There is quite a number of challenges that today’s businesses have to face, one of the greatest being tackling the great diversity of their workforce – whether this is determined by geography, ideology, or age.

In a constantly evolving corporate environment, veteran employees find themselves working in teams lead by their significant juniors. It’s the new way of the corporate ladder, climbed faster by talent and skill than by extended loyalty.


Read more: How to facilitate knowledge transfer between generations


In these unprecedented circumstances, instructional designers have to come up with learning materials that, if not altogether fit for all, have at least something appealing for every type of learner.

Setting knowledge profiles for different generations of employees

Knowing this diverse audience is key to creating successful training modules. That’s why instructional designers need to have a good grasp of people’s knowledge profiles as the first step in the learning content design process.

Baby Boomers

Even if Baby Boomers are now retiring in great numbers, they still make a significant chunk of the present-day workforce. Born rather shortly after WWII ended, they are a product of economical growth. A highly competitive crowd, Baby Boomers were the ones who coined the term workaholic, assigning a positive connotation to it. They are used to work hard and put in extra hours to achieve success.

When it comes to creating learning content tailored for this demographic, here’s what’s essential to consider:

  • They value the effort that leads to success (they approach learning like they approach work), not easy paths or shortcuts.
  • Activities need to be practical rather than theoretical.
  • Having to complete tasks as a team will increase engagement.
  • They favor classroom training and face to face interaction.
  • Baby Boomers are not very inclined towards experiential learning (they want to get the facts and tools first, then attempt to complete a project).
  • This demographic will use technology if it will help with reaching their goals but are not always digital enthusiasts.
  • They need to have a clear idea about how the training will benefit them.
  • These employees are highly competitive and require recognition.

Generation X

These people grew up watching Baby Boomers in the workplace. They became independent at a rather early age and have the need to constantly prove themselves. They were raised with computers and lived the evolution of the internet and the automation that lead to a lot of workaholic, dedicated employees losing their jobs. Generation X individuals greatly value their time and personal life.

The things to know about how they prefer learning for professional development are:

  • They are more inclined to opt for self-directed learning and prefer solitary projects and individual discoveries rather than team activities.
  • They use technology whenever possible, look for optimizations, and consider shortcuts valuable time-savers.
  • Experiential learning is right up their alley and they enjoy gamification elements, especially getting instant feedback.
  • They favor diverse activities and challenges.
  • They like to be included in decisions and this includes the topics and content of their learning paths.
  • These employees regard training as a way to secure their position or upgrade their job market value.

Millennials (or Generation Y)

The majority of the workforce now belongs to this category of employees. They are the first true digital natives and much of their life is happening online. Being already used to several platforms and multiple screens they make excellent multitaskers, but they need to be constantly stimulated, lest they shift attention. Despite their consistent online presence, Millennials greatly appreciate teamwork and collaboration.

In order for learning interventions to reach them, keep in mind that:

  • Millennials favor social networking and games as a part of learning.
  • They prefer collaborative environments.
  • The individuals in this demographic require constant feedback (again, a consequence of online game mechanics).
  • Their attention easily goes elsewhere if they are not engaged – they do not have the Baby Boomer appetence for extensive lectures and cognitive effort.
  • They don’t prefer technology, they expect technology to be used in everything.
  • They expect a good part of the learning intervention to also have some entertainment value.
  • Millennials get motivation from connecting with their peers.
  • They regard continuous learning as a way of moving forward in their lives and careers.

Read more: Do Millennials need special training?


Generation Z

The youngest of them all, GenZ are still on the brink of beginning their careers, but it won’t be much longer before they take the workplace by storm. They were born into the age of fast internet and unlimited connectivity. Even if they are constantly connected, their social media habits are very different than those of Millennials – they prefer “snack media”.

Their adult learning profile is not yet complete but there is enough evidence to suggest that:

  • Gen Z want their learning to be available to them whenever they choose to access it.
  • They are highly visual and have no patience for lectures.
  • Usually, they express their thoughts and opinions online so such a medium should be provided for them.
  • This generation is mobile-first and mobile-only, any other solution will not accommodate them.
  • They need to see the purpose (preferably a higher one) in everything.

Closing thoughts

Designing learning for a multi-generational workforce can be challenging but it also has its advantages. Preparing for a variety of approaches and preferences will ensure that the resulting content is complex enough to accommodate large numbers of users. Having such an assortment of modules will also increase their relevance in time and allow learning specialists to repurpose them easily.

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