In this edition of Generational Viewpoints, we asked Generation Y Tax manager Marian Millikan, born in 1984, and Generation X audit senior manager Jonathan Kraftchick, born in 1977, from Cherry Bekaert LLP, a Richmond, Va.-based Top 100 Firm with nearly 1,000 employees, to answer the following auestion:

"How do you think generational differences affect learning preferences and styles? How should organizations adapt to address these differences?"

MILLIKAN'S GENERATION Y VIEWPOINT

In my experience, learning preferences reflect back to how each generation experienced their learning and the manner in which they were taught basic principles in school.

For instance, Baby Boomers learned through lecture and reading. Notes were taken by hand and class participation included very visual experiences, such as walking to the chalkboard to complete a problem. Due to the vastly different technology available to them, Millennials were taught in a less linear fashion. They researched, used computers, and at times rarely opened a textbook for class lectures. Millennials also integrated virtual learning early on in their school careers.

To develop appropriate learning opportunities and adapt to these differences in preference, both the audience and the nature of the material need to be considered. If a detailed topic is being discussed, a conference call or podcast may not be the best medium. If different generations are in the audience, accounting for learning differences by integrating varied learning methods is ideal. For example, if your firm presents a webinar, pass out detailed notes ahead of time to help participants follow along. This will help all participants, but particularly Baby Boomers who are familiar with learning in this way. Think about ways to provide virtual learning (informative Web links or useful apps) to supplement instructor-led courses to speak more to the younger audience members and their learning styles.

How the learning program is introduced and implemented plays an important role, too. Podcasts, webinars and online learning help to quickly and cost-effectively get new topics out to employees. If the audience is a mix of generations, attention should be given to clarifying instructions so that individuals with less technology experience or who are less comfortable with it do not feel frustrated or stressed.

Even if the firm's learning programs do not fit certain generations' preferences, the key is to get everyone comfortable with the learning format prior to its implementation, so all are able to learn.

 

KRAFTCHICK'S GENERATION X VIEWPOINT

Generational differences can be one of the more confusing topics in today's workplace. There have been few other times when so much has changed in such a small amount of time. Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials have all experienced shifts in technology in very different ways and the reaction of each generation has been just as different.

Baby Boomers lived in a time where technological advancements were viewed as luxuries and something that could be added, when needed, to their normal way of life. Gen Xers adopted technology as it matured and tend to view it as an optional and preferred convenience, whereas Millennials view technology as a standard and, good or bad, the primary means of connection. These differences have serious implications for the classroom. Today's instructors have an endless supply of technological options in their arsenal. While teachers used to have only a chalkboard, they now have PowerPoint, laser pointers, sound clips, webcasts, webinars, polling, buzzers, animations, electronic and shared whiteboards, and hashtags - to name a few. So, what's an instructor to do when faced with a classroom of all three generations?

When teaching just one generation, simply speak to your audience the way they tend to understand: lectures for Boomers, case studies for an audience of Xers, and interactive discussion with the Gen Ys. Unfortunately, when you combine the generations, the challenges increase. Do a straight lecture, and you've most likely turned off one audience while engaging another. Play an online game and you'll get rave reviews on Twitter but risk your Boomers zoning out. One suggestion is to simply switch your style throughout the presentation. Lecture for a while, and then get a flipchart out and jot down the participants' ideas before putting everyone in groups to work on a case study. Yes, you still run the risk that some will not respond to every part of your class, but you're now simulating the real world, where everyone is able to respond to the learning styles they prefer.

This column is facilitated and edited by Krista Remer, the Generation X consultant, and Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm that specializes in helping leaders achieve success. To have your firm's generational viewpoints considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, e-mail them at krista@convergencecoaching.com.

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