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Generational Learning: Reality or Myth?

October 24, 2010

Much is written about the generational divide and its influence on the workplace. The Procurement Insights blog features an excellent summary by Bill McAneny, setting out the differences. While offering few new insights, it provides an excellent overview and suggests fundamental variations in the way that learning and personal development is achieved by different generations.

There is wide consensus that ‘the great divide’ was caused by the advent of new technologies and the dramatic impact these have had on the way we learn and our access to information. But other factors are also identified, such as the relative numbers of workers in each generational group and the influence on young people of changes in social norms, such as the advent of two-income families.

I must admit to some scepticism about these broad-brush attempts to create generational segments. Such analyses tend to be very US-centric – and even then apply largely to the more privileged members of US society. Outside these ranks, many of the depicted ‘norms’ are unrecognizable. For example, the birth rate analysis or the references to social welfare programs or the depiction of the 1980s as ‘the era when mothers started to go out to work’ have little or no relevance in countries such as India or China, where such a high proportion of today’s knowledge workers reside. Indeed, I question the extent to which this generalized analysis applies even in the US, given the large numbers of recent immigrants within the professional workforce.

Throughout history, every new generation has been dismissive of the rules and methods of the past. Perhaps youth today is more vocal. But maybe it is just that they have new vehicles to express their hopes or frustrations – and a greater readiness on the part of the older generation to listen. Certainly the technology revolution is transforming the workplace and society as a whole. And the fact that today’s youth has grown up with networked technology has conferred some advantages and justifies their impatience. The media delights in stories of instant celebrity and wealth, creating a belief in many that they can achieve rapid success.

There is no question that technology has transformed our ability to obtain information ‘on demand’. This rightly leads us to re-think the form that learning should take. For example, smart youngsters use on-line networks and web searches to obtain instant input. But they still require methods and good business judgment; the networks they use must offer quality and reliability.

At IACCM, we have developed a worldwide community that benefits from networking tools, mentoring and on-demand training and research. We observe major variations in those who grasp these benefits to raise their knowledge and their effectiveness. There are generational differences. It is certainly true that younger people tend to be more open to learning through web-based programs. But cultural differences are probably even more significant. In markets such as China and India, there is a hunger for knowledge and personal advancement. There is also a variation between industries, with sectors such as technology, outsourcing and oil and gas at the forefront of new methods.

In the end, I think the generational analysis is simplistic and unhelpful, certainly in the context of the global market in which we operate today.

  1. Once again Tim, you bring an interesting perspective (especially the cultural consideration related to an increasingly global market) to a current hot topic.

    I hope that you will tune in to my interview with Bill McAneny tomorrow @

    I will be certain to inject your comments into the discussion.

  2. Syed Khan permalink

    this is another interesting Topic, with internet and huge google intellegence at the finger tips, sometimes become difficult to judge anyone face value, but the difference between information, knowledge and wisdom will always remain there. the latter 2 comming from real education, experience and lastly a culmination of generations of shared experience and knowledge.

    The only way we can judge is how much innovation and progress is made in each generation……..

  3. As promised Tim, here is the link to today’s show in which I interjected your thoughts into the discussion . . . very interesting;

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Tomorrow’s broadcast regarding generational learning stirs up debate even before the show airs « Contracting Intelligence Blog
  2. Tomorrow’s broadcast regarding generational learning stirs up debate even before the show airs « Procurement Insights

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