Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Generational Gaps In the Classroom

This quarter I am immersed in a class dealing with theory and trends in adult education. A most rousing topic in the discussion of generational differences in the classroom has been the focus of the last couple weeks, and will be the main focus from here through March. We've been discussing the four most prevalent generations, from the (1925-1942), the Boomers (1942-1960), Gen X (1961-1981), and the Millennials (1982-2002). Most of the discussion topics have centered on Millennials, in part because they are the largest group.

I've really taken to this discussion because of the implications this group holds for the present and near future. Wikipedia has a good synopsis of the Millennial generation (although there are several details that do not match my research-based study materials), also known more commonly as Generation Y. The reason this group is so interesting is because of their upbringing, perspective, and most importantly, their view of and skill with technology. They are unlike any other generation in the tools available to them, the pace at which life moves, and the focus they tend to receive by their parents.

What all this means is that these individuals make up perhaps the most unique challenge for training. When considering the potential mix of adult individuals in a training setting, Millennials may be the hardest to prepare for because they will expect more of the instructional design. In short, they tend to want technology driving things (and with prolific availability of smartphones these days, who can blame them?).

In the coming years I think instructional design will become ever more important because a course's delivery will likely be a very diverse mix of technologies in conjunction with unique new ways of facilitation. In some ways this class runs against the grain for me, in that I do see instructional design becoming less sufficient as a long-term skillset for WLP professionals. But perhaps my initial impressions were incorrect based on my specialization. This course seems to be asking me not only to review my instructional design considerations, but also my impressions of where the industry is headed.


  1. I found this to be a very interesting post. We’ve had in-depth debates about the differences between the Generation X-ers versus the Millennials in some of my classes. Being a graduate student and a member of “Generation X,” I too wonder what direction instructional design will take with the “Millennial” generation. The transition to the newer generation seems to suggest that instructional design will continue to evolve as technology evolves, but what does this do to learners of other generations who have lived their lives without being so accustomed to the current technology? Being able to meet the needs of all of the learners will continue to be our goal, and will present an interesting challenge to instructional designers in days to come.

  2. Hello RUpadhyay. I think the Millennials will present a very unique challenge over the next thirty years. We're only now discovering how they process information and integrate compared to older generations, since they have recently begun college or completed an undergraduate program. I think their exposure to high technology, almost throughout their lives, will be an advantage that allows them to accept change and complexity more easily.

    I'm doing a bit of forecasting here, and I'm a very late Generation Xer myself, but the instructional design challenges will require us in the WLP professions to be about as up to speed as they are. But it also means that they will want to contribute to the class in terms of providing other links to information and perspectives that expand the content of a given course.