Microlearning For Baby Boomers And Generation X

Microlearning For Baby Boomers And Generation X

The sheer proliferation of eLearning content, development and training applications, LMS platforms, and shiny, digitized delivery mechanisms have swamped our corporate training landscape in recent years. Not surprisingly though, considering that Industrial Revolution 4.0 is entrenched into every aspect of our "being" at home, at play, and at work. The age of disruption brings forth unique challenges to facilitate continuous value-adding and sustainable learning initiatives in corporate enterprises.

As the logical replacement for traditional Instructor-Lead training and face-to-face learning, eLearning offers companies the capabilities to deliver flexible on-demand learning, with convenient anywhere access, and of course multiple-device integration and syncing to their employees.

However, this "next best thing" comes with a twist: winning the war of "screen distractions" when a learner’s device is pinging, beeping, and buzzing from multiple other notifications (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) lobbying for their attention right this minute. The average person looks at their smart device more than 58 times a day...now try and deliver a constructive training session with all that digital noise!

Enter the microlearning phenomenon [1]. Originating from the Greek word micros (small), microlearning aims to deliver training content on a smart device (phone, notebook, tablet) in bite-sized chunks focusing on a unique concept or idea, supported by 1-2 underlying themes, all in the timeframe of 3-5 minutes.

What Is The Perfect Solution?

In a perfect world, microlearning seems like the silver bullet solution to counteract the mother of all disruptions (a.k.a. constant connectivity). All you need is a 3-5 minute window to deliver training content, sandwiched in between push notifications and messenger updates, correct?

Regrettably, it is not that clear cut. Granted that our digital native employees (nexters and millennials) are almost born with smartphones in their hands, and will account for 75% of the global workforce in 2025 (that’s tomorrow). On the flip side, however, let’s not discount the remaining 25% of baby boomers and Generation X employees who grew up and commenced their careers in pre-technological, analog times. These employees are almost forced to “adapt and adopt” to a digital "world of work" or get left behind. Today’s training and development scene, in their minds, is unfamiliar, left-field, and a far cry from the classroom-based training, face-to-face development conferences, and printed course notes, they had grown accustomed to previously.

Microlearning may trigger a fight or flight response in baby boomer and Gen X employees, manifesting in despondent, distracted, and disengaged learners either avoiding, procrastinating, or kicking against a microlearning initiative. (What can you teach me in five minutes anyway?)

Being In Tune And On Point

How do we adapt microlearning to attract, engage, and offer user-friendly experiences to the digital adopters in our companies?

Offer substance. Going wild with an aesthetically appealing User Interface containing all the bells and whistles of interactive gamification, animatronics, and on-point imaging will do little to impress a tenured learner if the content is not authentic, meaningful or if it does not inspire a willingness to know more.

  • Explain the purpose
    Unequivocally conveying the benefit of the learning material to boomers and "Xers" is critical. Aim for SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely ) learning goals and objectives, clarifying the purpose to participants. When designing microlearning curriculums, there should always be a valid answer to the question: What's in it for me (WIIFM), the content consumer? Learners are far more likely to participate when they can envision the end-game advantage of their learning efforts.
  • Create a "what's next" anticipation
    Keep them glued to their smart devices, wondering which material will be introduced after the next swipe, tap, or keystroke. Use the tactic of "surprise and delight" when creating subject matter and visual effects.
  • Inspire and awe
    Ask any kindergarten teacher how to engage a classroom of 3-year-olds, and they will tell you it lies in the art of inspirational storytelling and creative analogies to bring across a concept [2]. A microlearning session that connects with the participant and relates to their frame of reference is a proven mechanism to keep them fully focused and increase long-term retention of the material.
  • Bring on the challenge
    Think Jack Welsch, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Michael Dell and Jack Dorsey. These business pioneers from the boomer/X generations proved beyond a doubt that challenge is a catalyst to greatness for individuals from these generations. The sense of accomplishment from mastering a difficult task, or being challenged by an unconventional idea, is invaluable for microlearning practices to succeed with employees aged 35–60 and beyond. Create viral-like content that is fun to read, thought-provoking, and encourages chatter among senior learners.
  • Mind the message
    Opting for generation appropriate verbiage and multi-media effects are vital to grabbing the attention of this target audience. Present engaging content with beguiling titles and the right wording that catches the eye and provides JIT (Just-In-Time) information for a learner skimming over the material. Reinforcing a message that is visually aligned with the text by showcasing colorful backgrounds and attractive images is paramount to learning success. Pay attention to color schemes, hues, textures, and patterns. To boost visual aesthetics why not look for an example of colorful background schemes on photography and design pages or blogs for added inspiration and tips [3]. Adding animation or videos will enhance the “stickiness” of the material because visual and audio stimuli improve student engagement.

Falling Out Of Sync

Training purists advocating for preserving traditional ILT (Instructor-Led Training) may have valid concerns about the "adhesion factor" of microlearning. Boomer and X generations are naturally more hesitant and apprehensive about embracing new technologies and alternative training mechanisms.

  • In isolation
    Self-directed learning and automation do not resonate sufficiently with a more tenured participant; therefore, collaboration activities such as branching scenarios (student to student or student to trainer to student), interactive participation (quizzes with competition boards) are highly advisable to encourage their buy-in.
  • Shoddy presentation
    Videos, graphics, and animation can make or break a microlearning strategy. Language, grammar, sentence construction, and punctuation should be polished and professional. Use crisp, appealing images and top quality videos; nothing tanks a training session quicker than blurry pics and grainy footage.
  • Lack of support
    Course navigation should be straightforward and instinctive. Use a test audience initially to get feedback regarding the User Experience. Always present a help, how-to or FAQ option (message and chatbots if you can). Pre-training induction sessions may be offered in a microlearning format too. This provides less tech-savvy learners with an opportunity to get familiarized with the ins and outs of microlearning.
  • Absent cheerleading
    Recognition is one of the driving factors to motivate an older crowd regardless of their outwardly portrayed independence and self-assurance. For example, implementing recognition strategies, such as rankings, leaderboards, top scores or badges may appeal to their competitive nature and self-worth by offering tangible acknowledgment for their efforts.
  • Too much going on
    Focused curriculums addressing a single topic with one or two underlying themes offer more gains than superficial sessions covering multiple topics in the space of five minutes. Similarly, pay attention to sentences containing unnecessary adjectives or descriptive words, long passages, and paragraphs. Think concise, punchy and to-the-point. A tone of voice that is too academic complicates the participant's comprehension and retention, therefore keep to a light conversational, yet professional, style. Be mindful regarding imaging and graphics, in microlearning design, less is more.

Pinpoint The Learning Sweet Spot

Designing a microlearning strategy for baby boomer and Generation X employees is no small feat, and the trick to this engagement trade may be to first determine the sweet spot of generational learning preferences for these audience demographics.

Training professionals and content creators should investigate the specific triggers of each generation in terms of their primary channels of communication and their receptiveness to information accumulated via these interactive neurological pathways.

The next step is customizing the microlearning curriculums and delivery applications accordingly without trying to reinvent the microlearning wheel. Including a few familiar (traditional) features to the unfamiliar, bite-sized training characteristics of microlearning will have boomers and "Xers" adapting to this new way of training in no time.

In Summary

Microlearning practices aligning with their communication and engagement preferences will have your baby boomer and Gen X employees fixated on their screens, not raging against them.


[1] 2018 Microlearning Global Benchmark Report

[2] Pixar's 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling

[3] Search Images by Color: 15 Impeccable Collections for Projects

[4] How to Make Microlearning Matter