Is eLearning Ageist?

Is eLearning Ageist?
Summary: We live in a world where being young is seen as a positive bonus in itself and seems to be a prerequisite for entry to, and advancement in, many industries today. This is particularly true in computer and hi tech industries, but is rapidly spreading to other traditional industries too. While the world is in a tizzy spin trying to “catch ‘em young”, I wonder about the eLearning Industry’s take on catering to the not-so-young.

eLearning And Age: Is eLearning Ageist?

The term “ageism” refers to two concepts: A socially constructed way of thinking about older persons based on negative attitudes and stereotypes about aging, and a tendency to structure society based on an assumption that everyone is young, thereby failing to respond appropriately to the real needs of older persons.

How many times have we read company blurbs proclaiming that they are “Young, dynamic, and going places fast” - or words to that effect? Even older well-established firms boast of “A young workforce in tune with today’s changing world”.

It is no secret why younger workers are preferred; they are cheaper, flexible (work more hours), disposable (soon as they have given their all). To my mind this whole situation reached a new nadir when I read that both Apple and Facebook were offering to freeze the eggs of their female employees (so that they could give their all to the company in their 20s and 30s)!

The days when an employee could stay with a single firm for their entire working life are long gone, and today multiple job changes and even career changes have become the norm. This now means a situation where someone progresses through their career, changing jobs and advancing up the seniority level, coming to a stage where they then suddenly become unemployable because of their age?

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was just 22 when he famously said “Young people are just smarter”. He is now 30 years old; and in Silicon Valley now the maxim is “Don’t hire anyone over 30”. So the “Facebooks” and “Apples” of this world get them young, work them hard, spit them out, leaving a lot of people in the 35+ age bracket looking for jobs that do not exist for them as they are “too old”.

Are young people smarter, as Zuckerberg claims them to be? There is certainly evidence that shows that as a person ages they learn at a slower rate, but if you read my article “Old Dogs, New Tricks”, research has shown that intellectual ability actually increases until age forty, stays on a plateau and doesn’t show decrease until about age sixty. That is how Albert Einstein conceived his “Theory of Relativity” and Peter Higgs worked out the theory of the Higgs Boson while both were in their forties. So maybe instead of smarter, we could read cheaper, more comfortable with new technology, malleable to the company ethos, less likely to question, but in the end expendable?

The disturbing thought is that with the ever increasing pace of technological change, the number of years between when a person is “too young to be trusted” until he becomes “too old to get hired” will continue to diminish.

So where does eLearning come into all this? Is eLearning ageist? eLearning is becoming almost universal in progressive verticals today, and critics may see it as wittingly or unwittingly aiding and abetting the ageism culture that surely flourishes in the workplace.

eLearning is a powerful tool for learning in all formats, but in the industrial arena is it doing enough to ensure that older employees are not left behind? Being a young industry, is it giving enough thought to people who are not still in their 20s and 30s – do we give any thought at all?

I invite readers to share their comments on some of the questions that we must give a thought to:

  • Does eLearning training put older employees at a disadvantage to those younger because they are not as comfortable or familiar with the devices used, unused to receiving information in this form, and are therefore slower to absorb the information presented?
  • Do older employees score lesser in online assessments?
  • Could lower scores mean that there are chances of them being sidelined for promotion or inclusion in specialized teams, even though they may have made a much better candidate because of their experience, track record, and stability?
  • Is there a fear that they might be unjustly dispensed with where an employer uses performance in eLearning as the sole criteria for employment?


  1. Ageism and age discrimination
  2. Apple and Facebook offer to freeze eggs for female employees
  3. Say what? 'Young people are just smarter'
  4. The Role of Aging in Adult Learning: Implications for Instructors in Higher Education