Digital Maturity & Design for Generational E-Learning

April 28, 2008

Tonia writes about a the digital/native immigrant concept and suggests we should speak more in terms of digital maturity. Her thoughts arise out of frustration around the rate of adaptation of various age groups. She asks, “is this concept of natives and immigrants absurd or just a [too] broad generalization?” My take is that partitioning people is like one-size fits all shirt – it fits no one. However, I am glad that I can claim maturity in at least one area of my life. ; )

More on generational learning and design…

Sarah Boehle interviewed David Blair, Aetna’s learning head of curriculum design, about their study of five generational groups (Silent Generation, ages 62-77; Baby Boomers, ages 52-61; Late Baby Boomers, ages 43-51; Generation X, ages 31-42; and Generation Y, ages 18-30) and their reactions to training. Blair noted that most training designers at Aetna are Baby Boomers (so training seemed to reflect that groups experiences). Changes they made to appeal to a multi-generational mix of employees included more games, simulations, performance support tools, choices, stories as objectives, and the use of Thiagi Group’s Four-Door approach to e-learning (registration required). See Blair’s tips for designing their courses with multiple generations in mind at the end of the article.

And another take on generational issues comes from Sarah White who surveyed ( I can’t see the sample size and suspect it’s just an informal survey) 26-30 year olds in healthcare, manufacturing, consulting, and they service industry (small business and mid size) and concluded

“1/3 of the boomers seem to be checked out and coasting through until retirement, 1/3 seem to be putting in the effort and continuing on like they aren’t retiring in the next 10 years, and 1/3 seem to be clinging on to everything so tightly they will never retire because it may give one of those snotty nose Gen Y’ers a chance to succeed.”

This is accurate based on my own experience. White says Gen Y’ers should “approach the boomers differently so you don’t come off like a know it all.” I imagine hope this is a “how to” for dealing with coasters or cling-ons. (I’m pretty sure they’re not reading this so I’m OK picking on them). I’m a “continuing on” boomer. A digitally mature snotty nose boomer who thinks Aetna’s design practices are just good sound instructional design.

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

    The potential problem with these characterizations — other than a “generation” being 11 or 12 years — is that even if they were valid (boomer stodgy; Y way hip), they apply to a general population, not to a given individual.

    And guess what? The top three execs at Aetna are boomers, too (average age 54), and they more than the training staff have something to do with the tone and direction of learning at Aetna. Whopping LMSs and libraries of shovelware aren’t sold to the manager of training.

    Aetna’s Blair (by his photo in the Boehle article) is also a boomer. I’m intrigued by the effort to address different preferences, though heavens knows why you wouldn’t want performance support for pretty much any desired performance.

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

    The potential problem with these characterizations — other than a “generation” being 11 or 12 years — is that even if they were valid (boomer stodgy; Y way hip), they apply to a general population, not to a given individual.

    And guess what? The top three execs at Aetna are boomers, too (average age 54), and they more than the training staff have something to do with the tone and direction of learning at Aetna. Whopping LMSs and libraries of shovelware aren’t sold to the manager of training.

    Aetna’s Blair (by his photo in the Boehle article) is also a boomer. I’m intrigued by the effort to address different preferences, though heavens knows why you wouldn’t want performance support for pretty much any desired performance.

  • V yonkers

    I find it interesting that Boomers and late boomers are segmented, yet they are put together in the groups. In fact, late boomers were using computers (pc’s and Mac’s) early in their careers. I think you would find that many can type (although their older colleagues may not) and still have a long way to go for retirement as our retirement age has been pushed back to 67 by social security.

    While many of my 20 something students can use the computer, they are very naive in how to use it in a business context.

  • V yonkers

    I find it interesting that Boomers and late boomers are segmented, yet they are put together in the groups. In fact, late boomers were using computers (pc’s and Mac’s) early in their careers. I think you would find that many can type (although their older colleagues may not) and still have a long way to go for retirement as our retirement age has been pushed back to 67 by social security.

    While many of my 20 something students can use the computer, they are very naive in how to use it in a business context.

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

    V – I agree. I’m in that middle area (1962), Generation Jones. I kind of resent being called a boomer because my traits are more Gen Y. When I was training new employees, there were older people who were technologically skilled and business-minded and other older people who had never used a PC but were able to apply skills to their work relatively easily. They just needed to parallel the new task with something known. They had already built the schema of business transactions. There was also a great divide among younger workers. Some were technologically skilled, some not so much. Culture and the nature of business was something I found younger people struggled with regardless of technology skills. Perhaps they clearly understood the game of corporate America and were just not willing to play. Simple things like email etiquette was problematic. I generally don’t like the labeling and grouping. I guess we need to name something in order to discuss it and this immigrant/native/generational thing is how we do that. Thanks for your comment. (I also can retire at 67…time for several more careers before then)

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

    V – I agree. I’m in that middle area (1962), Generation Jones. I kind of resent being called a boomer because my traits are more Gen Y. When I was training new employees, there were older people who were technologically skilled and business-minded and other older people who had never used a PC but were able to apply skills to their work relatively easily. They just needed to parallel the new task with something known. They had already built the schema of business transactions. There was also a great divide among younger workers. Some were technologically skilled, some not so much. Culture and the nature of business was something I found younger people struggled with regardless of technology skills. Perhaps they clearly understood the game of corporate America and were just not willing to play. Simple things like email etiquette was problematic. I generally don’t like the labeling and grouping. I guess we need to name something in order to discuss it and this immigrant/native/generational thing is how we do that. Thanks for your comment. (I also can retire at 67…time for several more careers before then)

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

    Dave – I think we’ve had the individual / group conversation before. The corporation (at least when I was designing) is set up to monitor individual activity while designing for groups. It’s nice to see a corporation designing for individuals by providing choices for groups.

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

    Dave – I think we’ve had the individual / group conversation before. The corporation (at least when I was designing) is set up to monitor individual activity while designing for groups. It’s nice to see a corporation designing for individuals by providing choices for groups.

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

    Janet, I’m all for providing choice. I’m a bit leery about the labeling, which can turn into type-think.

    “Oh, he’s a [ boomer | INFP | Scorpio | fundamentalist | person from Montana], so he’ll be [ really good | hostile | too much trouble | a natural ].”

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

    Janet, I’m all for providing choice. I’m a bit leery about the labeling, which can turn into type-think.

    “Oh, he’s a [ boomer | INFP | Scorpio | fundamentalist | person from Montana], so he’ll be [ really good | hostile | too much trouble | a natural ].”

  • http://tigerturfsandiego.com/ Tiger Turf

    Very true, great post… Keem 'em coming!

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  • Julie Draves

    Generations are different. One thing we don’t do is account for the developmental differences among generations. Amazing to me how Gen X is now more often grouped with Boomers than with Gen Y. It used to be the opposite before Gen Xers became middle-aged.

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