Today’s workplaces are experiencing an unprecedented workforce intersection of four generations – Baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y/Millennials, and Gen Z. And while this presents a unique dynamic that few get to experience, the differences among the generations can prove challenging to organizations seeking to keep their workforce trained and compliant.
From what motivates them to what they demand from their careers, a multigenerational rift of disconnect threatens to dismantle any hopes for a unified workforce.
But it doesn’t have to.
In fact, with eLearning – and more specifically microlearning – training can transcend generational divides, providing a common ground rife with intergenerational opportunities, experience and exposure.
The goal, then, is to identify that common ground. So here, we’ll take a look at what makes each of these generations unique, and the strategies to utilize to ensure employee training meets the needs of a uniquely diverse workforce.
Each generation is accustomed to learning styles generally associated with the era in which they grew up and entered the workforce. These preferences are further compounded by specific motivators for engaging in the learning process, such as the work history of their parents, popular culture, and available technologies.
As such, it’s important to identify their preferred methods of learning and what motivates them by generation:
Baby Boomers: This generation tends to take a more ‘workaholic’ and structured approach to learning and will put in extra effort to be successful. They are competitive and are motivated by understanding how the training will advance their careers.
Gen X: This entrepreneurial generation prioritizes flexible learning opportunities that enable them to learn independently on their own schedules and with minimal supervision.
Millennials (Gen Y): This tech-savvy generation prefers hands-on learning and activities with immediate feedback and is motivated by the freedom to figure out things on their own.
Gen Z: This experiential generation prefers peer interaction with reinforcement and reaffirmation. As such, they are highly engaged in gaming and social networking.
With such disparities between the learning preferences of each generation, how can organizations cater to each without sacrificing the necessary content, training and delivery methods?
The first step to creating a multigenerational approach to eLearning is to understand that there will not be a one-size-fits-all silver bullet. The unilateral approaches of yesterday must be reimagined to now be multilateral, placing priority squarely on the importance of the perspectives and preferences of the learners.
This facet of multigenerational eLearning builds on the fundamental eLearning principle of personalization, which suggests that the use of a conversational-style voice and tone – rather than a formal, authoritative tone – puts the learner at ease. It gives the content a more approachable, intimate feel so learners can process the content more easily with increased attention and engagement.
Think of engagement like this: You can tell someone that a particular chemical at work is dangerous and to handle it with care. It’s simple, to-the-point and communicates what needs to be learned. Or you can instead tell the story of the time a colleague mishandled that chemical and the trouble that ensued. Your story now has names, faces and – arguably most importantly – the emotional investment of the listeners.
Why? Because facts selectively come and go through our brains; stories stick with us.
In fact, engaged learners are more likely to take greater ownership of their learning and be more motivated so organizations should seek to employ a variety of engagement mechanisms that resonate with all employees.
Microlearning is a method that delivers small, bite-sized chunks of learning to drive job performance and employee development, appropriate for when the learner needs help doing something specific or to reference a snippet of content. It is short and to the point, based on a topic or problem, and easily searched by asking a question or entering keywords.
For younger generations with shorter attention spans, it allows for easier, faster knowledge digestion and for older generations, it promotes better retention.
Research conducted by Henry L. Roediger, III and Jeffrey D. Karpicke found that retrieval practice, such as testing or having a learner apply knowledge to a real-life scenario, often produces greater learning and long-term retention than studying. Additionally, active recall proves exceptionally effective when interspersed with short learning bursts – ahem, microlearning – requiring learners to recall what they have learned in order to more firmly imprint it in their long-term memory.
Interval reinforcement is the process of providing information to learners in a repetitive and consistent way in order to reinforce a prior learning event to improve retention. And a critical component to interval reinforcement is the spacing effect, which suggests that learning is greater when it is spread out over time, as opposed to learning the same amount of content in a single session. When information and feedback are provided at consistent, regular intervals, the learner can better digest, retain and master the knowledge.
With a little insight into how each generation consumes and retains information and some adjustments to how information is delivered, the needs of a diverse, multigenerational workforce can be met for the organizational needs today – and growth tomorrow.