Survey Says: Younger Workers Have Different Learning Preferences
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Survey Says: Younger Workers Learn Differently

  • 3 Min Read

A study from Wainhouse Research reveals how technology-enabled learning preferences vary by age and role.

We all know some people who seem to never age. With the Super Bowl recently filling the sports pages, we would be remiss if we didn’t point to New England’s 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady as defying Father Time (unfortunately for Brady, his age-defying athleticism wasn’t enough to help the Patriots fend off the Philadelphia Eagles and win the championship).

But for us mere mortals, age matters.  It certainly matters in how we approach technology—as consumers and as learners.

For example, according to the Pew Research Center, 80% of those between 18 and 29 were active on social media in 2011.  By 2016, 80% of those between 30 to 49 matched that amount of social media activity. Even those who are 50 to 64 years old are increasing their usage, and 64% reported use of social media in 2016.  As you can see in the graph, social media is gaining traction across all age groups.

Source: Pew Research Center

Once thought to be another millennial phenomenon—look at 2006 when usage of social media spiked for the 18 to 29 age group while declining for all others— we now realize we can all Facebook, Tweet, or Snapchat. Similar age-based adoption trends exist for smartphone ownership and Internet usage.

What does this mean for corporate learning and development (L&D)?  Since we’re all becoming younger, at least in how we use these consumer technologies, learning strategies should take advantage of our up-and-coming proficiency. There are both upsides and downsides to these new technologies; used correctly they can certainly make learning more engaging, save time and money, and improve learning outcomes.

To gain some insight into how to prioritize investments into the various approaches to L&D, in fall 2017, we asked 2,004 employed individuals how they like to learn.

Source: Wainhouse Research

As the Association for Talent Development (ATD) tells us every year, instructor-led training (ILT) continues to be the primary mode of delivering learning in the enterprise.  Yet even that preference breaks down when we parse it by age group. ILT is significantly less preferred by those under age 50.

What do younger learners favor over ILT? For those under 50, short clip video and coaching and mentoring (which can be technology-enabled) close the gap with ILT and score in the 40% neighborhood. And older learners like these approaches as well.  So those are clearly areas that warrant investigation if not investment.

But age alone can be too broad in scope. Role matters too. For example, we see that those who work in HR rate coaching and mentoring higher than any other approach. What is surprising to us is that executives, who at many organizations, have the greatest access to coaches, value this approach less than those lower on the org chart.

Charles M. DeNault is Senior Analyst at Wainhouse Research and covers learning and talent management, with a focus on solutions that use communication and collaboration technologies. 

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