Supporting the learning needs of a multi-generational workforce

Supporting the learning needs of a multi-generational workforce

j0443464By Glyn Davies –

Organisations are increasingly aiming for best practice management that demands a consistent, well-documented approach to staff development, Glyn Davies says

Recent economic turmoil, changes to pension rules and the expectation of good health in later years mean that more people are having to – or choosing to – delay retirement. The result is that for the first time there are four distinct generational groups working together. Learning and development professionals now face the challenge of providing training to people aged from 17 to well into their 70s.1

This is happening against a backdrop of more staff working a variety of shift patterns in multiple locations – so it is no longer feasible to take large numbers of staff out of the workplace for classroom training in one place. In addition, organisations are increasingly aiming for best practice management that demands a consistent, well documented approach to staff development.  All these factors have driven the need for more flexible, innovative and cost efficient methods of learning.

Where best practice management fits into the learning mix

Organisations looking to develop a best practice management culture would do well to start with learning and development. It is one thing to train staff in best practice management principles, but quite another to apply those principles to the training process and it is remarkable that many organisations are not doing this.

It is key to take a consistent and quality driven approach to initiating the training process, directing its progress and assessing its outcome. The structured nature of E-Learning platforms would appear to tick all the Best Practice boxes, but course content such as PRINCE2®, MSP® and Management of Risk (M_o_R®), can be far more effective if supported with a blend of tutor support, or classroom and bite size mobile learning.  For some learners, e-Learning alone is sometimes not as effective.

However, across all generations, e-Learning content needs to be accessible and intuitive. It is a mistake to generalise too far – while some 60-somethings are not comfortable with new technology, others have spent half their working lives keeping up with it. Equally teenagers who are perceived as technology whizzes may need some handholding outside of the comfort zone of their usual mobile devices and social networks.

Taking a blended approach

The answer for many organisations is to blend learning, backstopping e-Learning with classroom training that can fill in any gaps in understanding. E-Learning may be delivered to PCs or mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets and may commonly include social learning too, with various social media-style tools, such as forums, contributing to group learning.

The youngest generation in the workplace lives very much in the virtual, social world as well as the real world and is likely to respond very well to social learning features such as forums. Equally, some learners across the older generations will respond well to this too, but some may not so it is important to factor in how to drive social learning for every generation, if it is to be key to the learning and development process.

In the era of mobile and social learning, learning and development staff must take a different approach to driving and incentivising training – gone are the days of a captive classroom-based cohort of learners. Older learners who responded well to classroom training – possibly the only kind of learning delivery they have ever known – may need more support with flexible, mobile, individual learning delivery. By contrast, some younger learners may have taken responsibility for their own career development and are asking L&D to provide (or pay for) e-Learning to get the qualifications they need.

Older generations may be decades away from doing exams and qualification and may benefit from someone setting the stakes as to the importance of the training for the individual and the organisation. At the other end of the spectrum, the younger generation, fresh from the education system, is less likely to question the need for testing and gaining qualifications.

Learners who experienced e-Learning some years ago may be resistant to repeating the experience. Their preconceptions arising from experiences with formulaic and text-based learning packages 10 or 20 years ago may need to be addressed. On the other hand, the youngest learners will have high expectations of top quality video and graphics and are familiar with accessing information in bite size chunks. E-Learning will need to be highly engaging for both groups.

Serious games

The latest e-Learning, even for serious and weighty Best Practice project and programme management qualifications, is increasingly benefiting from ‘gamification’. Games-based learning, using simulated tasks, can involve group games to break up the ‘chalk and talk’ of classroom learning. These so-called ‘serious games’ have an important part to play in making training more fun. Qualifications such as PRINCE2® may need 12 hours’ training over several days so it is vital to break this up into accessible chunks and gamifying some of the learning has a part to play.

Younger learners in particular might respond well to a virtual environment, for example, where animated virtual learners ask the questions they may wish to ask to a virtual trainer. Virtual Q&A sessions such as this, with engaging voices and stylish animation can be much more effective than the stilted real world equivalent or may be used to kick start real world discussion.

Generational differences are not the only ones of course – gender, cultural and educational differences might play a part in people’s learning styles along with simple human variation. Forward thinking learning and development professionals will take all this into account as they develop best practice to get the most out of a multi-generational workforce and improve overall organisational performance.


1 Office of National Statistics

PRINCE2®, MSP® and M_o_R® are registered trademarks of AXELOS Limited.


About the author

Glyn Davies BA (Hons) is product development manager with ILX Group. For more, information visit

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