Consider Generational Learning Styles and Tools

Teachers, trainers and other educators tend to teach in the same style and format in which they have been taught. For the Greatest Generation, the Boomer generation and much of Generation X, this included a linear step-by-step approach with little technology in the classroom or room for discussion. The teacher or trainer was right and everyone else was an empty vessal to be filled with the wisdom of the instructor. Students were placed into rows of seats and the teacher in the front of the room held all of the knowledge and presented to students who were assigned to memorize and repeat the information provided to them by their teachers.

In the mid-1960s and early 1970’s efforts were made to have open classrooms and more group work within the learning environment but by that time, the majority of baby boomers had graduated from high school and moved onto college. Those at the end of the boomer generation had some exposure to these techniques but they were short lived in many school districts and subsequently, not many Generation X students experienced the chaos of the open classroom either.

In terms of technology, computers and even calculators were not available for much of the educational life of the boomers and only in middle or high school for much of Generation X. In fact, many boomer teachers can remember using slide rules instead of calculators even in college. Affordable hand held calculators didn’t become widely available until the late 1970’s when Generation X just barely started to use them.

A primary emphasis during most of the formative years of the baby boomers was the space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union. The goal was to be the first country to put a man on the moon. The race began when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 in October 1957. The impact the space race had on schools was to focus the teachers and the students on learning and memorizing information so they could be “smarter” than their rivals. Shortly after the launch the United States, through the National Defense Education act of 1958 poured large sums of money into science and technology education.

Another influence over schooling at the time boomers were going through the educational system was the creation of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 1947. The establishment of this organization sets a foundation for standardized testing as the basis for admission to higher education. The ripple effect of this is down into the high schools was that the educational system began to incorporate test preparation as part of the educational experience of the students.

Teaching styles and methods become almost invisible to the teacher, trainer or educator who adopts those methods almost without thinking. Applying those same methods and approaches to subsequent generations of kids (like the gamers) just doesn’t work. As our learner’s experiences change, our approaches to transferring knowledge have to change.

What teaching or training style are you using? Is it the same one you have always used? Is it the same one that was used to teach or train you? Is it time for a change?

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Posted in: Boomers

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1 Comment

  1. Angela Nichols November 15, 2007

    Hi Karl,

    This is especially challenging in corporate training environments where you have an audience of Boomers and Gen Xers in the same class!

    I am working on a project now where the organization is recognizing that their new employees don’t learn the same way and so they are changing their training approach. Their veteran employees are resistant to this. They think that the young people should have to do things the way they always have. The change feels threatening to the Boomers. Any advise?

Karl Kapp
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