My Generation: My Learning?

by Vince Cyboran

Generations at workMuch ado has been made about the differences among generations:  Veterans, Boomer’s, Gen X, and Gen Y (Millenials). Certainly, a cottage industry has grown around capitalizing on what to do with these generations in the workplace, including how to address their training needs. While some authors focus on how to cater to the learning needs across the generations (Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2013), most focus exclusively on Gen X and Millenials. For example, when training Millenials, Werth and Werth (2011) recommend including multimedia elements, and Carstens and Beck (2005) recommend that the trainer include the use of games.

Finding empirical evidence to support generation-specific recommendations for training different generations is made more problematic by the lack of specificity in how the topic is approached. For example, a recent forum on LinkedIn posed the question: “Do you find Millennial Learners Are Not Traditional Learners?” One might ask, “What is a traditional learner?” Further, one might ask: “What exactly are you asking?” Such topics-because of their non-specificity–invite diffuse discussions.

While it is true that the different generations have been introduced to various technologies at different points in their lives, there is no solid, empirical evidence that the act of learning itself differs by generation. In our effort to provide learners and organizations with the best and newest techniques, we sometimes get distracted by bright, shiny objects: micro-learning, gamification, etc.  We suffer from what the late educational theorist Paolo Freire described as the ‘fetish of method’ (Bartolomé, 1994). That is, if we can use the right method in our training, all will be well.

Questions to consider:

  • What challenges have you experienced with cross-generational learning at work?
  • What advice do you have for designing or delivering cross-generational training at work?


  •  Bartolomé, L. (1994). Beyond the methods fetish: Toward a humanizing pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 64(2), 173-195.
  •  Carstens, A., & Beck, J. (2005). Get ready for the gamer generation. TechTrends, 49(3), 21-25.
  •  Werth, E. & Werth, L. (2011). Effective training for millennial students. Adult Learning, 22(3), 12-19.
  •  Zemke, R., Raines, C., & Filipczak, B. (2013). Generations at work: Managing the clash of boomers, gen xers, and gen yers in the workplace (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: AMACOM.


  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    Some of the challenges I’ve seen when training cross generations is keeping them engaged during content delivery and learning activities. I think conducting a learner needs analysis in this situation serves as best practice before designing a training. If our trainings are to be learner centric, then as designers/facilitators we need to take into account their needs for content/activity engagement for optimal learning transfer.

  • I believe there is a difference in the learning styles between generations. I am a from Gen X, but most of my class is from Gen Y (Millennials). What I learned in school is different from what they learned. I feel like our focus is different and how we interpret the material can also differ. The Millennials seem to want to be catered to and have more stuff provided to them, rather than work for understanding.

  • I work with various ages within my current work place and have definitely seen the younger population lose interest quickly with traditional, lecture style training environments. I also, have noticed sometimes they are more prone to not participate in discussions as much, and become frustrated when too many questions are asked. I think for cross-generational training to be successful modern technology has to be involved and interaction has to be forced via activities such as small groups and roleplaying.
    Nice post.

  • In my opinion, this question is more about effective design, regardless of generation. I have designed learning programs intended for large populations of cross-generational learners and in my opinion, good design is good design is good design. I think all learners appreciate a mix of instruction, activity, reflection, assessment, application and breaks–no matter the subject or age group. I think instructional designers need to focus on solid instructional design first and foremost, while taking into account the skill level and varying backgrounds of their audience in order to tweak the design, as needed.

  • I agree with the general point of this article: Although there appears to be a difference in generational workers, there is no true evidence to support this. I hire people at my workplace and look at all workers the same. In the end, it is up to leadership to make your associates want to stay where they work and engage, challenge and motivate them to get them most out of them.

  • Interesting post. My company works to use various methods of training to reach the different generations. In fact, we do a training on how the different generations prefer to be communicated with at work. It is always very well received. As trainers, we try to mix up the methods used in classroom to hit keep everyone focused. For example, we will do discussions, games and prezi for a session. By offering variety, we are usually able to keep their attention and make the learning interactive. Regardless of the age, the learners want to know the “what’s in it for me” that they will take back to their offices.

  • As a facilitator of learning for a multi-generational work force, I encounter this discussion often in class. It seems that more experienced leaders and workers have a lower opinion of the millennial workforce than of people from their generation. In the same light, it seems that millennial workers (Gen Y) doesn’t think very highly of the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers lament the work ethic of the newer generation, and the Generation Y folks think the Boomers are antiquated in their approach to getting the work done. Finally, add to the mix Generation X, who seem to act as the interpreters between the two largest generations (Boomers and Y). The discussion never ends and I’m not sure there is an answer because it is all based on personal perspective. From my perspective, I think they are both right. At the end of the day, I’m not sure how much it matters. We have work to do and we must figure out how to work together to get the job done. Part of the answer is the conversation, and ensuring that teams and generations are communicating. Remember, the conversation is the relationship. Understanding generally comes from communication and an openness to learn.
    Thank you for the thought-provoking blog post.

  • I think like with everything, it is a balancing act. While as an ID I appreciate the frameworks that help me put my audience into buckets, it’s very easy to star working off of too may assumptions, chasing the next “bright, shiny object” – be it bite-sized learning, or gamification – all advertised to solve the conundrum of training millennials and keeping them engaged. I think good old needs analysis done well will address a lot of generation driven learning needs/wants, and most of us are probably doing it without realizing it.

  • Differences between the generations certainly exist, however I tend to agree that if you have a well thought out learning approach and design, it will cater to the masses. It might not be everyone’s preferred method of learning, but does that really have a direct parallel to the generation to which one belongs?

    As far as advice goes, I would say that a blended learning approach that brings in elements of online and in person training, coached and self guided, as well as learning that is visually appealing and ‘bite-sized’ is the beginning of a recipe for success.

  • This is very interesting to think about. I work with Gen Y all the time. I would say my observation is that you must be direct and to the point. The attention span does not seem to be there so I try to be as direct as possible. Cell phones and Lap tops are to blame!

  • Interesting topic to be discussed because I think as a trainer I didn’t consider how to approach the different generation of learners. I just simply figured to utilize a training method or skill that either type of learner could learn. Those are some great questions that I need to consider the next time I am conducting a training session.

  • Great blog, I am a baby boomer surrounded by Gen X and Gen Y. My company does not have certain training methodologies for different generations, everyone is expected to learn at the same pace using the same technology that is currently available.I have not experienced any learning difficulties with the existing training.

  • Great topic of conversation. I haven’t had much experience with cross-generational work as it relation to knowledge transfer and learning. What I have found over time is that no matter the age or era that one enters the workforce, there should always be opportunities to collaborate. Implementing new technologies and process develop should include the spectrum of people within the organization. This helps for a more streamline learning process as those individuals who work in similar ways can connect to exchange information. It also create a more inclusive culture that embraces the multitude of talent that may not always adhere to modern or traditional applications of learning.

  • What challenges have you experienced with cross-generational learning at work? I am glad that you are visiting this subject there is a lot of efforts in my company to single out the employees by generation especially paying close attention to the Millennials. They have even created a business resource group specific to them but say that all are invited. At work this came up from a work perspective when I have to introduce a company that wanted to offer us a new way of teaching this specific group of people with the concept of “gaming learning”. They feel that this would keep their attention and interest during learning since they are so in tune to apps such as Angry Bird and Candy Crush (at the time). You raised an important question above do we have to establish new teaching methods now specific to generations and if so where is the proof? This company had statistics and I argued against all of them not being in the targeted generation I was able to make a good case. What advice do you have for designing or delivering cross-generational training at work? I think that training can be tweaked based upon the individuals attending the class learning needs. Perhaps you can incorporate a little bit of everything and see if all “generations in the class” remain engaged or feel singled out. I think that in some cases the latter of the two would occur. Thanks for presenting this topic. Excellent topic.

  • Thank you for writing this. I currently am a trainer at a SaaS company, and I do see great differences in learners from older generations and learners that are younger. The older generation learners are expecting us to send them a CD and a user guide, the younger generation is completely comfortable signing into a cloud-based application and using self-paced resources to teach themselves how to use the application. I think for me it has been important on our training kickoff call to ask open-ended questions and find out a little more about the learner, and that helps me tailor the training plan to their unique needs.

    Patty Costley

  • I have yet to encounter a cross generational learning environment in which I was the leader. This article definitely started my preparation towards that though.

  • I have been struggling with a tension between between boomers and millenials quite a bit. The tension is borne of boomers feeling as though they have “done their time” and thus should have earned respect for the work they have accomplished over time and not feeling as though the millenials they work with respect their years of service and expertise. And millenials bring a frustration that new ways of tacking a task or topic are not seen as valid because they have not stood the test of time. I work hard to bring an asset approach to group brainstorm discussions and program planning work to create conversations and reactions that encourage all folks to see the value of both lessons learned over time and new ideas and technology. It’s a consistent challenge.

  • I am Gen Y all day. I learn that when I mentor my youth this article is wonderful at learning how to deal with that generational divide.

  • This is such a hot topic right now in training. Our L&D department has been focusing a considerable amount of time working to train us on this topic. My only caution when working with and training people on this is not to assume. By my birth year I’m a Millennial, but I was raised by parents who were Baby Boomers and I relate more to Gen X then I do my generation.

    As a sales training team we have put a lot of emphasis on using technology in our training. We have a mix of Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials and it has been a struggle to make training to reach everyone. We are getting closer everyday to breaking through to the masses though.

    We discuss using short training videos all of the time, it is something we need to embark on though.

  • My experience with cross-generational learning has been a mix of style types and various learning strategies. The Traditionalist and the Baby Boomers have a great deal of respect for authority and company policies. They also prefer instructor-led courses and the use of hand-outs in a classroom. In the classroom setting it’s also important they walk away feeling positive about change, and learning something new that has benefit and reward.

    Generation X & Y are go-getters. They prefer to do things on their own with little guidance. They focus more on the outcome and not much on “how the outcome came to be”. The style of leaning is mixed with educational fun. Being entertained with the learning process is engaging to generation X & Y. They are also technology driven and enjoy keeping up with new gadgets.

    My designed of training is also mixed so everyone has choices based on their time and preference. We have instructor-led courses for those who want to see it all unfold before their eyes. We have elearning for those with busy schedule and wanting to learn on their own time. We also have YouTube 2-minute videos on “how to perform a certain task” for those on the fly learners.

    It’s of course imperative we keep up with technology, we need to first embrace it and then incorporate “every” new change into our design and delivery of training.

    Generation Types: Generation Style / Training and Learning Strategies

    The Traditionalist

    Respect for authority, loyal, separation of work and home, Practical and Patient.
    Prefer learning in the morning, lecture style, link learning to organizational goals and dislike being called on.

    Baby Boomers

    Appreciation of process, team work and collaboration, struggle with work/life balance strong work ethic and goal is to put their stamp on things.
    Instructor-led, interactive group learning, need time to practice skill, like books, hand-outs, link learning to new ways to add value.

    Generation X

    Appreciation of results and outcome, like to solve their own problems, multi-taskers, value diversity, goal is maintaining independence.
    Focus on outcomes versus techniques, problem solving, control over own learning, go with key points, link learning to their marketability.

    Generation Y

    Digital native, menu driven thinking, work on their own terms, positive expectations, looking for a cause, celebrate diversity, looking for an experience, acknowledgment for being here.
    Education and entertainment – both fun and learning, teamwork and technology, like discovery and mystery of unanswered questions, link learning to making a future (making a difference and making money).

    How have you incorporated new technology to accommodate cross generations?
    Would you consider developing short videos as a learning tool.?

    Denise Brown-Fletcher
    Training & Development Master Program

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