Bridge the Generation Gap in Nursing with Diverse, Creative Education

The Staff Educator , October 6, 2009

For the first time in history, there are four distinct generations in the American workplace. Although no one learning style or preference is common to all members of a specific generation, there are some general characteristics that serve as guidelines for teaching strategies.

Be careful, however, not to stereotype learners. These characteristics and strategies are general suggestions to be adapted to the needs of individual learners. Research findings indicate that each generation has particular attitudes, expectations, values, work ethics, communication styles, and motivators (Hammill 2005). Let's look at each generation, its characteristics, and teaching strategies that might be most helpful for its members.

The Veterans
Also known as Traditionalists, Veterans were born between 1922 and 1945 and personally dealt with two of the most significant events of the 20th Century: the Great Depression and World War II (Avillion 2008, Filipczak et al. 1999, and Hammill.)

The Veteran's view of family is that of a "traditional" nuclear family, consisting of two parents and their children within one household. They look upon education as a privilege (Avillion, Hammill) and view authority figures with respect. They are not likely to question them or express concerns directly, so you may not find they have concerns until you read their evaluations, so ask for feedback throughout the program. They prefer formal, businesslike learning environments (Avillion).

Teaching strategies for Veterans include:

  • Make sure learners are able to use equipment needed for the learning activity, especially for distance activities (such as computers, simulation tools, etc.) but don't assume they don't know how to use new technology.
  • Provide organized handouts that summarize the key points of the learning activity.
  • Explain how new skills relate to job performance
  • Encourage discussion.
  • Don't put Veterans "on-the-spot" by asking them to demonstrate unfamiliar techniques in front of others. Allow practice time in private.

Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers, the product of the post WWII baby boom, were born between 1946 and 1964. Baby Boomers saw the beginnings of changes in the family structure, from the traditional viewpoint of the Veterans to increased number of divorces and single-parent families (Avillion; Filipczak et al.; Hammill).

Boomers were usually doted on by their parents and grew up believing that they were entitled to the best the world has to offer. They believe that they are entitled to education, including higher education, and that they have a responsibility to change the world for the better (Avillion; Filipczak et al.)

Boomers have a passionate work ethic and desire for financial success. They value both teamwork and personal gratification in the workplace. Boomers are dedicated learners and initiated the self-help craze (Avillion; Hammill).

Boomers may come across as know-it-alls and do not respond well to authority figures. They respond best to educators who treat them as equals and share examples of their own experiences with learners. They value team work and personal gratification in the workplace and during learning activities (Avillion).

Baby Boomers are best motivated to learn if new knowledge and skills are designed to help them excel on the job and gain recognition (Avillion; Filipczak et al.; Hammill).

Consider these tips when planning education for Baby Boomers:

  • Incorporate team building activities, discussion, and icebreakers as part of learning activities.
  • Avoid extensive role-playing activities. Boomers do not usually like them.
  • Allow time for private practice of new skills since Boomers, like Veterans, don't like to display lack of knowledge in public.
  • Make information easily accessible. Remember that Boomers are the first generation to access the Internet and are fascinated with its use.

Generation X
Members of Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980. Referred to as the latch-key generation, Xers are accustomed to having both parents work outside the home and letting themselves in after school with their own keys (Avillion; Hammill).

Xers view education as a means to success. They are cautious about money, having seen their parents downsized, perhaps more than once. Accustomed to change in family and work status, this generation is comfortable with change. They like a balance between work and leisure, value flexibility, dislike close supervision, and prefer self-directed learning. Xers are born distance learners (Avillion; Filipczak et al.; Hammill).

Because they witnessed the downsizing of their parents, and perhaps grandparents, members of Generation X are not loyal to an organization. They do not automatically respect authority figures; you need to earn their respect. Instead, they are loyal to themselves and their own individual career paths (Avillion; Filipczak et al.; Hammill).

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