Generational Learning

Today we wrapped up our CERT Train-the-Trainer course.  Judging by the transfer of knowledge that took place, the classroom discussions that occurred, and the student comments, it was a very successful class.  As instructors our consistent hope is that our students will return to their local communities and look for opportunities to further develop their instructional skills as well as use their knowledge and capabilities to deliver CERT training in their communities to help others become part of the solution and not be part of the problem.

Yesterday we continued on with our Train-the-Trainer material.  Looking back a day (our first day), I wrote about improving your verbal presentation skills.  As instructors of CERT or any other topic and in order to help our students learn the material and keep them interested, we must be effective, high-quality instructors.  And of course both yesterday and today, we provided opportunities for our students to practice what they learned through “teach backs” where the actually present (instruct) very small portions of the curriculum.  The entire class performed very well.

I thought I’d spend time in this blog sharing with you, as I did in our class, information about how our learning environments have changed a great deal over the past 70-80 years.  As such, we need to think about the different learning needs and expectations of out learners of different ages.  It’s important to understand that while these aren’t hard rules for everyone in each generation, they are good guidelines that can help us (instructors/trainers) to teach effectively.  I also believe that this “insight” can also be applied in a managerial setting to help us be more effective managers of subordinates.

Veterans (also referred to as the “Silent Generation” or “Radio Babies”)

The learners who were born in the 1920s and 1930s fall into this generational group.

As high school and college students, their learning environment consisted of:

  • Classrooms with blackboards
  • Lectures
  • Demonstrations (science)
  • Reading (books and notes from lectures)
  • Rote memorization

The “tools” they used to gain their knowledge were simply:

  • Books
  • Experts
  • Radio


Baby boomers were born in the 1940s and 1950s.  Many of us fit into this generational puzzle piece.

As high school and college students, our learning environment was

  • Classrooms with blackboards
  • Lectures
  • Some smaller learning experiences (workshops, seminars) with more opportunity for discussion
  • Some discovery learning (science labs)
  • Reading (books and notes from lectures), filmstrips
  • Rote memorization carried forward and was expected

The tools we had (used) to gain knowledge included:

  • Overhead transparencies (began to be widely used in early 1960s)
  • Television
  • Some film

Gen X or Twenty-Something

This generation of learners were born between 1960-1985.

As high school and college students, their learning environment traditionally was:

  • Classrooms with blackboards/whiteboards
  • Places with computers (library, lab, home)
  • Participatory learning
  • Exploration and hands-on
  • Role-playing

This generation used the following tools to help them learn:

  • Videotapes
  • Computer
  • Video games
  • PowerPoint and other presentations (Microsoft Office introduced in 1989)

Gen Y or Millennial

In the “modern day” we talk about people in this generation as being born between 1985- 2000.

As high school and college students, their learning environment was (is):

  • It’s everywhere
  • It’s multimedia (written, video, sound)

The tools they use to learn include:

  • The internet
  • Web 2.0: wikis, blogs, podcasts, social networking
  • Computer software
  • Mobile devices

As trainers today, we may relate more to the Boomer or early Gen Y generations. However, many students in our classes (or subordinates) may be from the Gen X or Gen Y generation.  It’s important to remember the following when working with the Gen X and Gen Y folks as learners:

  • The computer and the Internet are a part of their everyday life.   It’s how they communicate, how they research things, how they stay connected.
  • Staying connected is important and they expect responses to be quick.  They don’t like delays:  e-mail is too slow; they prefer IM and texting.  Think about the impact this expectation might have on emergency managers during a disaster.
  • Doing is more important than knowing.  They want to apply what they learn.
  • They are perfectly happy with trial and error.  They don’t have to get it right the first time (think of a video game – they can always start over).
  • Likewise, they don’t require linear learning (happy with simulations, games, collaboration).
  • They are used to multitasking.
  • They prefer typing and often have poor handwriting.

So where do you fit in.  Do these generational guidelines describe you?  Understanding these generational differences can truly help us to better understand each other and allow us to teach (or manage) more effectively.

Tomorrow, we begin our new class – CERT Program Manager.  In tomorrow’s blog I’ll update you about our class as well as on a couple of things I ran across in downtown Emmitsburg late this afternoon.  Until then, I’ll leave you with another slideshow from our class.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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