Generational Differences in Making Training Stick

I’m often asked if there is any research on generational differences related to making training stick.  In other words, do certain transfer strategies and techniques “work better” with Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y?

There isn’t any research that I’m aware of (and I think I would be, if there were) that links training transfer strategies and techniques with different generations.  There is, however, some interesting research on generational differences that we can use as we consider ways to increase training transfer.  Keep in mind as you read below that we need to be careful to avoid over-generalizing, and a person’s birth year is only one of many characteristics that describe an individual.

Most of us are familiar with the characteristics of generational groups.  For interesting articles and background information on this, here are some helpful articles:

Baby Boomers and Making Training Stick.  In a study of European managers, researchers found that organizational commitment is significantly higher among older generations – Traditionalists and Baby Boomers (although there are not many Traditionalists that remain in the workforce these days).  Organizational commitment is one of the characteristics that training transfer research has linked with higher rates of transfer, and is in the Training Transfer Process model I propose in my book, Making Learning Stick.  This commitment to the organization suggests that Boomers are more inclined to want to transfer learning to their jobs, and we may just need to show them how to do it.

Another characteristic of Boomers is that they tend to prefer the structure of a formal classroom, whether face-to-face or virtual.  The most effective transfer strategies for this group are likely to involve completing and returning forms such as action plans, post-training assignments, and possibly pre-work.  (I have found that whether or not trainees do pre-work also has a lot to do with the organization’s culture).  While many Boomers are comfortable with computers and the internet, others are not.  Consider whether to use digital, hard copy, or both versions of the action plans, and pre-training and post-training assignments you use in training designs.

Value of Learning and Gen X/Gen Y.   In the study of European managers I mentioned earlier, researchers found that younger generations (late Gen X and Gen Y) tend to place a higher value on learning than older generations do.  This is indeed good news and may well be an indication that these younger learners are more self-motivated to participate in learning and perhaps also more self-motivated to apply it.  When we look at other research and information about generational differences, we see that while both Gen X and Gen Y tend to place a high value on learning (higher at least than their older cohorts), they tend to differ in the types of learning they prefer.  This is probably also true for the types of transfer strategies that surround the learning.

Generation Xers and Making Training Stick.  Gen Xers value personal interaction such as coaching and mentoring.  Training transfer strategies that capitalize on the trainee’s manager and post-training follow up with the instructor are likely to be most effective with this group.  While they may participate in e-learning to learn key concepts, you should see the best training transfer with pre- and post-training in-person and/or virtual discussions, coaching, mentoring, and other interactions with their manager, with peers, and with their instructor.

Generational Y and Making Training Stick.  As digital natives, members of this generation are most comfortable with virtual learning – formal and informal.  Transfer strategies that may be most effective with this group might include e-learning modules, follow-up websites, collaborative wikis, threaded discussions, and Twitter reinforcers and reminders, all that can be accessed as needed, just in time.

If you’re like me, the training you develop and conduct has participants from at least two of the generational groups.  I mentioned in an earlier Sticky Note the importance of using multiple transfer strategies rather than relying on one or two.  Keep these generational differences in mind as you develop many techniques and strategies for making the training that you do, stick.

Until next time….


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