Boomers and Millennials – Structure Vs. Flexibility

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Even if the difference in learning styles between boomers and millennials is often ignored by educators in schools and colleges, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in the world of business. Douglas Dell, in “Changing Times, Changing Education Strategies: Ways of Learning Have Changed, So Have the Students” (PropertyCasualty360, 10.31.11), says that by 2015 the millennials will overtake boomers as the majority in the workforce.

This shifting demographic has consequences for training programs. Dell says that “traditional” classroom methods that work with boomers “will not suffice for Millennials, who are eager to learn and are used to seeking knowledge on demand. They will not wait to be assigned to classes, as they are true proponents of real-time learning.” Learning programs must therefore have the following qualities:

  • Immediate – offering access to knowledge nuggets at the point of application.
  • Specific – targeted to needs and focused on practical application rather than theory.
  • Validated – with user ratings and feedback to establish the value of learning.
  • Multi-channel – providing content in multiple formats, accessible from multiple appliances.
  • Collaborative – offering the ability to supplement information with additional feedback and observations.

Boomers, says Dell, prefer more group structure. They “have grown up with education that includes scheduled events and classes, supplemental materials and quick tests as the means for assessing knowledge transfer.” Their preferred learning style is:

  • Structured – conducted through classroom or group settings, particularly for applications training.
  • Supplemented – with printed handouts and laminated cards, for example.
  • Repetitive – learning through layered and progressive delivery of information.
  • Reinforced – including feedback mechanisms and continued support outside the classroom.

Even when their training is conducted online, “tools Boomers may be familiar with are really just variations of courses they previously took in the classroom. Just-in-time learning and searchable knowledge databases are solutions they are only slowly embracing.”

This report about workers in the business sector has implications for education. The millennials, as teachers and leaders, are arriving on school and college campuses in record numbers, and in four years they will be the dominant force. They bring with them a different style of learning that is being shaped by personal communication devices such as smartphones, tablets, and netbooks. They’re fully geared to learn independently whenever they want and wherever they are. The idea of a one-size-fits-all, time- and place-bound, face-to-face training program in a classroom simply doesn’t make sense to them. They want the answers they need when they want it, regardless of location. And they have the technology that nurtures this preference.

With this learning orientation, we can expect millennials to approach teaching differently from boomers. They’ll be much more flexible in their approach to maximize the immediate, specific, validated, multi-channel, collaborative style that’s a better fit for the technology enhanced world of today. The message for teacher training institutions — as well as teachers — is obvious: teach to the strengths of the millennials, who will be in charge of our schools and colleges in the not too distant future.

5 Responses

  1. Although we are not as big in number as the Boomers or Millennials, us GenXers (born between 1965 and 1981) would like to be included in the discussion.

  2. Hi, Doe L. Dell doesn’t say much about Gen X. However, he does say that in the coming years, “Gen Xers will have a diminished spot in the working population. This shift in demographics may put pressure on organizations to focus development and promotion opportunities on Millennials at the expense of Gen X.”

    This is his opinion. I’d like to hear what other think.

  3. Jim – you have captured it succintly.There an ideological and philosophical change between the Boomers and Millennials.Most importantly the Boomers must hand over the mantel to the Millenials- we can easily exploit their liking of web 2.0 tools to achieve our learning goals

  4. […] Boomers and Millennials – Structure Vs. Flexibility […]

  5. Poor me..snarky Xer training Millennials. I fear JimS is right. But hey, we can take our lumps. Gen X got to the table just as the Boomers wound down their Countercultural bash. We were left with Ford Pintos and bad drugs.

    As for Millennials, their “flexibility” often means “I want to work when I want to work and where I want to work” without the requisite time-management skills because their parents did all their scheduling and were their staff (until college). I’ve had to dismiss more than a few of them from jobs for no-shows, lack of empathy, etc.

    Perhaps their Boomer parents coddled them and made them feel “oh so special?” Whatever the culprit, they’ll learn the hard way in a rough-and-tumble workplace after college.

    And speaking of…every demographic study of Millennials (staring with Howe & Strauss) tends to focus on the college-bound population. Isn’t that a bit skewed? Not all will..or even should…attend college. There’s some tough love from this Xer. Okies…back to cranking Nirvana.

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