Does Generational Style Impact Learning?

While the field of HRD spends a good deal of time breaking down the components and concepts of learning, and building best practice curriculum, there is one area that is sometimes overlooked. This is the differences in learning that the generations bring.

The breakdown in generations by year of birth can vary. Generally the Traditionalists are from the World War era. They were born into the 1940s (most say the cut off is 1945). Think about this generation as defined by formality, serious times with war and depression, less technology in their prime, and so forth. When educating this older generation one must remember what learning was like in their day. Classrooms were more traditional and rigid. Technology was hardly existent, as least compared to today’s tools. The culture was generally more conservative. When educating a member of the Traditionalist generation, the educator should take on a more authoritative tone. This can be in terms of knowledge of the topic and tone set in the classroom. I think of when I worked in the long-term care field. The learning opportunities we had, from Chapel to Art Classes, were slow and even keeled and the instructors were more formal.

The next generation is the group that came to be as the post-war generation started to rear children. It’s a large generation. They are called the Baby Boomers. The Boomers became a generation that tried many new things. Generally they are individuals born in the mid-1940s up to the mid-1960s. Think about some of the music and new manufacturing and big business booms of this era. This generation was raised to respect authority but then broke away from authority and birthed the new and individualistic way of doing life. This spills over into methods of learning. Generally speaking, the Boomers are going to want to have something meaningful and in it for them in the classroom. They will want to see why the learning is important before they learn. They will expect interaction and stimulation. They may be OK with a little more traditional/authoritative approach than the younger generations just because while their generation broke away from tradition, they didn’t break all tradition.

The next generation is the group born in the later 1960s up to the very late 1970s. This generation is called Generation X. This group became known for a more rebellious and independent streak. This is a self sufficient group most of the time. Technology began to boom in their era. Think of alternative rock and PCs and video games. Think of a generation that was angered by broken homes, think of latch key kids and think of a generation that learned to challenge authority and make their own way. This group of self starters require to be challenged and given a chance to further themselves and their careers in the classroom. They will embrace technology, and be more willing than some other generations to do self study. They will be comfortable questioning the educator, and so the educator show be ready to respond to tough questions and to respect this generational learner.

The last generation is the group born around 1980 and after. This generation is called Generation Y. While they maintained a lot of the individualistic ways of Generation X, there was a greater movement in their time towards world causes, environmentalism, teamwork, open mindedness and a broadened view of personal identity. This group is more inclined to work to live and not live to work. They want feedback. They are used to social networking and connectivity everywhere – technology always has been part of their world. As such, they will embrace interactive and highly technological ways of learning. Groups and teamwork will be effective. Less formality is preferred. And, this groups tends to want a lot of positive affirmation and feedback along the way, so the teacher “coach” approach is preferred.

Now of course no broad stroke picture will apply to all. There are individuals that by no means fit their generational mold. However, the concept is that an educator who is going to be most effective will be aware of and cater to the learning styles of learners best they can. This will include incorporating a blended set of methodology to reach all generations.

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