Principles of Adult Learning

Modern workforces can run across a number of generations, which may create some interesting challenges when designing and implementing a training program on your LMS.  The CEO of a company, however, doesn’t need to get a tattoo scrawled on her or his arm to understand the generational differences.   There is nothing more embarrassing than a Baby Boomer trying to be relevant to a Millennial through language and look.

Here are the generational styles of working in a nutshell to help you out.  They come from an HR company working with Princeton University in the U.S.  Below are their observations about work styles across the generations:

  • Veterans (Born 1930-‘45) Prefer detailed direction and guidance
  • Baby Boomers (Born 1946-‘64) Work best in teams and ask for guidance
  • Gen Xers (Born 1965-’76) Independent and work best alone
  • Gen Yers (Born 1977-1990) Respond well to workplace structure and coaching
  • Millenials (Born 1991 and after) Digital natives who rely on social networking

More important than the work styles may be how each generation communicates.  According to Carebridge, veterans prefer formal styles of communication like memos; email and instant messaging works with Boomers;  while Gen Xers, Yers, and Millenials appreciate texting and social networking.  In terms of feedback the younger workers like immediate feedback to know if they are tracking with organisational goals, while Boomers want the pay rises and promotions.  Veterans reportedly work according to the “no news is good news” credo.

Of course, all these are convenient labels. Not everyone can be shoehorned into a convenient category but these generalisations do have a lot to do to adaptive behaviour to changing technology.

However there are some guiding principles when dealing with adult learners that have achieved currency among L&D managers and researchers and they should be kept in mind when dealing with any age group.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed so a course should have clear goals and assessments.
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to the learning table so they may have to be nudged toward new learning experiences and outcomes.
  • Adults are goal and relevancy oriented. Any learning materials should reflect field work examples and goals through real case studies.
  • Adult learners want to be respected so feedback should be encouraged constantly.

The truth is many of these adult learning principles run across generations.  Who doesn’t like immediate feedback and respect?  And why can’t a Millennial appreciate a case study approach to learning?   Not everyone learns by playing the Game of Thrones, although adults can appreciate it much as their younger peers.