Blue Beyond Consulting

Generational Learning Differences: Myth or Truth?

As the millennial generation has poured into the workplace, it’s become a hot topic among company and HR leaders alike about how to motivate, engage, develop, and retain the different generations in the workforce. But is the difference real or perceived?

Exploring Generational Learning Differences

I was recently asked to present on a webinar panel that aimed to explore generational differences in learning, and how companies need to adapt (or not) their formal learning approaches.

What surfaced was that while there may be some truth to differences in generational approaches to learning, the differences are driven more by societal trends that can, and often do, affect and influence everyone in the workforce.

Take technology for example. Sure, millennials grew up in the era of the Internet, and generally are quite comfortable using technology to help them learn. But many Gen Xers and Boomers are equally (and sometimes more) tech savvy and have quickly jumped onboard with the latest and greatest gadgets, apps, and media.

Likewise, the shift from hierarchical, top-down organizational structures and management styles to flatter, matrixed and more collaborative approaches has impacted people’s expectations about how they learn and who they can learn from. “Education” is no longer viewed as teachers lecturing from the front of classrooms – it happens in global project teams, through social media forums, from online videos, inside virtual classrooms, through peer and leader mentors.

4 Generations: How to Make Learning Part of Your Brand

3 Ways to Foster a Learning Culture in The Multi-Generational Workplace

Companies who want to nurture a culture of learning and incentivize continuous growth and development should consider the following:

  1. Create time and space for learning – day-to-day “fire fighting” makes learning at work a challenge. Companies that consistently rank on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies list – like Google, Quicken Loans, and World Wide Technology – have programs, policies and incentives in place to support continuous learning. Consider how your company can encourage (or even require) employees to regularly take time to watch a quick video, read an article, participate in a course, spend time on a new project outside their day job, or reflect on what was learned from a recent endeavor.
  2. Personalize learning – as noted above, each learner will have different preferences and learning styles. To the extent possible, offer up a “menu” of options to allow learners to master new content, skills, tools or challenges in ways that work best for them. My fellow panelist, Judy Dutton, who heads up Global Talent and Organization Development, speaks to how eBay is doing this with their approach to learning.
  3. Learner driven, manager supported – people learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. Moreover, research by the NeuroLeadership Institute confirms that people are more likely to retain what they learn and change behaviors when they have an “aha!” moment from doing it themselves rather than learning from being told by someone else. The role of the manager should not be to direct, tell and evaluate, but to provide guidance, ask good questions and give coaching along the way.

Learning is no longer “one-size-fits-all.” We all have – regardless of our generation – our own personal learning styles and preferences. There are millennials (myself included) who prefer to learn face-to-face and Boomers who love to watch “how-tos” on YouTube. We now just have a lot more choice about how we can learn.

If you are interested in hearing more on this topic, check out the replay of the webinar: 4 Generations: How to Make Learning Part of Your Brand.

Check out our favorite Ted Talks about learning.