has been shaped by the educational system, learning methods, culture, events of the time, and existing technology. I’m painting the following divides with a very broad brush because there’s a large span of years within each generation and many blur as you transition from one to the next.
- Traditionalists, aka the Silent Generation (born pre-1945): These 9-to-5ers are good listeners, sticklers for grammar, want details, respond to phone calls, and prefer face-to-face learning. They go by the book through proper channels, don’t question authority, and are loyal to the organization. They’re hierarchical and respect a clear chain of command with top-down management. Most of this generation is no longer in the workforce. However, because of longevity or financial need, many are still gainfully employed and are eager to continue learning so they remain relevant.
- Baby Boomers, aka Boomers (born 1946-1964): They tend to be lifelong learners, require context, go through channels, enjoy collaborating, and value face-to-face training. They want flat hierarchies and democratic cultures, and embrace a get-it-done attitude, even if it means working evenings and weekends.
- Millennials, aka Gen Xers (born 1965-1995): This is an autonomous group of multitasking, hardworking, self-reliant, skeptical, pragmatic, and resourceful folks. They’re highly protective of their time and want to find the fastest route to getting something done. They’re achievement oriented, highly creative, and open to relevant training that doesn’t waste time with small talk. They’re currently the largest group in today’s workforce.
- Gen Zers (born 1996 or after): Although this generation is first entering the workforce, they’ve grown into a strong economic and cultural force. They’re behind many of the biggest fashion trends, political movements, and technological advances. They prefer short bursts of learning, visual communications, and videos or action-oriented training. They’re competitive, independent, entrepreneurial, and embrace the latest technology. They often consider Millennials to be their role models.
Respect Differences and Celebrate Similarities
Perhaps you’ve heard these myths: Traditionalists are out of touch. Boomers are technologically challenged. Millennials are selfish and entitled. Gen Zers are obsessed social media addicts. These stereotypes are spewed by the media for dramatic impact. Generational commonalities trump differences. ALL generations need respect, dignity, challenges, financial rewards, meaningful work, work-life balance, involvement in decision-making, and continual learning.
Learners may initially be more comfortable with others of similar ages, learning styles, and experiences. However, there are many benefits to interacting with other generations through a variety of training pathways. Trainers must shift the collective mindset so different generations may see each other as partners, eliminate prejudices, and benefit from the mix of fresh ideas and insights—all tempered with the experience and wisdom they each bring. Blending generations helps to dispel conscious or unconscious misconceptions they may have had about each other.
Blending Learning Pathways
Blending learning pathways with complex cognitive needs is a great way to create agile learning models that can meaningfully engage generationally diverse learners. Goals may be to protect and leverage knowledge, introduce a new skill or methodology, or advance personal development.
- Instructor-led training (ILT): ILT is traditional classroom-type learning where everyone is gathered in a room with a facilitator. Variations can be one-to-one, small or large groups, lectures, or hands-on workshops. Done properly, this offers immediate feedback, personalized learning, Q&A, hands-on experience, and networking avenues.
- Online training (eLearning or distance learning): This allows for just-in-time (JIT) global learning, fits flexible lifestyles, ensures consistency and standardization, is scalable for any number of learners, and reduces the carbon footprint (as do the remaining pathways).
- Mobile learning (m-learning): Mobile learning can be accessed at any time and fits on the generational spectrum because it’s flexible and easy to access from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, and digital notebook via an app, video stream, article, PowerPoint, or even wearable technology. It focuses on learners’ freedom of independence and interaction with their technology.
- Gamification: The concept of gamification isn’t new, although the term is. (Mary Poppins knew back in the 1960s that anything could be fun by turning it into a game.) This game-style training is the ideal modality for the young gaming generations but is embraced by the older generation, as well. It’s effective because it taps into people’s natural desire for competition and achievement.
- Microlearning: This is more than a buzzword. It’s increasingly being used as skill-based learning for small learning units. It can be delivered as tutorials, screencasts, audio podcasts, or downloadable job aids. Each module focuses on a single problem or question. Applications can range from how to follow a process, perform a task, refresh or reinforce skills, or how to use a specific type of tool or technology.
What Does the Future Hold for Training?
Traditionalists and boomers are retiring in large numbers. Millennials are taking their places, and Gen Zers are moving in rapidly. These flexible-work natives were raised during and after the dotcom bubble, when the acceleration of technology sped up exponentially. They’re ditching traditional 9-to-5 office jobs in favor of work-at-home-anywhere-around-the-world lifestyles. We must view training through a new lens. It must be flexible, informal, modularized, transportable, collaborative, and visually stimulating. In other words, “Go Mobile, Go Global.”