Playing the Gen Training Game

This was originally published in HR Florida Review’s Fall 2008 edition.  I thought I’d share it here as it contains some great tips for training multi-generational adult learners.  By focusing on needs, we can focus on behavior.  And changing behavior is what training is all about, right?Cute Baby Reading

You need to implement a training program to introduce a new system. Everybody has to get trained. This should be easy to do, right? After all, the training should be pretty straightforward.

But…it’s a typical Thursday at 8 a.m., the first day of training. You’ve got 30 people staring at you, waiting for the magic. There are four generations present and each one is thinking something different. “Oh no, I’m going to have to learn another system!” “I don’t need to learn anything!” “This is gonna be sooooooo boring!” “Dude; what a waste of my time!” Thank goodness for the Starbucks coffee and bagels you had the foresight to order for the day.

As prepared as you may be, if you don’t take into account the different generations sitting in front of you, your training will be doomed. Each of the four generations takes in information differently and processes it from a unique perspective. This means that if your training doesn’t speak to generational differences and needs, you might not get the ROI you’re expecting.

With four generations in the training game, how can you reach all of them at the same time with the same content? Aside from the different generations, people also learn in different ways. It’s critical that training be flexible and use diverse methodologies.

So, what can you do? Put the training into the Gens’ hands: the following training strategies will work well across all the generations.

Respect experience. Ask participants to share their past experiences. This is especially fun for the Matures and Boomers; they have a ton of knowledge they’re dying to share with their younger colleagues. Besides, they probably have some interesting stories to tell that will liven up the training!

Involve participants. Get the trainees involved by using experiential-type training. Use games and simulations to keep things interesting. All trainees, regardless of generation, will learn better and faster if they are actively involved.

Use coaches. Employ the “each one, teach one” concept by pairing participants with different generational partners. Each person will be accountable for ensuring that his or her partner is learning. It takes the stress off if there is someone available to support the learning on a more comfortable one-on-one basis.

Vary audiovisuals. Take advantage of the multitude of audio-visual tools and techniques available today. Enhance the training by using interactive computer-based simulations, multimedia case studies or synchronized slide presentations. Use pictures to help tell your training story. As the old saying goes, “a picture’s worth a thousand words” no matter what the generation.

Provide visibility. Let different people be spokespersons for small group work. Gen X and Gen Y may need the practice and many of them like to be up in front of the group. While public speaking may be #1 on the top ten things we hate the most list, it is an essential business skill. Understand that while some hate it, some do love it, so a little structured visibility can be a good thing for any Gen.

Give plenty of opportunity for discussion. Use discussion as a learning tool. Having participants talk about the subject matter and challenge one another provides for a great learning experience, especially for those who prefer an auditory learning style. Besides, knowing that the four generations will have four different perspectives on the subject, it will make for a fascinating conversation!

Try peer-to-peer training. Have the participants conduct the training instead of the trainer. Not only does it allow for creativity, but it helps participants “own” their learning, get prepared and improve their attention to the subject matter. Have a contest between groups with prizes. The more fun it is, the better people will learn no matter what the generation.

Utilize case studies. Try to find examples in your own organization that can be used to help participants apply the information being learned in a real-time situation. Case studies are particularly useful for helping younger trainees synthesize information – that is, take what they have learned in class and apply it to a problem that they may not have yet experienced in the workplace.

Deploy just-in-time training. Think about the learning needs of your multigenerational workplace and provide the training at the right place at the right time. Focus on what the trainee needs to know and let them have at it at their own place and time. Providing training in different media, such as internet- or computer-based, allows participants to learn at their own pace. Many companies are now utilizing internal television networks to provide just-in-time training. They can sign up for what they need, when they need it.

Allow opportunity for feedback. Receiving plenty of feedback is a must. While Matures may want to receive feedback in a particular time and place, Boomers are more apt to feel they are not getting enough. Gen Xers and Gen Y want to hear it immediately and honestly so they will know they are on the right track. Regardless of the generation, everyone wants to know how they are doing. Tell them and help them use that information to improve their knowledge or skill.

Use some of these strategies and you’ll be well on your way to playing the generational training game and realize a greater return on that training investment.

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