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Don’t Assume Younger Learners Prefer to Learn Differently

“I know what I know.” The older and wiser we become, the more we stick with what we know and what works. And because of our confidence or stubbornness, we like to read articles and research that backs our experience, assumptions, and beliefs. We all have a little belief perseverance, holding on to a set of beliefs in spite of being faced by evidence that proves otherwise. If you are not open to changing your mind, then you can stop reading this blog now.

So, let me show you that what you believe may not be true. Learning professionals have a broad belief that younger people prefer to learn differently.

One research study by Wainhouse Research reported, “ILT (classroom) is significantly less preferred by those under age 50.”

However, the 2018 Voice of the Learner report showed that classroom was preferred by all age groups.

We asked in our survey, “How do you prefer to learn?” And we forced people to make a choice rather than select all.

“Learn in a classroom with a group” was chosen the most by all age groups. And yes, older people chose classroom more than the other age groups. But I would say that younger learners prefer to learn in ways that are not all that different from other generations. All learners want learning that is relevant, applicable to the job, and effective. The goal is to provide learning that meets the needs of all ages of learners.

Even if you are not convinced by this data, would you be convinced with data about effectiveness of classroom training?

We also asked people about the effectiveness of corporate classroom training. (Rank the effectiveness of each of the following learning programs/modalities on a scale from 1 to 5 [highly ineffective to highly effective]).

The percentage of people who chose effective or highly effective did not differ by age group.

Age 53 to 71, 90%
Age 41 to 52, 86%
Age 22 to 40, 89%

All age groups thought corporate classroom training was effective.

Now this data many not change what you believe about young people, but as learning professionals we need to design learning experiences that are preferred and effective.

If you are interested in learning more about your learners, then consider a Voice of the Learner survey in your organization. Contact us to help you get started.

About the Authors

Scott Weersing
What is learning analytics and why am I passionate about it? Way back when I was a newspaper photographer, I really wanted to know the who, what, when, where, and why about the story I was assigned to. I loved to find out more information so I could be in the right place at the right time in order to get the best photograph. The more information I had, along with personal experience, prepared me to take an impactful photograph. My journey to learning analytics follows the same path of asking questions and finding the right tools. When I started working in Learning and Development as an instructional designer, I always was curious about what the learners were going to do with the training on the job. Oftentimes, I would get a response from the SME that the new knowledge would just change behavior on the job. I guess I am a little cynical about the magic of training. Just wave the magic wand, attend the training, view the WBT, and your problems will be solved. I did not know the questions to ask to ensure that the training would be applied on the job, but my leaders noticed that I was curious and liked to ask questions. They asked me whether I would you like to be a performance consultant. After telling me what a performance consultant does, I said that it sounded great. Who wouldn’t want to solve business and performance problems with a series of interventions? It was my time as a performance consultant that I learned about the right questions to ask to get to outcomes and, in turn, I became fascinated with metrics. My favorite questions are still as follows: Can you tell me more about the problem? What have you have already tried to solve the problem? What would it look like after this problem is solved? What metrics or data do you have that show there is a problem? I became data driven to find the causes of problems and then track the solutions to see if we were moving the needle. The tools to find the root cause of a problem are the same tools to see whether the training is being applied on the job. I use interviews, focus groups, observations, checklists, and surveys to find out what is causing a problem, and then I use the same tools to find out what is happening after training and, in turn, making an impact on business outcomes. I would say that learning analytics and photography are similar in that you need to plan with the end in mind to collect the right information in order to tell a story and make an impact.

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