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But can they Learn Online? A look at generational differences and how they learn

Posted Oct 28 2008 9:40pm
A recent article in the eLearning Guild’s magazine, Learning Solutions, is titled “Understanding Today’s Learner.”

This article takes a look at today’s workforce comprising individuals from 4 different generations, all still active in the workforce.

Age isn’t the only thing that separates these four groups. How they learn, and how they have adapted to technology also varies dramatically from group to group.

Veterans (born 1925-1945): These are the oldest workers still in the workforce. Many of them work in senior care as caregivers, cooks, housekeepers or managers. They tend to be “loyal, hard-working and dedicated” and, as learners, prefer the traditional ways of learning. These individuals are commonly thought of as the folks who don’t know how to use technology and who will resist it if introduced. And yet…

In a recent support group composed primarily of spouses and children of people with dementia (average participant age at least 60), all but two participants indicated a daily use of email and the internet. Many asked repeatedly, “Is there a website I can go to to learn more about this?” (Note to senior care providers: Who’s manning your website?)

This age group will use technology to find answers to their own needs, especially as it relates to their health, and will be thorough in their reading of a website or other digitally presented content. Many of these learners are the most focused in their approach to learning online. While you may need to encourage employees in this age group to get started learning online, once they master the basics, you won’t have to continue to encourage, reward and motivate this learner. They’ll be hooked.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964): This generation, frequently called the “Me” generation, focuses on personal accomplishments and achievement. Many of us have balanced career and family our entire adult lives and believe that, with focus and hard work, we can “have it all.” Many of today’s mid and upper level managers are from this generation.

As learners, this population didn’t grow up with their hand on a mouse, but they have adopted technology and use it in their daily lives. They are the fastest growing segment of new Facebook users (the social networking site that started as a college networking tool), and, when the value of e-learning is presented to them, they rapidly adopt and use it.

Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Generation Y (Born 1980 – 1995): These learners grew up with technology, especially the younger Generation Y folks. They tend to be highly social, to multi-task easily and frequently and to assume that learning is their right – after all, they never knew a time when the internet wasn’t available for them to “google” a subject and quickly gain knowledge.

As learners, this generation, our largest employee group, wants to see several things, whether in a classroom setting or online:

  • They like small bites of information, and they prefer to have freedom to quickly explore and learn, following their own paths rather than prescribed paths of discovery and learning.
  • They are easily bored (that’s a news flash!) and prefer their information delivered with more visuals, sounds, video and images rather than lots of text to read and digest.
  • They love to interact with others while they learn, casually throwing off ideas, thoughts, or reactions, blogger or instant message-style, to their friends or co-workers.
  • They prefer to have learning available to them so that they can access the knowledge when they need it; a “just in time” approach to learning that online learning has made possible and accessible.
  • They can learn new things without close guidance. These are the kids, after all, that not only programmed our VCRs but that learned to use their iPods, google and other technology without our help.

This learner wants to learn quickly, easily, and without being bored. They will be clear that even online learning can be boring, especially when presented with linear, simplistic content that doesn’t allow or encourage freedom to navigate and explore.

This is the employee, too, that will begin to demand options to mandatory training. They’ll assume that any large, sophisticated company will offer training options that fit their needs and their schedules. They’ll seek out information on topics when they need and want it, whether it is company provided or not. They may, in fact, choose an employer that offers more learning opportunities above one that does not.

Today’s workforce is the most complex in history. Knowing how your employees learn, and adapting your training programs accordingly, will help you build the strongest, most effective team possible to compete in today’s market. CEUs for senior care professionals · Staff training for caregivers · Caregiver job applications right to your inbox
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