I’m sure you’ve read it or saw it somewhere: There are X number of generations in the workplace and each one should be trained in a specific way. Just like learning styles, anything about generations is over-sensationalized and over-generalized.
Yes, employees need to constantly acquire new skills and knowledge to stay competitive. Yes, companies should invest resources in corporate training programs to ensure their workforce is up to date. Yes, enterprise technology changes rapidly and all employees need to be upskilled appropriately with those changes.
However, there is a prevailing myth that generations somehow play into how employees need to be trained.
The idea that older generations require a different approach to learning than their digital-native counterparts sounds logical and therefore has been promoted. Unfortunately common sense and what sounds logical is rarely that simple. Not only that but the call for training styles based on generations isn’t based on any studies or real science but rather thoughts.
But is there any truth to it? Are we so different based on when we were born? Or is this just another case of bogus generalizations that fail to recognize the unique qualities and learning abilities of individuals no matter who they are or when they were born?
I think for company IT training to be successful, you have to look at the myth of generational training and explore why catering training to different generations is likely just a waste of time.
The reality is that the content and workplace culture are likely to play a much more significant role in determining the most efficient training methods than broad assumptions about age groups. Rather than focusing on generational differences, it’s time to recognize that there are more similarities between generations than there are differences.
After all, people are unique and diverse, regardless of the generation they belong to. Some people in their 50s are more technically astute than some people in their 20s.
Let’s unravel the likely bogus strategies for training for generations. It’s always a good time to question generalizations that never cite any real source and embrace a more inclusive and effective approach to workplace training.
The Myth of Generational Differences in Learning
First of all, let me say that generational divisions in general are made up by the media and meaningless in general. Why do I say that? Because it’s kind of ludicrous to say that someone born in 1979 who is considered Generation X is so different than someone born in 1980 (or 1981 for some) who sometimes is considered a millennial.
Do they want different things from the workplace? Do they learn differently?
How do generalizations for generations sound to you now?
Now back to training and how generations play into it. When it comes to workplace training, there is a common misconception that different generations have distinct learning styles and preferences.
Yes, that word learning style came up and we all know that one has been debunked thousands of times through many different scientific studies.
This belief has led to the development of generational training programs that aim to cater to the specific needs of each age group. The unfortunate part is that there don’t seem to be any studies that show let alone prove these strategies work.
While there are some differences the younger you go in your audience, those differences are likely stable across generations. In other words, if millennials are less motivated to learn it’s not because they’re millennials, it’s because they’re younger. There’s likely a great difference even among millennials the younger you go.
Baby boomers were likely just us unmotivated to learn at 25 as millennials are unmotivated to learn at 25. So, it’s based on the age at the time of training more than what generation they belong to. And those numbers likely shift every day as people grow up.
Instead of focusing on generational differences, it’s more productive to recognize the unique qualities and learning abilities of individuals. Each person has their preferred way of learning and no generation generalizations can change that.
By surveying employees you will learn more about them than any generalization could ever tell you. Do they prefer instructor-led training more? Let surveys tell you this information. Don’t assume because your audience is baby boomers that instructor-led is their preference.
Organizations can create a more inclusive and effective learning environment if they know their audience rather than making assumptions based on arbitrary dates, characteristics, or anything else that doesn’t tell you much.
Questioning the Assumptions About Different Generations
One of the most common assumptions about different generations is that younger employees prefer short and interactive training sessions on the computer, while older employees prefer traditional classroom-style lectures. Or not that they simply prefer these methods but learn better from these methods.
There is no significant difference in learning abilities between generations or even preferences. That doesn’t mean there aren’t preferences in the organization, though. But it’s more likely to be organization-specific than generation-specific.
While it is true that some younger individuals may be more comfortable with some technology due to growing up in a digital era, this does not mean they learn better or faster than their older counterparts. It’s all about interest and caring about technology.
Just because someone knows how to use Instagram doesn’t make them an expert at computers and using company software. Sometimes experience is more important than what you grew up with. Workers who have been doing the work for longer with or without technology bring more expertise no matter what.
The oversimplification of generations fails to consider the diverse range of preferences within each generation.
While some younger employees may indeed prefer shorter and more interactive sessions due to their familiarity with technology, others may thrive in a traditional classroom setting where they can engage in deep discussions and ask questions. Similarly, some older employees may embrace new technologies and enjoy interactive training methods.
Rather than making assumptions based on age alone, organizations should conduct surveys or assessments to understand the specific needs and preferences of their employees. This data-driven approach ensures that training programs are tailored to individuals or at least a particular organization rather than relying on broad generalizations.
Understanding the Unique Qualities of Individuals
It’s essential to recognize that individuals within the same generation and across different generations more than likely have vastly different preferences for training. There may even be some alignment across them all.
For example, many surveys of employees we’ve seen from organizations say that employees prefer self-paced eLearning courses more than instructor-led training. This was in the medical field, though, where employees are extremely busy and it may just be a simple time constraint. Taking training on their own time is more convenient than having to step away for an hour.
Factors such as personality, prior knowledge, and motivation play a significant role in how individuals learn and absorb information. And that’s unique for everyone. By acknowledging these individual differences it will make training better. Sometimes focusing on the content and how is best to train it is best to focus on.
Because it’s nearly impossible to build all training to be completely custom in every way to every individual, we have to focus on what’s best for the content. All these decisions are part of what your analysis process should focus on. It’s all about performing a thorough analysis.
The Role of Content in Effective Training
While the decisions to create training based on generations often focus on the delivery method or format of training sessions, the content itself likely dictates how training should be developed more than anything else.
Regardless of age or generation, employees need relevant and meaningful content that applies to their roles and responsibilities no matter how it’s trained.
Here’s a good example of how content dictates the best method of training more than anything else:
When employees need to learn a new piece of software you wouldn’t determine that because the audience is 50+ years old that instructor-led is the best option. No, the content (practicing a new system) will dictate how it should be trained. The age of the audience shouldn’t come into consideration much at all.
The ideal solution? Let employees practice learning the software. That’s only easy to do with a realistic software simulation. There’s no better way to learn how to do something than by doing it.
A well-designed training program should align with the organization’s goals and provide practical skills that employees can immediately apply in their work. Focusing on performance and performance objectives is more important than focusing on imaginary lines like generations.
By focusing on the content and performance rather than assuming generational preferences, organizations can ensure that their training programs are valuable for all employees.
The Impact of Workplace Culture on Learning
In addition to content, workplace culture plays a significant role in shaping the effectiveness of training programs. A positive learning culture encourages continuous learning and provides opportunities for growth and development no matter what type of training it is.
Also, some organizations are more old-fashioned than others. They simply are in the tradition of offering instructor-led training only so that’s what employees expect. Breaking through that is a different challenge that can’t always be broken with new ways of training.
It’s up to leadership to make that change because sometimes they’re ultimately the ones who dictate what type of training is preferred.
Organizations should foster an environment where employees feel comfortable asking questions, seeking feedback, and experimenting with new ideas. By promoting a culture of learning, organizations can create an inclusive atmosphere where all employees are motivated to enhance their skills regardless of their age or generation.
Embracing an Inclusive Approach to Workplace Training
Training based on generations is just as ridiculous as training based on the place you were born. Instead of perpetuating a strategy for developing training based on arbitrary things, organizations should adopt an inclusive approach to workplace training.
This means recognizing and valuing the unique qualities and learning abilities of individuals, regardless of their age, generation, race, gender, or location of birth (I’m joking about the location). By getting to know your audience and their preferences based on real information you’ll be better positioned to create effective training.
Your needs analysis should be a great place to start to be inclusive and tell you the necessary information about the audience, the problems they’re experiencing, and what the best option for training is.
Relevance is king for training and using the best method for relevant content will be much more inclusive and helpful than arbitrary generational lines. It’s a balancing act when creating training content that’s the most helpful and just like learning styles, generations are an unhelpful distraction that will take you further from good training, not closer.
This inclusive approach not only enhances the effectiveness of training but also promotes a culture of continuous learning and growth within the organization.
Moving Beyond Generational Training
The myths and generalities of training based on generations aren’t helpful. It’s time to move beyond generations as a means of segregating an audience and training and embrace a more holistic approach to workplace learning.
By focusing on performance and relevance you can focus on individual needs, preferences, and content to create training programs that are truly effective for all employees. It doesn’t matter how many generations there are in the workplace or what their names are, they won’t help you create better training that benefits your audience.
Knowing your audience and the content is the only thing that will help you create better training, both technical and non-technical. It’s time to let go of the unfounded beliefs about generational differences (even if your experience says it’s right) in learning and instead invest in creating a culture that values continuous improvement and professional development.
Here are some of the strategies that will help you create better training and move beyond generational training:
- Conduct a thorough needs analysis to identify specific skill gaps and learning objectives.
- If eLearning isn’t the standard in your organization, implement blended learning approaches that combine different training methods such as eLearning, instructor-led sessions, and other ways to support performance in the flow of work.
- Provide opportunities for continuous learning and professional development through custom company-specific online courses, workshops, mentorship programs, and online learning marketplaces such as Udemy and LinkedIn Learning.
- Encourage peer-to-peer learning and knowledge sharing within the organization through an enterprise social media network or whatever works for your organization.
- Incorporate gamification elements when it makes sense to increase engagement and motivation while making content clearer and simpler.
- Use real-life scenarios and case studies to make the training content more relatable and practical.
- Allow employees to learn at their own place and work with their manager to set personal goals.
By doing these things, organizations can empower employees to thrive in a fast-paced business landscape that fosters a culture of continuous improvement.
Creating training based on different generations in an organization is a great way to waste your time and not provide any meaningful benefits in training. While there may be some variations in technology adoption or familiarity among different people, these differences do not significantly impact an individual’s ability to learn.
And no generation generality ever means that anybody from that group can easily learn company technology. Even the youngest generations aren’t guaranteed to have an easy time with company software because sometimes it can be extremely complex and convoluted. Only training, no matter the generation, can help employees perform better.
To create effective workplace training programs, organizations should focus on understanding the unique qualities and preferences of individuals rather than making broad assumptions based on age or generation.
By embracing an inclusive approach that values diversity and recognizes individual strengths, organizations can foster a culture of continuous learning that benefits all employees. We promise to never create training based on generations. Do you?
If you’d like to discuss your next project, schedule a free consultation and we can discuss how our performance-focused strategy will help your employees perform their job better. We will get to know your project and your audience to design the best digital training solution for you.