Training Across the Generations

The advances in technology in the last 60 years have consistently been accelerating.  I once heard a quote (which is already out of date) that stated that technological growth in a single year in the 1990s is equivalent to all the technological growth in the entire decade of the 1970s.  I believe it!  When I consider what I already take for granted today as an adult, I’m amazed.  Of course one of the challenges this creates is the differences between multiple generations.  In my experience as a trainer of adults I have had the opportunity to teach across a total of three (possibly four) generations.  Of course one hundred years ago, the difference between someone’s learning style that was born in 1900 versus someone born in 1910 may not have been so discernible.  Today however, those ten years may mean a completely different experience with learning.

As older generations stay in the workplace longer, you may find yourself faced with a classroom containing any number from the following groups:
  • Veterans
  • Baby Boomers
  • Generation X
  • Generation Y
The Veteran’s generation refers specifically to those who were born before the end of World War II.  Some of the older members of this generation may in fact have served in the war and thus the name of the generation.  This group will generally value fiscal responsibility as they grew up during the depression and later World War II.  They are generally conservative.  When training this group of learners, consider the fact that they want to be valued for their experience and recognized as a useful member of the group.  Calling on them to share their experience can be useful when collaborating as a group. 

Baby Boomers are a generation that grew up challenging the status quo.  They did this in when protesting the Vietnam War, and then later as adults when entering the corporate world.  It’s because of this that the paradigms of corporate culture have changed over the years.  When teaching new or unusual approaches with Baby Boomers, be prepared to offer strong evidence that supports the new material.  Baby Boomers will not accept “Just because” as an answer, and they will welcome debate over changing ideas.

Generation X is a group that will work well independently.  They are often the product of parents who were both working and trying to get ahead, and sometimes single parents who worked as well.  Because of this Generation X was a generation that needed to be more self-sufficient as children and teens.  Often referred to as latch key kids, as they were usually the first to arrive home at the end of the day.  Children of this generation also had greater access to technology than previous generations and will usually understand technology well.

Generation Y or the Millennial generation are those who are just entering the workforce now.  These adults are still young and much of their adult identity is still unknown.  This generation grew up always knowing technology.  Many of this generation cannot remember a time where there wasn’t an Internet or World Wide Web.  They are not only comfortable with technology they will expect it.  They are peer oriented so using social media is a great way to engage this group.  Unfortunately some members of this generation may have been overly nurtured as children and often have an inflated sense of entitlement because of this.  This can be challenging to deal with, however setting clear expectations at the beginning of any training can usually overcome this challenge.

With all generations, foster conversation about the differences between the generations.  Each will discover that they can learn from one another and also work well together back on the job.