Generational differences?

January 24, 2008

kirkhemmettwien07.JPGWarning: this post is full of digressions, contradictions, and tangents. (I’m just saying…)

I read an older Pew Publication recently on the behavior and traits of 18-25-year-old U.S. Americans (born 1981 and 1988) for some research I’m currenly doing on “generational learning styles” (don’t get me going on that – I’m a mess about it!). Although the report is a year old, I don’t think much has changed in the past year as far as this study goes.

Interesting when I look at these findings based on my own experiences as an 18-25 year old American in 1982-1987 (although some of what I remember is probably blocked out, lost due to blacking out, or forgotten entirely). To give you context, I was born on the same day and year as Kirk Hammett, from Metallica. I’m part of the Generation Jones – between the X’s and the boomers or, as I like to call it, the Marcia, Marcia, Marcia generation.

Here’s Generation Next, the subject of the study:

  • Half send or receive text message over the phone daily (double 26-40-year olds). [My text messages were written on paper and roughly said, “I’ll be home at dark” (for my parents) or (for my friends/enemies) were passed in class or left in lockers. I frequently used emoticons on my actual face – the one-eyebrow-up was my hallmark. I would say half of my generation used ‘text messaging’ with the technology known as a pen.]
  • Four-in-ten have created personal profiles on social networking sites. [My social network site was the bottom of the driveway where I hung out with neighborhood friends. Nobody’s parents would take us anywhere and they didn’t want us in the house either. The information I shared with my friends then was similar to the open-book information I now display for the world. So only 8-10 people listened to my inane crap then and now slightly more. Suckas.]
  • Eight-in-ten say new technology makes people lazier. I had to hide to be lazy. If I was caught lazing around, I was given a job to do. Technology was a clothespin out on the clothesline. I’m reminded of a recent conversation with my 20 year-old nephew and his suggestion that he thought technology would take us to the point where we did not need arms or legs. Not that he didn’t want arms and legs, but that he wanted to live in a world where he didn’t have to use them if he didn’t want to. I have agreed that the new technology of my generation – the dryer – made people lazier.]
  • Half say immigrants to the U.S. strengthen the country. [I am a first generation Scottish-American. My parents are immigrants so I can”t really comment on this other than to say I believe it is true – then and now. Plus then, I would’ve gotten smacked on the side of the head if I didn’t think it was true. My own kids today get a lot more information on diversity in general.]
  • Are generally less critical (and less cynical) of government regulation and business. [I speak cynicism fluently as do many friends my age and many of my kids friends. Workin’ for the man. Workin’ for the man. 18 or 40 we’re all workin’ for the man. Only the super-cyncial admit to being cynical in a survey.]
  • Are in close contact with their parents. [See first bullet point “ I’ll be home at dark.” This is an interesting dynamic. We’ve probably all read stories about the helicopter parent who called their kid’s boss at work to question a poor performance review. I’m not sure what, if any, impact this has on workplace learning but I think it may. My feeling is that there is a need for greater performance support.]
  • Half have gotten a tattoo, dyed their hair an untraditional color, or have body piercing on body parts other than the ear (1/3rd have tattoos). Tattoos in the 70s-80s were primarily found on the skin of those in the military, bikers (Harley style), rock stars, and those in prison. [Brian Jackson lists five reasons people get tattoos today – loved ones, religious, military service, mistake, just for fun. I’d add anger, celebration of an event, love of pain, and love of art. But this is generation “me” or generation “look at me” we’re talking about so permanent markings doesn’t surprise me. Does anyone else see a demand here for more laser surgeons in the future? The looming talent shortage (if you buy it) along with this trait are why conservative HR depts. scramble to update policies about appearance. No tattoos is replaced with ‘only tasteful tattoos.’ I’d like to be on that committee…]
  • 1/3rd follow what’s going on in the government and public affairs. [I have to admit, they do a better job at this than I did. Government was a parent thing. Now kids have to get community hours to fulfill graduation requirements for high school. We only did community service if we got caught doing something illegal.]
  • Twice as likely (than older generations) to name a family member, teacher, or mentor as hero. [I would’ve named someone famous I think. Probably some rock star. Perhaps I would’ve named a family member if I had been more close. The Jones Generation are a bunch of basement kids.]
  • More comfortable with globalization and new ways of doing work. [I think so. I still thought then that it was good to have one, stable job. How long have you been in your current job? I don’t even know what my job will look like 5 years from now.]
  • Top goals: fortune and fame. [I’m reminded of a cartoon: how to be a famous blogger (1) become famous, (2) become a blogger, (3) become a famous blogger. (And, accept advertising for the fortune part.)]
  • Feel that educational and job opportunities are better for them today than for the previous generations but are concerned with getting into and graduating from college. [It’s not hard to get into an online college. But it often is hard to get into many f2f colleges. However, there are more and more online education opportunities every year. They are not restricted by space. I think this creates opportunities. I don’t think I dared to flunk out of college because I would’ve gotten smacked on the side of the head again. And, lost my funding. I think my generation felt the same way – that I had better opportunities then the previous generation.]
  • 86% use the Internet at least occasionally (nearly all college grads do while 77% of non-college graduates do). (Gen X=91%, Baby Boomers=73%, Seniors 46%) [I do wonder though about losing the ability to think deeply. When everything is at your fingertips, why remember? What does it mean not to have to try to remember who played Jed Clampett on the Beverly Hillbillies? Or what the heck the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song were? What does that do to your brain?]

(BTW that’s Buddy Ebsen and “on we sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore! Ah, ah!
)

Regarding generational differences and learning, I’m really not convinced that we need to create different instructional strategies any more than we need to create different instructional strategies to address learning styles. To me, it’s an issue of individual experiences, context, and preferences.

Most people, regardless of age, want to chit chat with their friends, get a little rebellious, and share their background & interests with others. And, I think they understand that most technology might make them lazier.

While I recognize different characters and traits of a group bound by a time period in a particular part of the world, I’m not convinced generational differences mean that much when designing instruction. The fact that the net gen texts all the time so therefore needs immediate feedback doesn’t change the non-texters also might need immediate feedback. Yes, we may need to address abilities (for all learners) but I think it’s more about the need to focus on how to teach and learn. If technologies are used to make that easier and better, then we do it. In short, I’m not seeing a lot of research in this area that doesn’t suggest the entire issue of generational learning styles is hype.

I know only fellow 40+ers have hung in to the end of this post. There weren’t enough pictures for the 18 year olds ; )

You know how they are…

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    When everything is at your fingertips, why remember?

    Remembering seems to involve both the storing of patterns (the lyrics to the national anthem of Liechtenstein are a pattern I’ve stored) and the activating of connections to that storage.

    We tend to place a high value on memorization — thus the derisive “He had to look it up?” I think it’s more important to develop knowledge of connections and sources (and of course to be able to relate them to the situation you’re dealing with).

    So rather than memorizing the capitals of the fifty states, you might connect seemingly disparate things and say as Robert Massie did, “The Russians are the Texans of Europe.”

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    When everything is at your fingertips, why remember?

    Remembering seems to involve both the storing of patterns (the lyrics to the national anthem of Liechtenstein are a pattern I’ve stored) and the activating of connections to that storage.

    We tend to place a high value on memorization — thus the derisive “He had to look it up?” I think it’s more important to develop knowledge of connections and sources (and of course to be able to relate them to the situation you’re dealing with).

    So rather than memorizing the capitals of the fifty states, you might connect seemingly disparate things and say as Robert Massie did, “The Russians are the Texans of Europe.”

  • Maria Hlas

    Hi Janet,
    Well this was a fun read (and yes I am definitely in the age group that read the whole thing)!

    I agree about generational issues, definitely something to be aware of and keep in mind, but I think some people put way too much stock into those stereotypes and, as with all stereotypes, you forget to look at the person. Personality types and experience have much more to do with how someone behaves at work, I think.

    As for GenY, so they aren’t cynical? Give them 10 years. And as for needing more feedback on how they’re doing – we all do, no matter what age or level in the company. Only GenY job hops? I was only at my last job for 2 1/2 years before they kicked our whole division to the curb. Several years ago, I left one job after 1 1/2 years because I saw the handwriting on the wall and left before the whole company shut down. The next job, I left after 1 1/2 years because I was bored stiff.

    Frankly, if the training is boring and doesn’t address something important to the learner, they won’t care and won’t learn, no matter what their age. And it doesn’t matter if it is ILT, stand alone e-Learning, synchronous webcasts, or some other format either. Making it engaging and relevant and you’ve got a shot. (How’s that for a generalization?!)

  • Maria Hlas

    Hi Janet,
    Well this was a fun read (and yes I am definitely in the age group that read the whole thing)!

    I agree about generational issues, definitely something to be aware of and keep in mind, but I think some people put way too much stock into those stereotypes and, as with all stereotypes, you forget to look at the person. Personality types and experience have much more to do with how someone behaves at work, I think.

    As for GenY, so they aren’t cynical? Give them 10 years. And as for needing more feedback on how they’re doing – we all do, no matter what age or level in the company. Only GenY job hops? I was only at my last job for 2 1/2 years before they kicked our whole division to the curb. Several years ago, I left one job after 1 1/2 years because I saw the handwriting on the wall and left before the whole company shut down. The next job, I left after 1 1/2 years because I was bored stiff.

    Frankly, if the training is boring and doesn’t address something important to the learner, they won’t care and won’t learn, no matter what their age. And it doesn’t matter if it is ILT, stand alone e-Learning, synchronous webcasts, or some other format either. Making it engaging and relevant and you’ve got a shot. (How’s that for a generalization?!)

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com/ Karyn Romeis

    Ditto what Maria says! That said, many of the descriptions of the younger generation tend to apply to me, too – much to the amusement of my kids who tell their friends that I am a “legend” (what was that you said about heroes close to home?).

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

    Ditto what Maria says! That said, many of the descriptions of the younger generation tend to apply to me, too – much to the amusement of my kids who tell their friends that I am a “legend” (what was that you said about heroes close to home?).

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    Your comments come at a time when I just finished a class on Learning and Instructional Theories. We talked at length about the building of connections in schema through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. I guess that means you subscribe to constructivism?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Dave-
    Your comments come at a time when I just finished a class on Learning and Instructional Theories. We talked at length about the building of connections in schema through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. I guess that means you subscribe to constructivism?

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    But Karyn, you are legendary. You need your own page on Wikipedia!

    Sometimes ‘kids’ will look at my black nail polish funny – as if I’m trying to be them, be ‘young.’ I wanna tell to stop listening to ‘my’ freakin’ music, stop wearing the vintage t-shirts, the mood rings, etc. Wannabe legends….as if.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    But Karyn, you are legendary. You need your own page on Wikipedia!

    Sometimes ‘kids’ will look at my black nail polish funny – as if I’m trying to be them, be ‘young.’ I wanna tell to stop listening to ‘my’ freakin’ music, stop wearing the vintage t-shirts, the mood rings, etc. Wannabe legends….as if.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Maria- Well put! And thanks for making it all about the user/learner…my point exactly even if I went over-the-river-and-through-the-woods to say it.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Maria- Well put! And thanks for making it all about the user/learner…my point exactly even if I went over-the-river-and-through-the-woods to say it.

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com/ Dave Ferguson

    Janet, I’m more pragmatic than purist when it comes to learning theory. Unless there are great t-shirts to be had.

    I was very impressed some years ago by Ertmer and Newby’s comparison of behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructionist approaches. (Perf. Improvement Qtrly, v6, n4, 1993) A nice summary and chart appear in this paper by then-grad student Brenda Mergel.

    If you the link, search for the SECOND instance of “Ertmer,” and then scroll down just a bit, you’ll see the chart, which shows the kind of overlap I think is helpful.

    The right side of the chart comes into play when the realm of behavior that will lead to the desired accomplishment is less clear (“hey, Dad, watch me while I give good customer service”).

  • http://www.daveswhiteboard.com Dave Ferguson

    Janet, I’m more pragmatic than purist when it comes to learning theory. Unless there are great t-shirts to be had.

    I was very impressed some years ago by Ertmer and Newby’s comparison of behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructionist approaches. (Perf. Improvement Qtrly, v6, n4, 1993) A nice summary and chart appear in this paper by then-grad student Brenda Mergel.

    If you the link, search for the SECOND instance of “Ertmer,” and then scroll down just a bit, you’ll see the chart, which shows the kind of overlap I think is helpful.

    The right side of the chart comes into play when the realm of behavior that will lead to the desired accomplishment is less clear (“hey, Dad, watch me while I give good customer service”).

  • http://micktl.vox.com/ Mick Leyden

    Here I am at the ripe old age of 26 – I was born in 1981, I immediately read this post because there was a picture of Kirk Hammett at the top (Metallica ROCK!) and believe it or not I read it to the end!

    I couldn’t agree more, I read a lot of the Gen Y stuff, and I do get a little tired of it. Especially when people in other Generations accept these ‘profiles’ as fact.

    I think if you write a course with clear learning objectives, logical flow, interesting activities and an energetic delivery style you will engage almost anyone regardless of what decade they were born in.

    GO GEN Y!

  • http://micktl.vox.com/ Mick Leyden

    Here I am at the ripe old age of 26 – I was born in 1981, I immediately read this post because there was a picture of Kirk Hammett at the top (Metallica ROCK!) and believe it or not I read it to the end!

    I couldn’t agree more, I read a lot of the Gen Y stuff, and I do get a little tired of it. Especially when people in other Generations accept these ‘profiles’ as fact.

    I think if you write a course with clear learning objectives, logical flow, interesting activities and an energetic delivery style you will engage almost anyone regardless of what decade they were born in.

    GO GEN Y!

  • http://www.readwritetechnology.com/ Cheryl

    This was a fun read! And yes I read it all – I am a writer and know that if I write something very long – only the first two or three paragraphs will get widely read – so I try to cram as much in there as I can to accomodate those who may not have time to read 2-3 full pages of information- unless there is a critical need. It seems that it is not only a matter of being able to maintain attention, but also that we have so many things vying for our attention, that we really only have time to focus on things where there is a critical need. Although I am sure GenX and Y bring new attributes to the table as a result of the world changing, but they also bring new attributes because of the world they live in.

  • http://www.readwritetechnology.com Cheryl

    This was a fun read! And yes I read it all – I am a writer and know that if I write something very long – only the first two or three paragraphs will get widely read – so I try to cram as much in there as I can to accomodate those who may not have time to read 2-3 full pages of information- unless there is a critical need. It seems that it is not only a matter of being able to maintain attention, but also that we have so many things vying for our attention, that we really only have time to focus on things where there is a critical need. Although I am sure GenX and Y bring new attributes to the table as a result of the world changing, but they also bring new attributes because of the world they live in.

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Hi Mick-
    I questioned using the picture of Kirk Hammett…but am now glad I did : )

    Perhaps there is a correlation here between Metallica and instructional design. For those who like the musical genre ‘heavy metal,’ Metallica tends to be cross-generational. They’re just good.

    The ‘learning genre(if we can call it a genre) classified as e-learning is cross-generational. What makes it good – classic – is in your last paragraph: engagement.

    I hate the profiles. I never fit them. I’m one of the few middle aged women driving around listening to Slipknot…

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Hi Mick-
    I questioned using the picture of Kirk Hammett…but am now glad I did : )

    Perhaps there is a correlation here between Metallica and instructional design. For those who like the musical genre ‘heavy metal,’ Metallica tends to be cross-generational. They’re just good.

    The ‘learning genre(if we can call it a genre) classified as e-learning is cross-generational. What makes it good – classic – is in your last paragraph: engagement.

    I hate the profiles. I never fit them. I’m one of the few middle aged women driving around listening to Slipknot…

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Cheryl…Re: “GenX and Y bring new attributes to the table as a result of the world changing, but they also bring new attributes because of the world they live in”…I see that adaptation. Well put.

    Yes…I try to keep things short, scannable, etc. but tend to end up rambling. So thanks for hanging in there!

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Cheryl…Re: “GenX and Y bring new attributes to the table as a result of the world changing, but they also bring new attributes because of the world they live in”…I see that adaptation. Well put.

    Yes…I try to keep things short, scannable, etc. but tend to end up rambling. So thanks for hanging in there!

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Thanks for the link Dave. I’ll be looking for a t-shirt for you that says something like, “Got Theory?” or “Cognitive Science Rocks!”

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Thanks for the link Dave. I’ll be looking for a t-shirt for you that says something like, “Got Theory?” or “Cognitive Science Rocks!”

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet,

    I wonder if there’s any more meat to the idea of generational learning “habits,” that Gen Y kids may have grown up with habits different than Boomers.

    (You’re probably right that the fundamental principles of learning — whatever your theoretical framework for that is — haven’t changed in one generation.)

    One generational habit of Gen Y-ers might be along the lines of “use technology, technology is your friend,” i.e., as three-year-olds in 1985 Gen-Yers popped their favorite videotapes into VCRs.

    Another Gen-Y habit might be “choice,” i.e., Gen-Yers have grown up with an ocean of information so if one explanation is confusing, find another.

    Another Gen-Y habit might be “connect up with someone who already knows this, someone out there has free info for you,” i.e., social networking.

    (There are probably others. This would be fun to brainstorm and get feedback on from actual Gen Y-ers.)

    These habits that I’m attributing to Gen Y are, I think, different from my own habits. I think that I think that technology is hard and not my friend, that I should struggle to understand the assigned text, and that I should struggle on my own. (I don’t know: maybe that’s my Baby Boomer-ness or maybe that’s just me.)

    (Metallica is a musical group, right……?)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/tomwerner Tom Werner

    Hi Janet,

    I wonder if there’s any more meat to the idea of generational learning “habits,” that Gen Y kids may have grown up with habits different than Boomers.

    (You’re probably right that the fundamental principles of learning — whatever your theoretical framework for that is — haven’t changed in one generation.)

    One generational habit of Gen Y-ers might be along the lines of “use technology, technology is your friend,” i.e., as three-year-olds in 1985 Gen-Yers popped their favorite videotapes into VCRs.

    Another Gen-Y habit might be “choice,” i.e., Gen-Yers have grown up with an ocean of information so if one explanation is confusing, find another.

    Another Gen-Y habit might be “connect up with someone who already knows this, someone out there has free info for you,” i.e., social networking.

    (There are probably others. This would be fun to brainstorm and get feedback on from actual Gen Y-ers.)

    These habits that I’m attributing to Gen Y are, I think, different from my own habits. I think that I think that technology is hard and not my friend, that I should struggle to understand the assigned text, and that I should struggle on my own. (I don’t know: maybe that’s my Baby Boomer-ness or maybe that’s just me.)

    (Metallica is a musical group, right……?)

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com/ Janet Clarey

    Tom – your comments remind me of a quote by Alan Kay…

    “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.”

    Habits do change based on technology. I no longer sat in my basement listening to albums, I had a walkman. So my music-listening habits changed. I microwaved food. My daughter actually looked at my albums and asked (seriously)…”so what, like you actually walked around with these?” Everything’s mobile to her.

    I think probably Gen Y-ers would look at you funny it you said “do you use social networking sites?” They might think along the lines of, “are you on Facebook?” Their ‘habit’ is to use technology over something else (something they don’t even know) or combine it with something – hanging out with friends at the mall texting each other.

    Of course habits are unique to the individual and large groups of similar backgrounds probably share habits.

    Based on my training experience, mainframe computers (DOS) are hard for many 20-30 year olds based on their experience with MS Windows. It may not seem hard to you.

    BTW – Metallica is a band. In my youth, the music went well with Boones Farm ‘wine’ (perhaps a malt beverage)…just an aside for your other blog.

    Here’s a video…wine optional
    One which is ballad-like (as far as Metallica goes. Here’s another that is more representative of their music Master of Puppets (Live). I will make a metal fan of you yet…

  • http://www.brandon-hall.com Janet Clarey

    Tom – your comments remind me of a quote by Alan Kay…

    “Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.”

    Habits do change based on technology. I no longer sat in my basement listening to albums, I had a walkman. So my music-listening habits changed. I microwaved food. My daughter actually looked at my albums and asked (seriously)…”so what, like you actually walked around with these?” Everything’s mobile to her.

    I think probably Gen Y-ers would look at you funny it you said “do you use social networking sites?” They might think along the lines of, “are you on Facebook?” Their ‘habit’ is to use technology over something else (something they don’t even know) or combine it with something – hanging out with friends at the mall texting each other.

    Of course habits are unique to the individual and large groups of similar backgrounds probably share habits.

    Based on my training experience, mainframe computers (DOS) are hard for many 20-30 year olds based on their experience with MS Windows. It may not seem hard to you.

    BTW – Metallica is a band. In my youth, the music went well with Boones Farm ‘wine’ (perhaps a malt beverage)…just an aside for your other blog.

    Here’s a video…wine optional
    One which is ballad-like (as far as Metallica goes. Here’s another that is more representative of their music Master of Puppets (Live). I will make a metal fan of you yet…

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