Monday, March 03, 2008

Multi-Generational Learning And Development of Learning Communities...

One of the issues addressing adult educators is how to develop educational opportunities for learners from multiple generations and create learning communities that support the success of learners regardless of what generation they belong to. This is particularly true when looking at e-learning and other non face-to-face learning opportunities as we are less likely to identify the generations of our learners based on their appearance. It also adds the complexity of dealing with digital natives and digital immigrants.

The Aetna insurance company has done some interesting stuff in this area. They identified the following groups to whom they were providing training:
  • Silent Generation, ages 62-77
  • Baby Boomers, ages 52-61
  • Late Baby Boomers, ages 43-51
  • Generation X, ages 31-42
  • Generation Y, ages 18-30
Aetna found each of these groups had unique cultural and learning preferences that came from their individual experiences acquired during their formative learning periods. Aetna began developing training more closely aligned to the learning styles of each group.

Here are some of the more interesting things that Aetna discovered while developing their age-group specific training (taken from the article):
  • Baby Boomers and Late Baby Boomers like linear courses in which information is covered in a very logical, progressive manner. They struggle with simulations. They also accept objectives. If you tell them upfront what the course objectives are and what the training will cover, they are apt to accept what you say.
  • Generation X learners appreciate new technology and expect a certain amount of interactivity. Like Boomers, they prefer linear content, but they also want to be able to "test out" of courses when they reach a point where their level of knowledge is sufficient. Those in this generation also want choices, such as being able to turn audio and closed-captioned text in a course on or off. They want you to teach them what they need to know and apply all the time. If there is something that they won’t likely apply for another six months, they prefer not to receive training on it. They'd rather receive a performance support tool or job aid to which they can refer later.
  • Those in Generation Y like to freeform it. The first thing they like to do in a course is take a test and figure out what they don't know. Then, they want to be able to go back in and learn what they don't. They also want to navigate through parts of a presentation in the order they prefer. Then, they want to have the option of researching references at their discretion.
This information has implications for us as adult educators - we have to get to know our learners, particularly in a blended or distance learning opportunity in order to develop educational resources that will assist learners regardless of their generation.

Here is what Aetna did:
  • For Generations X and Y, more of their e-learning now incorporates games and simulations. Content search and research capabilities were also added to a number of courses.
  • To meet Generation X's preference for learning takeaways, Aetna began building more performance support tools for those tasks that learners don't perform often. Because this group likes choice, Aetna also added an audio on/off and closed-captioning option to many of their courses.
  • For Generation X and Y learners, Aetna changed the way in which they write course objectives. If you put objectives at the beginning of an e-learning program, Baby Boomers will read and accept them. Generation Xers and Yers won't. So Aetna began telling a story instead. The story usually explains why the training is necessary (e.g., Here's a situation and here is the outcome that will occur if the situation is not handled properly.)
  • For Generation Y learners, Aetna adopted The Thiagi Group's Four-Door approach to e-learning, in which learners choose their best learning style and can shift from one to another to meet their needs. This approach, which consists of the Library (performance support and reference materials for self-study), the Playground (learning through gaming), the CafĂ© (learning through social interaction) and the Torture Chamber (the opportunity to test one's skills or knowledge through simulation) is having a tremendous impact on our Generation Y learners. (Taken from the article)
There is much to be gleaned from Aetna's experiences and applied to adult learning opportunities and the development of multi-generational learning communities, particularly as we move towards more and more mobile learning...

Another really good post on this subject is Natalie Laderas-Kilkenny's blog "Design For Learning"and her post on Generational Learning Styles and Methods. The continuum that she includes in her post clearly identifies various learning generations and what learning styles and methods work with each of them...


Natalie said...

Thanks for referencing my page. Also, thank you for posting this useful information from Aetna. Good Stuff! I so agree with this statement: "So Aetna began telling a story instead. The story usually explains why the training is necessary (e.g., Here's a situation and here is the outcome that will occur if the situation is not handled properly.)"

Being an instructional designer, I'm trained to look for the objectives in a course, but I realize that not everyone will reference these objectives back and forth.

Ian H. MacLeod said...

You are welcome Natalie - you have some amazing stuff and present it so well. Must be that ID background - I have amazing respect for instructional designers - you have such an amazing way of getting a point across so that multiple learning styles can get it.