How Do Your Employees Learn?

Different generations have different learning styles

By David Cox, SPHR, SHRM-SCP | December 01, 2016

One of the most common characteristics among successful small businesses is employers who make employee training and development a priority. Unfortunately, spending time and money on employee training programs does not guarantee that employees in a multi-generational workplace will learn and give employers a true return on their training investment.

How do generational differences impact employee learning, and what methods of delivery to accommodate learners of all ages? Aero Jet Medical Chief Operating Officer Ronny Wilson offers the following answers.

“Trainers should take generational differences into account—and leverage them—to improve the learning experience, says Wilson. “The generations are certainly different in how they learn,” he says.

Generally, Baby Boomers “tend to need immediate contact with the content and the instructor”—often through lectures and examples that relate to their own personal experiences.

Meanwhile, Generation Xers often are comfortable with technology and prefer to be independent, quick learners, Wilson says.

Millennials, on the other hand, tend to fully embrace technology, prefer working in team environments, and seek instant feedback. “They like instant gratification and reinforcement of their efforts.”

Just as trainers must design training to accommodate different learning styles, they also should make a deliberate effort to recognize the personal biases and strengths that each generation brings to training. For example, the format used—and the pace set—will impact how people learn and retain information.

“You can make a difference in how you present the content,” Wilson says. “It’s important to build a program from the outset that attracts the issue of generational diversity, because people require different inputs to acquire information and then be able to turn around and apply the information.”

The consequences of not addressing generational diversity in training are “wasted time, money and individuals not retaining official information to get the job done,” Wilson says. In addition, leveraging generational differences by incorporating a variety of perspectives can help make training more effective.

Each employee brings a unique perspective to training—a perspective based not only on age but also on other demographic characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, and where they have lived. When employers invest in training that considers the individual differences of employees, you help all participants see information in a new light.