How can I ensure educational activities take into account the different learning styles of the various generations on my unit?

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Generational differences affect the learning process, which makes it essential for educators to understand learners when developing teaching material. Here's an overview of the preferred learning environments and teaching strategies for the four generations in the nursing workforce.

Veteran nurses were born between 1925 and 1945.

Preferred learning environment: Veterans prefer traditional, formal learning environments. They view educators as authority figures to be respected, so they seldom confront them directly if they disagree with what is being taught. They expect educators to behave in a businesslike manner and do not like to be asked to relay or to listen to experiences they believe are too personal.

Teaching strategies for Veterans: Goals and objectives must be explicit; provide organized handouts that summarize important points. Avoid small print in handouts and on computer screens. Provide help with new or unfamiliar technology when it is part of the teaching methodology.  Treat veterans with respect; encourage feedback midway through a program; explain how education will improve job performance.

Baby Boomers
Baby Boomer nurses were born between 1946 and 1964.

Preferred learning environment: Baby Boomers enjoy being treated as partners in the learning process. They are lifelong learners and dedicated to self- improvement. They are motivated to acquire knowledge and skills that help attain job promotions and salary increases.

Teaching strategies for Baby Boomers: Use ice breakers, discussions, and team learning activities. Avoid role-playing activities as most boomers dislike them. Encourage incorporation of life experiences as part of learning activities.

Generation X
Generation X nurses were born between 1965 and 1980.

Preferred learning environment: Generation X is comfortable with distance learning and do not need or even always want classroom interaction. They expect education to be available at times and places convenient for them; they dislike schedules and being told to be at a certain place at a certain time. They value and expect fun to be part of learning.

Teaching strategies for Generation X: Include hands-on learning activities and role playing. Allow plenty of time for discussion; for distance learning set up mechanism to answer questions (e.g., email) and encourage feedback. Include visual stimulation in the form of tables, pictures, and graphics; these are preferred to printed narratives.

Generation Y
Generation Y nurses were born between 1981 and 2001.

Preferred learning environment: Generation Y enjoys interacting with other learners. They expect blended learning because they expect education to be convenient and flexible.

Teaching strategies for Generation Y: Provide structure and fun as part of learning; incorporate blended learning since Generation Y enjoys interaction but expects distance learning too. Use mentor programs, which are highly valued. Incorporate music and games in learning activities. Identify reading resources as they like to read.

Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

(August 2011)