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How to Manage 4 Generations in the Classroom

Posted by Steve Flanagan on 9/30/19 8:00 AM
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Photo by: Rudy and Peter Skitterians via Pixabay

For the first time in recent history, employers are faced with having four generations in the workplace. This can create additional challenges for Learning and Development, as well as classroom instructors. While all generations prefer their learning is relevant, timely, participative, and beneficial to them, there are, however, differences in the instructional techniques and methods a classroom instructor uses to address the needs of each generation.


Let’s look at some of the more common characteristics of each generation and how we can meet their needs in classroom learning environments.


(Note: The dates for each generation can vary slightly depending on the source, geography, etc.)

Baby Boomers (1946 - 1964)

Baby boomers generally prefer the safety and familiarity of instructor-led training. Employees in their 50’s and 60’s are often with an organization for many years and pride themselves in their loyalty to the organization. When conveying the benefits of training, classroom instructors should describe how the training will help them be better employees or serve their customers better. This generation of employees has a wealth of experience to share. Instructors should provide opportunities for these learners to demonstrate their knowledge and experience.  


Generation X (1965 - 1976)

This generation tends to enjoy self-directed learning. They typically prefer independent learning on their own schedule. Gen X’ers prefer instructors to be a guide rather than a subject-matter expert. Instructors should allow opportunities for this generation of learners to make choices in their learning. For example, the choice of activities and flexible time schedules. Instructors should place a high emphasis on relevance and how training will benefit this group personally.


Millennials or Gen Y (1977 - 1995)

This generation tends to enjoy highly personalized learning. They might prefer to access on-demand learning, on-line learning, or experiential learning. In the classroom, Instructors should provide realistic and job-like exercises where the benefit of learning is personal to the learner. Instructors should be prepared to answer the question “why.” Millennials like to solve problems. Classroom activities should be designed so learners are presented with a situation, problem, or case study to work through and provide solutions.


Centennials or Gen Z (1996 - TBD)

Gen Z currently makes up 25% of the U.S. population and tends to prefer casual learning. Instructors need to recognize this and maintain a more casual, relaxed classroom atmosphere. This generation is known to process information very quickly and prefer a quicker pace for the delivery of information. Instructors should be aware this generation can multi-task effectively. Since they leverage technology to access information, instructors should allow the use of mobile devices to aid in learning where appropriate.


In order to be effective in the classroom, instructors must recognize that many learner groups are made up of more than one generation. In fact, up to four generations. Skilled instructors can deliver content to different generations using relevant examples at a pace that matches the learning preferences of the group. Four generations of learners in the classroom can certainly challenge today’s classroom instructors but knowing their characteristics and learning preferences will help ensure you can successfully meet their needs.


Have you experienced multiple generations in a recent training session? What did you do to address everyone’s needs?


Topics: generation gap

Written by Steve Flanagan

Steve has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education and dreamed of being a pro soccer player. Steve translated his love of soccer and physical performance to the corporate sector and became a trainer. He’s had the pleasure of training within the government, large corporations, and as an independent consultant. Outside of training, Steve’s two biggest passions are his family and guitars, which he collects and plays!

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