Can't Learn, or Won't Learn?

The computer has affected the way different generations work, as well as the way they prefer to learn. We are in a stretch of years right now where it is very possible for fleets (or any businesses) to have four different generations in the workplace at the same time:

  • Veterans (born 1925-1944)
  • Baby Boomers (born 1945-1963)
  • Generation X (born 1964-1982)
  • Generation Y (born 1983-present)

    Looking at the way these generations work goes a long way toward trying to figure out how they learn. The fleet workplace is challenging enough with new technology-both on-vehicle and in the offices-without learning barriers getting in the way. While it is unfair to tag entire generations with certain characteristics, some trends have emerged.

    Those in the Veterans generation, and many early Boomers, tend to like clear, simple directions. "Just give me my assignments with the tools and information to do them, and they'll get done," is the prevailing feeling among this group. They can't understand Baby Boomer supervisors who keep them bogged down in process and administrative tasks.

    The Baby Boomers tend to be more into ego-stroking on the job than their older counterparts. Boomers have a greater sense of accomplishment, and like to be recognized for their achievements, even in non-monetary ways. Many boomer managers have difficulties with what they perceive as Generation Xers' "casual" attitudes toward their work. "Don't you have any pride or sense of urgency?" is the prevailing feeling toward their younger employees.

    What some researchers are finding, however, is that Gen-Xers are more adaptable than we think. They grew up in an era of unprecedented growth and change, whereas stability largely ruled the era when Boomers grew up. Researchers cite incidences where many Gen-Xers are moving into positions of power, and appear much more willing to be flexible and adapt to their roles than the Boomers were in the same positions.

    Those in Generation Y (also known as Generation Next or the Dot-Com Generation) are just entering the workforce and not much data has been collected. Certainly, a group that essentially has never known a world without personal computers is going to have challenges with the social interactions of the workplace. Because this includes the next wave of people entering the fleet maintenance workforce, we'll have to watch it very closely.

    That is a quick summary of how the different generations tend to act and react in the workplace. The next step is to look at how this relates to employee learning and training.

    As you might expect, most Veterans respond well to lecture-based classroom training, and are very respectful of opinions and ideas presented by experts and instructors. They like their course information to be well organized and to-the-point. They are open to hands-on training, as long as directions are clear and concise. Veterans are in the "tell me" category when it comes to training.

    Baby Boomers respond well to various types of training. They like media in their training, but some on the older end of the group may be threatened by computer-based training that involves them in complex scenarios where no clear path is specified. As they grew up with slide shows and VHS tapes, Boomers are very much into "show me" training. Even in the classroom, however, they like their training to be interactive as long as it does not involve complex role-playing.

    By contrast, Gen-Xers can't get enough role-playing and scenarios in their classroom training, and prefer a higher level of interactivity in their computer-or-Web-based training. They are the "let me try it" kind.

    The most difficult group for fleet operators, trainers and training developers is Generation Y. The latest data shows teenage Gen-Nexters are increasingly finding it difficult to learn in a typical high school environment. Often mistaken for apathy, there are newer studies showing that this group simply can't learn when approached with old methods. They are used to getting information in small bites, often coming at them rapidly in a music video, computer game or video game. Traditional training actually forces them to learn too slowly. This group will be unresponsive to lectures that simply walk them through a book and/or PowerPoint slides. They want and need simulations and puzzles.

    Again, not all people in these generational groups fit the mold. But the need for training techniques to evolve with the trends the Generation Nexters are showing is apparent.

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