Generational Instructional Design Strategies

In June 2014, Jane Ryan, a TrainingPros Relationship Manager serving the Dallas-Ft. Worth markets, sat down with Glen B. Earl, PhD., Organizational Development Specialist in the Office of Talent Management, Parkland Hospital and Healthcare System, Dallas, Texas. Dr. Earl is also the co-author of Exiting Oz: How the New Generation Workforce is Changing the Face of Business Forever & What Organizations Must Do to Survive Thrive.

Glen B. Earl, PhD.Dr. Earl responded to several questions that Ms. Ryan posed as they discussed how to flex instructional design to the various needs of generational learners. One of the biggest issues impeding effective learning and development professionals and organizations is the ability to engage a multigenerational workforce (Boomers to Millennials and in between) and achieve desired and necessary developmental learning outcomes. This article will focus on instructional design strategies to build a blended approach to learning that will address the unique needs of a multigenerational workforce.

In Volume 2 of TrainingPros Learning Perspectives article series, the topic of multigenerational learning (the What) discussed workforce demographics and learning styles. In Volume 9, this article and interview expands upon this information by looking at strategies for instructional design that can be implemented to reach generational and diverse workers’ learning needs in new ways (the How).

Ms. Ryan: How can organizations address learning and development needs of a mutigenerational workforce?

Dr. Earl: A truly blended approach has to be varied, balanced between touch and technology. Taking into consideration the different generational learning needs and preferences in all the learning programs.

Ms. Ryan: Do you believe a fresh look at Instructional Design for learning and development is needed to address a mutigenerational workforce?

Dr. Earl: Yes. Multigenerational workers have different views, needs, and values in life. Their preferences are so strongly imbedded that they won’t change—therefore organizations need to change and adapt. Adults get their worldview from adolescence. Emotions are stronger and do not dissipate.

Ms. Ryan: Is there a particular framework you use as it relates to multigenerational workers?

Dr. Earl: Yes. For example, Baby Boomers grew up with Traditionalist parents who forged through the great depression passing down the importance of money. Their core beliefs on how they view the world will never change. They need ID that provides intrinsic value to feel fulfilled on a personal level. Boomers are low technology and high touch.

Gen X prefers to be autonomous. Understanding these were the “latch key” generation who grew up becoming very independent due to a time when many households had both parents working – a change from traditionalists and many Boomers. They are self-reliant. ID cannot be designed to “tell them what to do” rather “tell them what they need to know and learn and provide the tools for them to do it on their own.” ID needs to be self-paced and self-directed. They are leery of authority because their generation experienced a world event watching their parents get laid off and many divorced making them skeptical of corporations producing a lack of trusting those companies.

Gen X prefers autonomy vs. authority; maverick vs. mandated; self-reliant vs. required. They only want training that is needed to do their job and it needs to be designed so that it is “self-paced and experiential.” Also, include computer-based training opportunities, as this is their preferred tool to learning. Gen X learners are low touch and low technology.

Gen Y (Millennials) enjoys group learning with high technology and high touch. They grew up in the age of technology and use of iPhones, iPad, smartphones, online games, etc. They need ID that is collaborative and continuous with milestones or “nuggets” where their efforts are rewarded for participating and contributing. Gen Y grew up in an environment where every child received an award if its team won or lost. Gen Y learners are high tech and high touch.

Focus on major learning styles i.e., aural, visual, and kinesthetic as well as measure and evaluate learning outcomes. It is important to consider and incorporate all learning styles when building instructional designs.

Learning Styles

  • Boomers – value learning that provides an environment where they have time to focus on what they think and feel about what is needed to achieve outcomes.
  • Gen X – value learning knowing what is required to achieve outcomes.
  • Gen Y – value learning in bite size segments with instant gratification when completed.

Measure and Evaluate

Well-designed assessments are a way to measure whether learning outcomes are being achieved and evaluating the progress being made. When designing assessments for a multigenerational workforce it is important to take into consideration and understand the individual’s learning style. For example consider Gen Y who appreciates positive feedback that in turn reinforces their learning. Assessments should reflect the desired learning outcomes of your instructional design and business objectives.

When evaluating progress of learners designing assessments that are continuous and provides guidance for improvement that can be applied as well as identifies what changes and modifications are needed to ID to effectively address the unique needs of the multigenerational workforce.

Ms. Ryan: What are your thoughts on building a blended multigenerational learning approach to meet individual needs without losing ROI of L&D budgets?

Dr. Earl: Here are some examples of ID that can be applied:

  • Baby Boomers learn through group dynamics and project teams.
  • Gen X learns through self-paced on the job training and learning through experiential experiences.
  • Gen Y learn by doing and immediate positive feedback. They enjoy collaborative teamwork and collectivist projects and events.

Using a community involvement project analogy of a homeless shelter: Boomers will discuss their approach and options building consensus and approach. They will build a case study based on societal influences and talk about what they like that stimulate their thinking. Gen X wants to know the logistics of the community project and desired outcomes and then determines their own approach. They may want to do one-on-one interviews with homeless and then build a plan to implement or not. Gen Y want to feel part of a team and enjoy feeling good about their contributions and experiences shared.

Ms. Ryan: What technology do you believe are a good investment for delivering instructional designed content to multigenerational workers?

Dr. Earl: Understanding your audience and their unique learning styles dictates use of technology. For example, Boomers need blended learning that is moderate – high touch and low tech and need time to discuss and ponder, contemplate requirements – they appreciate discussing and critiquing what was needed pre and post project. Gen X need blended learning that allows for their autonomy and self-direction – high tech and low touch and do not need recognition – they know they did or did not achieve what was needed. Gen Y need blended learning that is high tech and high touch and comes in short intervals with recognition.

Putting it All Together

As workforce demographics shift more rapidly, organizations will benefit from a more blended multigenerational approach to their learning and development programs to better address the unique differences and needs of their multigenerational workforce. Understanding the unique strengths of a multigenerational workforce is the first step. The following table provides ideas and approaches to consider when you are creating instructional design for a multigenerational workforce:

Creating Instructional Design for a Multigenerational Workforce:

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