What’s one thing you can count on these days? Rapid change, especially in the workplace. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has already created many new jobs and is shifting the skills required in jobs across the board. Upskilling and reskilling workers while maintaining performance levels is becoming an increasingly important priority as organizations prepare for the future of work.
So what kinds of learning opportunities do workers want in the face of immense change? A recent study from Wainhouse Research found that the youngest workers and the oldest workers have similar preferences when it comes to workplace learning — and that all learners want a variety of approaches. The study, which looked at the workplace learning preferences of some 2,000 knowledge workers, gauged the use, deployment and perceptions of web communications and learning technology platforms among a broad swath of workers.
Many who talk about learning in the workplace tend to think of the generations as significantly different in their preferences. Wainhouse’s findings show this is not the case. Across all the generations, learners prefer a range of tools and delivery methods.
And the idea that older generations don’t like technology? That’s wrong, too. Of the nine learning methods examined by the study, instructor-led training, short-clip video, and coaching and mentoring were the top three learning approaches cited by respondents overall.
As someone who’s worked with some of the world’s leading organizations to build successful learning programs, I have found that worker preference for learning delivery has much more to do with need and role than age alone. Let’s take a deeper look.
- Coaching and mentoring appeals most to the oldest (50+ years old) and youngest learners (21-25 years old) out of all age groups in the workplace.
- Young workers find informal conversation with a subject matter expert to be extremely useful. As workers age, this becomes less of a top priority. However, by late career the trend reverses again, and the 50+ group shows greater interest in informal conversation with SMEs than those in mid-career.
- Overall, the study shows that mid-career workers aged 33-49 differ most sharply from other cohorts. For this group, short-clip video is the second-most preferred approach to learning.
Why do you think the youngest and oldest workers want coaching, mentoring and informal discussions with SMEs, and mid-career workers prefer short-clip video learning?
For one, younger workers require direction as they start their careers, hoping to navigate the new waters of the work environment and a particular company culture with some help.
Additionally, in an environment where the shelf life of skills is shorter than ever and employees are staying in their careers longer, the oldest workers want to continue to learn and grow so they remain relevant. Naturally, they want input and guidance from experts and mentors who can help them continue to navigate the waters of change.
When it comes to mid-career workers, I’d argue this is a question of function rather than age or generation. Mid-career workers and managers are among the most time-crunched of all workers. Sitting at the junction of strategy and execution, these workers rarely have time in their day to sit down and connect with another manager for guidance or mentorship. In their minds, short, to-the-point learning that fits into their workflow works best.
For organizations, the lesson here is to find the right mix of learning, taking a blended approach based on not only generational preferences but also job role and level. Organizations that consider this range and find ways to deliver ongoing opportunities for short- and long-form training in a range of offerings — video learning, informal conversations, coaching and mentoring programs, bite-sized training content— will support greater learner engagement and skill retention as we face rapid change.
A few suggestions for including these preferences in your learning strategy:
- Make learning employee-specific. As we’ve seen, learning preferences differ among the generations but primarily based on learner need and role. Consider the employee need first — a customer service representative will require different training delivery than an executive because they deal in differing issues throughout their day. In general, long-form content works well for professional development; instructor-led and video works well for skill gaps training; and short-clip video offerings or a quick Q+A work well for immediate performance support.
- Recognize and capture internal subject matter expertise. This research reinforces that workers want human interaction to remain a key element in their learning as they leverage the latest tools and technologies. When an employee feels they are invested in, they want to learn and grow even more. Along those lines, recognize that everyone has something to learn and share. Leverage video and content creation tools to allow workers to mentor one another and capture and share subject matter expertise. Video FAQs by internal subject matter experts can help eliminate redundancy, keep a personalized feeling and can be a fantastic performance support tool for the most time-crunched workers.
- Create reverse mentoring opportunities. These can be intimidating for older workers, but pairing a younger worker with a strong technical skillset with an older worker with strong institutional knowledge can yield additional benefits in terms of improving older workers’ technical skills while helping younger workers deepen their knowledge of the organization’s culture. Hosted in-person or virtually, these programs can ensure workers adapt together and build a deeper learning culture across the organization.