• Blog Post
  • December 16, 2014

Bridging the Generation Gap in Training

Photo: Ivelin Radkov / Thinkstock
If there is one sweeping generalization a training professional can make about the generation gap, it might be this:

The younger a person is, the more likely they will be looking for training that feels individualized and catered specifically to them (and perhaps to a shorter attention span); a program that gives them an experience, rather than a download of rules and information.

In a word, they want to be engaged.

Four generations in the workforce
A typical training room could host members of any of four main generations. Traditionalists (born before 1945) have mostly retired from the workforce, but a few are still working; Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964) are now starting to retire from the workforce; Generation X (born 1965–1980) might be moving into management or senior management roles; and Millennials (1981–2000) are making their way into the workforce.

Before delving too deeply into making broad generalizations about very large numbers of people, we have to remember that these are just that: Incredibly large generalizations that may not apply to every individual within that perceived generation. There are some Baby Boomers who act more like Generation Xers, and some Millennials who act more like Boomers.

Training younger generations
For younger generations, that might mean training more frequently, but in smaller chunks. It might also mean that as trainers, we need to find a way to make training more sensory and experiential, to activate more parts of the learners’ brains. Less formal training might be needed using different technological channels, including finding ways to use social media and company intranets to facilitate learning.

With Millennials in particular, but for anyone who is tech savvy, choices for how to learn are important. Classroom, longer eLearning training at a computer, or bite-sized mobile training are appropriate for different needs and in different situations. Learners being able to choose the appropriate channel for the perceived need is becoming a greater consideration for training providers. The right information at the right time is always going to be important.

Training later generations
We can’t forget, though, that the later generations are still in class, too. Easel and paper is still a highly effective means of training that doesn’t have to be boring. Even Boomers hate long-winded lectures. The norms for their generation say that training should be based on objectives, and we need to make sure we are still covering all of the objectives, even if we add new channels for learning. Classroom training needs to engage the entire person and shouldn't require passively listening to someone talk for long periods. People of any generation learn differently (hearing, seeing, doing), and training needs to incorporate different activities to help make sure that instruction engages everyone. New technologies and media have a place in the classroom to help accomplish this.  

As Instructors, bridging the generation gap can be a fun and exciting challenge. If training isn’t fun for us as the Instructor, you can guarantee that it will not be fun and engaging for the learner.

This Training Pros post touches nicely on multigenerational teaching.

Regardless of the generation, any adult learner needs to see the relevance of training to what they do on a daily basis. Different generations perhaps see that relevance slightly differently, but if it's not obvious, they need to be shown why something new is relevant.

Check out this infographic from instructional designer Nicole Legault for more thoughts on adult learning: