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Addressing Multi-Generational Users in E-Learning

1189187_thinking_and_smiling.jpgThe other day I was asked by a colleague of mine if I would give a type of information technology guest lecture at one of the local colleges.  As the topic was one that I have worked with extensively, SEO and how to maximize its effectiveness, I agreed, thinking that it would be a nice break from my standard day of logging hours in front of the computer.

It was, but it also brought a few very interesting realizations to light in a very short amount of time.  In fact, you could say that I had an epiphany of sorts as I stood there under the flickering florescent lights enjoying the endless expanses of Berber carpet that boasted a shade somewhere between gray and blue.

In E-Learning we rarely if ever see our audience.  They become a sea of vague faces that blend from one topic to the next.  This day was different.  For the first time in a long time I found myself standing in front of a room full of people, with all of them waiting for me to actually teach them something.  I was struck by how different each of them were.  Men, women, young, old, the differences were staggering and they stood out to me like a giant blinking neon sign.

Is this what my own audiences look like?  Am I really teaching to this huge variety of individuals without ever really taking into account what that means?  It was a bit humbling, and it was only the beginning.  As the lecture wore on I realized that I had brought with me a series of misconceptions, ones that many of us have and ones that if we want to be effective, we need to let go of once and for all.  So, today, I want to share these thoughts with you and hopefully we can all move forward thinking of our audiences as individuals rather than a blank sea of nameless faces that we will never have the chance to meet.

1347640_senior_smile.jpgMisconception #1 – The Older Generations Lack Technical Skill

I’ll admit, right off the bat, I am guilty of this.  I have often gauged the level of a person’s technical savvy almost solely based on the decade of their age.  This, my friends, is a mistake.  A huge mistake because, as I learned during my lecture, there is one very important variable that we are failing to take into account when we make this assumption.  A person who has several years logged in the real world work force has been forced to learn how to roll with the punches.  And this means the technological punches as well as the literal and figurative ones.  They didn’t learn about previous waves of technology through reading a book or watching a movie….they used them….everyday….to do their job.

And then, when new technology came out, they learned to use that too.

These individuals are used to adapting.  They are used to embracing the new (whether they really want to or not) and making it a part of their daily routine.  We really don’t give them enough credit for this.  Or for the fact that they often have in-depth knowledge of the types of real world technologies that are actually used in the business world.  They may not be able to run a smart phone, but they can learn a new inventory system in their sleep.

Misconception #2 – The Younger Generation Has Technical Skill864507_office_work_6.jpg

Now for the flip side of the coin.  I’m guilty of this too.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a young person and just assumed that they knew how to operate some form of technology.  And, while almost any person under the age of 30 can run a Smartphone in their sleep while uploading a video and changing their Facebook status, most of them have absolutely no experience with things like network security, access protocols or content management.

They know how to study on a computer, how to do research and how to jot off a perfect works cited page, but beyond that…..they are flying blind.

The lesson here is two-fold. 

First, we all have to stop making assumptions based on age.  They aren’t accurate and they are hindering our ability to create valid E-Learning initiatives for our users.   The second is that we must learn how to bring these two groups together and let them learn from each other.  They each have their strengths and, in that, have much to offer.

When we can harness this, the power of age working synergisticly with experience, we will be able to optimize the effectiveness of our presentations and build the right platform for our entire user base.  No more nameless sea of faces, its time to look at our clients for what they are and let go of the misconceptions of the past.

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