How Not to Sabotage Your Training Program: Learning Experiences that Work Across Generations


Every time we visit my grandmother, who is an octogenarian, she hands me a newsletter she gets from a women's club in which she's been an active member since 1950-something. The newsletter is two sided, copied on canary yellow paper with dense text interrupted by clip art and the occasional hand-written edit to a typo.

Grandma shares this with us because the newsletter usually contains knock-knock jokes, which are much loved by my six year-old, or a casserole recipe that Granny thinks I ought to try. And while we sometimes remember to share the jokes with our son, the newsletter usually hits the recycling bin without ever being read. Why? Because the medium is too dated to be worth my time. 

Maybe you've felt this way about a website: the design and content seem very 1999, and you make the assumption that the product or service it represents is too.

In communication, modernity matters. This is especially true when what you're communicating is important: material you really need your workforce to be able to understand and apply. Fail to pay attention to the way your information is presented, and you can easily undermine the content.

Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) and the Millennials (1981-2000) have been raised in the era of personal computing. Credibility is established in part through strong visual design, customized content (think about the way Amazon knows what products to recommend), and logical and interactive structures. The following charts spell out what the younger workforce wants and needs in training programs:

Note that Generation X (who are in their early-30s to mid-40s) are tech driven but still using their laptops. Now look at Gen Y:

For Gen Y, you can skip the laptop: they're using their phone. And for a generation raised on texting, keep it short.

How do you design training and learning experiences that suit the fast-paced, customized preferences of these young leaders? Training Magazine offered interesting insights in an interview with learning experts from Aetna Insurance. They argued that learning styles are downardly compatible by one generation, but not upwardly compatible. In other words, design for Gen Y, and Gen X will follow along. But design for Gen X, and expect Gen Y to discredit it, much as I discredit my grandmother's newsletter.

We'd love to hear about your Gen X/Gen Y training strategies. Share them here, or tweet your thoughts to @ValuesDriven.

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Amber Johnson is the CVDL's corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist who confesses to being firmly in the Gen X camp. She writes about forgiveness, and other non-business topics, on her blog, www.weddedness.com


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