How the differences between the Baby Boomer generation and the Generation X and Millennial generations impact learning and training. What we can do to make training more interesting and effective for members of the younger generations.
Think of these five needs, or five factors, as antidotes
Boomer Habits Millennial Needs
Use telling, text-oriented methods Involve to solve
Take a linear approach Offer options
Use a leisurely, even pace Pick up the pace
Apply a trainer-focused style Link to the learner
Employ a prudent amount of fun Turn up the fun factor
Let’s take a look at each of these five differences and suggest ways of addressing Millennial generations needs in design and delivery of training.
Involve to Solve
Interactivity is of the essence. Younger learners crave interaction—with each other, with the material, with problems and information, with experts and people who really know. They don’t want to be told; they want to find out! This is the one factor that always comes out at the top of the list when members of the younger generation describe their ideal learning situation. Discovery learning, engaged learning, collaborative learning, and other such approaches that have been popular in schools over the last two decades focus young learners on what they want to know and how to find out—often with the help and involvement of others. Discovering answers and obtaining information on their own is something younger learners do daily and have come to expect in a learning situation. Giving them a handout of the Top Ten Customer Complaints may not be nearly as effective as letting them sort through a hundred customer complaint forms and discover the top ten complaints about themselves.
Baby Boomer culture is basically competitive. There were so many of us as we were growing up that we fell almost naturally into a competitive stance toward most situations. We competed for our parent’s attention with our brothers and sisters. We competed for our teacher’s attention in our crowded classrooms. We competed for scholarships, dorm rooms, and part-time jobs and then moved on to competing for real jobs, promotions, and attention from the boss. Many of us are still competing as to who can look younger than they really are! The emerging generations are far less competitive in their general approach to things. They had fewer brothers and sisters growing up and were more involved in teamwork and group projects in their school years. That’s not to say there are no competitive individuals among the younger generations or that they love to work in groups, but their general approach to the world is not an immediately competitive one.
Connected to their less-competitive nature is the younger person’s attitude toward risk and failure. In general, they are less risk-aversive than their Boomer elders. No one wins a video game without taking risks and learning from numerous failures.
I suggest we design training that involves the learners in solving problems connected to the focus of the training and that we allow them to explore problems and discover ways to solve those problems. This can be done through absorbing, challenging, interactive games and structured activities. Let them risk; let them fail, and let them learn on their own terms as much as possible.
The younger generations live much of their lives in a hyper-existence, above and beyond their immediate time and place. Connected globally, interacting simultaneously in a variety of media, they multi-task their way through each day—working, learning, communicating, and playing on many channels at the same time. They are accustomed to doing more than one thing at a time. They expect options and choices and free samples. They love to pop in and out as they like.
While Boomer learning has more or less been dominated by text, the younger generations of learners have taken in as much of their learning from graphics, sound, and physical manipulation as they have from a text. Interactivity is mandatory. Learners want to literally, physically interact—with things, with people, with ideas. And they want to choose which and when.
To progress in a video game, you must coordinate the movements of your hands and thumbs with the changing visual images on the screen and respond to a variety of changing audio cues as well. A learning environment that offers little in the way of graphics and sound and that requires almost no tactile participation stands the chance of boring young people, even if those young people are interested in the subject matter and want to learn. They are not passive learners. Action, interaction, and choice are imperative.
As a trainer or facilitator of Millennial learners, you may need to go above and beyond what you’ve done before. You may need to rethink and redesign your approach to training to include more action and interaction, more options and choices, a variety of parallel processes, and random access to an assortment of learning alternatives. Let the learners choose the “how” of getting to the endpoint, or at least offer a variety of pathways that may be taken.
Pick Up the Pace
Think for a moment about your own style. What is the pace or tempo of your training? At what speed do you move through the material? If you have mostly older participants, you may want to make just a few adjustments to the speed of your training. But if you have a majority of trainees under 30, you may definitely want to pick up the pace. Try to make it snappy. And there are a number of ways to do so.
Try starting your training with a bang. Immediately begin with an involving, challenging activity—and I mean immediately. Introduce yourself and the course later. Get the learners up and doing before they can really settle in. Catch their attention and their imagination in the first 20 minutes of your program.
Keep your delivery pace quick and lively. Do a lot less “telling” and lot more “showing.” Don’t read anything out loud. Cut back on those overhead transparencies and PowerPoint presentations or end them all together. Tighten up all group activities. Better that participants have less time to do things than more time.
Link to the Learner
If you’ve been teaching or training for a number of years, you probably have a good feel for your material and your audiences. You’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. You’ve come up with some especially good examples and illustrations. It can feel so good when you’re on a roll. You’re standing up there explaining something and you see the light bulbs go off. You make a comparison, you give an example, and they laugh, they nod, they get it!
Then comes the day when you notice that a number of people are not laughing or nodding. They may be sitting politely waiting for you to continue or, good grief, they may be rolling their eyes and grimacing! What’s wrong with these people? Your clever analogy to Sgt. Pepper, or your pun on the famous Beach Boys song, they completely miss the target! Whoosh, over their heads and out the door. And there you stand. But most of all, talk with members of the emerging generations—your kids, your relatives, your neighbours, your students. Talk about generational differences. Ask them what they like and don’t like about Boomers. Get their input when you design training. Better yet, let them design their own training and you can facilitate them through it!
As much as possible, customise your training programs. Be flexible and adaptable to the learners who are present at any given delivery, from any given generation. Have a variety of illustrations and examples ready so that you can pick and choose those that best fit the audience or use a variety of them for a mixed-generation group.
Younger learners enjoy utilising their senses. They want to see it, hear it, and get their hands on it if possible. For many years, proponents of accelerated learning have extolled the benefits of appealing to all of the senses in learning situations.The challenge is to do so in ways that engage all learners without coming across as unprofessional and cheesy.
Turn Up the Fun Factor
The more we can bring some of that level of enjoyment into the corporate classroom, the more we will have the attention and the commitment of not only our younger learners but most likely, learners of all ages.
Written by Kirilka Angelova