While Millennials have surpassed their older colleagues to become the predominant American workforce today; however, that doesn’t mean everything about the workplace should be tailored to meet only their needs.
There’s also a lot to be said for Generation X – those born between 1965-1980 – and Baby Boomers – born between 1946-1964.
For one, both generations grew up before the technology boom of the 1990’s, both have more experience in the workplace than Millennials and both value education and training in the workplace to a similar degree.
But even between the two groups, there are significant differences in learning styles, goals and overall approach when it comes to work, training and eLearning.
While both generations seek out opportunities to improve their skills and knowledgebase, they do so with completely different motivations, which can make creating eLearning courses for them tricky (especially if Millennials are thrown into the mix).
So, if you’re not sure how to create an eLearning course that meets the needs of these two generations, here’s what you need to know.
The most obvious difference between the different generations is age. While Millennials are just entering the working world, Gen Xers have been staples for many years, and Boomers even longer, though many are set to retire in the coming years.
This means that any well-designed eLearning course should span an age gap of 40+ years.
Aside from age, these two generations were also taught using different learning strategies as children, which greatly affects the way they currently process information. Baby Boomers, for instance, were taught in a linear fashion, with one lesson following another in sequential order, while Gen Xers were taught in pods or modules.
While both Boomers and Gen Xers had books as their primary learning resource, Gen Xers had the advantage of using the early stages of automation, like calculators and basic computers for certain things.
Cooperative learning was also more prevalent in Generation X, so there was more small group focus and team interactions than previous generations.
These differences also play out differently when it comes completing tasks. Baby Boomers, for example, may be more willing to complete an entire eLearning course in one sitting, but they also may not absorb that information as well as Gen Xers or Millennials because they’re just trying to get it done.
Gen Xers, on the other hand, may be more motivated than Boomers to achieve a certain outcome by finishing an eLearning course. While Boomers want to simply learn for the sake of learning, Gen Xers want to learn for a specific purpose.
These differences can lead to challenges in designing effective eLearning (though these challenges can be overcome).
Designing eLearning for Older Generations
The key to designing eLearning courses for multiple generations is playing to each group’s strengths. Here are a few things you can do to help bridge the gap between the generations while engaging them simultaneously.
Keep course navigation simple. Although younger generations tend to appreciate the complexities of technology, there’s something to be said for an uncomplicated navigation system. If your course can be traversed with ease, it will not only help older generations embrace technology quickly, but it will make everyone happier to use your course in the long run (and simplicity is the key to longevity if you’re re-using your course).
Let workers set their own goals. As mentioned, Boomers may focus on “getting it done” while Gen Xers may want more tangible outcomes, like learning a skill that lands them a promotion. If you allow individuals to set and track their own goals throughout the process, you can improve engagement for everyone.
Create scenarios that each generation understands. If you use scenarios as an eLearning tool, you can craft stories that each generation would relate to. Baby Boomers tend to be more explorative of topics and ideas so they may respond well to stories that evoke emotion, whereas Gen Xers may want something more practical. Utilize each of their respective past experiences to build scenarios that are relatable.
Focus on technical and non-technical interactivity. Both generations are social, but the older generations tend to favor in-person interactions over technological ones but that doesn’t mean they would shun technology if it helps them get things done. Consider including various types of interactions that help them connect to each other as well as finish the course work.
Offer consistent support and feedback opportunities. Because of the technological differences from the older to the younger generations, Gen Xers and Boomers may need more support to help them learn and adapt to digital formats. They may also need a way to provide feedback throughout the process so they know that they’re being understood and not overlooked in favor of their younger counterparts.
Offer rewards and praise for engagement. Personalizing your reward system is another way you can help overcome the generational differences between both groups (and the Millennials). Offering praise to Boomers for their hard work may motivate them to engage further, while Gen Xers may want something more tangible, like a job title change or added responsibilities. If you’re able to survey your workers before you build your eLearning course, you may have a better idea which rewards will work best.
Keep timetables flexible. Boomers may be more likely to get things done in one or two sittings or even while they’re at the office. Gen Xers, like Millennials, may be more eager to embrace mobile or on-the-go learning opportunities. They will also favor the chance to work on their training courses at their own pace, in their own way. Having the option of doing coursework remotely, or via an app or Internet page, may help promote learning.
Use different learning styles. Boomers are linear while Gen Xers are module-oriented. While eLearning often tends to come in module form, there are many ways that you can tailor courses (or sections of your course) to be more linear. This can reduce anxieties for both generations who may otherwise become frustrated at the layout of the course or the progress they’re making.
Don’t skip technology. Again, just because Boomers and Gen Xers didn’t grow up with technology doesn’t mean they’re totally incapable of using it. While they may need a little support in some areas, it’s still smart to take advantage of technology wherever possible, whether it’s a web page, video or online forum.
While the differences between the different generations may feel impossible to work with, there are ways to overcome some of the biggest generational challenges. For one, it’s important to recognize that these differences exist, and that they matter when it comes to learning.
It’s also essential when designing an eLearning course that these differences are addressed through various degrees of personalization. Even if you have a course that you want to create for long-term use, adding personal touches like self-pacing, optional uses of technology, or even varying degrees of support can help.
By taking the time to customize your eLearning courses in these ways, you can help each generation ease into the process in their own way, which should convince them that eLearning is worth it (even if they do prefer books).