What about the Baby-Boomers and Generation X?

A lot is now being written about Generation Y and Generation Z. However what about the previous two generations? Again we can see some stark differencies both between the baby-boomers and Gen X but also some major differencies between all four generations - and this has a big implication for how we attract, retain, develop, manage and motivate these groups. This is especially apposite as, until 2008 all the talk was about 'the big crew change;' but now we are seeing many older workers choosing to remain in employment for longer, whilst the Gen Yers are choosing to remain longer in education.

Baby-Boomers the ‘traditional’ learners

The ‘traditional learning’ phase typifies the baby-boomer generation, those born in the post-war period between 1945 and 1964, often schooled in overcrowded classrooms or even prefabricated buildings driving a competitive nature and desire to progress. This period saw huge rises in employment opportunities, a time of economic boom and produced a generation of traditional, hard-working people who accepted what was told to them in return for this leading to a better life.

‘Training’ was primarily didactic, driven by the prevailing culture, expectations and teaching media involving one-way communication, ‘talk and chalk’ sessions with the tutor as ‘expert’ where the emphasis was on ‘training,’ ie a passive approach, something that was ‘done to’ people, rather than ‘learning,’ which is a proactive activity. The learning studies and models reflected these values and produced the Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Model, the Kolb Learning Cycle, etc

Generation X the individualistic learners

Generation X is the ‘latch-key’ generation, born typically between 1964 and 1980. In France they are called ‘Génération Bof’ which means ‘Generation Whatever.’ This was a generation of lower birth-rates, rising divorce rates, faltering economies and less economic security, so fewer in numbers than the previous and succeeding generations and it was the first generation which saw mothers going out to work in large numbers, creating two income families. This was also the first generation to grow up with computers and the first to mark the shift from manufacturing economy to a service economy.

This generation therefore value independence, are more critical and sceptical, have less faith in economic institutions and have an in-built mistrust of authority. They work to live rather than live to work and so independence and work life balance are important. Gen Xers learn best through independent study, technological aides, preferring to solve problems for themselves rather than rely on someone to show them how. They value instant feedback, need to see the relevance of the subject matter, and constantly ask: what will it do for me? The learning studies and models reflected the new values and produced Peter Senge, Knowles Andragogy Theory and Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ all emphasising self-directed change and learning.