What is the "gap" in Generational Learning Styles?

The gap? It seems to be in the use of evidence-based ISD methods.

We all have probably read in mainstream press by now, and elsewhere in our professional content sources, AND we’ve heard about it from the keynote speakers we’ve witnessed…about the learning style/preference differences between generations…and its impact to Learning.

I witnessed the ISPI keynote talk about the same two weeks ago.

I’ve always wondered about these types of claims with a “so what” attitude, born of skepticism from prior learnings at the NSPI, now ISPI conferences and publications over the very-hyped concepts/techniques in many of the “other” forums used by ISD-types to conduct their own continuous learning.

NSPI/ISPI isn’t a Trade organization, so they don’t represent the Trade. ISPI is a members organization and approaches the “whole enchilada” of performance a little differently for that reason…they represent the members. Individuals more interested in terminal results than exactly how you got there. And then they are interested in transferability. Can it be replicated elsewhere?

Long-time ISPI’ers often argue about “measured results.” About repeatability/replicability. About performance and its gaps from ideal and its ultimate value. Value measured at 4 levels – that aren’t Kirkpatrick’s. Those are: Performer, Process, Organization, and Society. Tom Gilbert had a PIP equation, for determining the Performance Improvement Potential to get to “Worthy Performance” that is very similar to the factors of any ROI equation.


In a white paper written for the US Army in July 2006:

Science of Learning Workshop – U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences And Institute for Defense Analysis

…author Richard E. Clark, PhD, professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, wrote:

Next the discussion focuses on how individual, generational and cultural differences may (or may not) influence learning, motivation and performance during and after training…

… Many other individual and group differences have been studied and a few have many supporters based on intuitive beliefs in their effectiveness. Many social commentators have claimed that the younger generation of soldiers have shorter attention spans and learn best from fast paced, interactive multimedia games or simulations.

While this seems intuitively correct, there is no scientific validation for the claim. A recent, systematic, large scale study of individual, team and generational differences in business organizations not only failed to identify generational differences, it reported common factors accounting for the performance of adults at all age levels. Similarly, claims that adults have different “learning styles” have not been supported despite a very large number of studies on this topic over many years.


Let’s repeat part of that here:

Many social commentators have claimed that the younger generation of soldiers have shorter attention spans and learn best from fast paced, interactive multimedia games or simulations. While this seems intuitively correct, there is no scientific validation for the claim.

Hmmm. Are these younger generation of soldiers different from their peer groups? Or do they adequately represent mainstream…the rest of the US of A? Do they represent the rest of the developed world adequately? Do they represent all?

At http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html the US Census Bureau states that 80.4% of the US is HS educated.

According to the US Army FY05 “Army Profile” 87% of its recruits have a HS degree. http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/demographics/FY05%20Army%20Profile.pdf

So at least in the USA the “recruits” have at least as much education – and of course that doesn’t speak to the quality of it – I know!

Well – so what?

Well, I’d quit listening to “the generational gaps in learning styles preferences” talk and sales pitches…and focus on performance…

…and focus performance-based learning via “instruction AND information” either prior to and/or during the workflow…

…and focus on the use of proven principles of learning.

Again from Dick Clark’s white paper for the US Army:

Past research has helped describe the psychological processes that must be supported during learning and the way that instruction can provide guidance. One of the most promising recent approaches can be found in a review of several research-based training design systems by David Merrill with support from the American Society for Training and Development. His review focused on five generalizations about the type of trainee experiences that appear to be essential for successful training:

Learning from training is increased when:

1. Trainees prior knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge
2. Trainees are engaged in solving authentic, real world problems
3. New knowledge is demonstrated to the trainee
4. Trainees are required to apply new knowledge and receive feedback
5. New knowledge is integrated into the trainees world

All of these prescriptions are useful for every training lesson or course and, if adopted, each generalization describes criteria that must be achieved by all training methods for every lesson or course.


So learning from Formal Learning is increased via these 5 factors.

And as Dick has also pointed out elsewhere – that Informal Learning doesn’t work except for a very few…

… “the evidence from the past 50 years of research on this issue is unequivocal – unguided or minimally guided discovery and constructivist learning programs simply do not work for more than a very small percentage of people.”

…so you should forgittabout Informal Learning and focus on determining/clarifying Performance Competence and then enabling that!

May the PERFORMANCE FORCE be with you!

for more on my approach to performance improvement AND performance-based ISD, see my quarterly newsletter and my book, lean-ISD…

…both available as free PDFs at http://www.eppic.biz/

2 comments on “What is the "gap" in Generational Learning Styles?

  1. Pingback: T&D: Learning Styles Are Bogus | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: L&D: My Learning Style Preference: Osmosis Learning | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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