Teaching a baby boomer new tricks: baby boomer learning styles

Baby boomer learning styles

As an L&D specialist, you may struggle to overcome barriers from differing generational learning styles. However, this needn’t be the case: a better understanding of your learner population will lead to more successful learning and development across the company.

Who are the baby boomers, and how do they affect my business?

Baby boomers are now at the top of their career, with retirement looming in the coming years. Your baby boomer staff are likely to have been with your organisation for many years, and can often be characterised by their loyalty to a company. They are hard workers and self-assured in the workplace – they managed to grow their careers without e-learning tools, so can be dismissive to the implementation of Learning Management Systems (LMS). They appreciate a different style of learning to millennials, preferring to shadow more experienced staff and gain knowledge along the way.

If they’re so hardworking and loyal, why are baby boomer learning methods difficult to implement?

As the baby boomer generation is so self-assured in their learning methods, they can feel disengaged from their younger colleagues who have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Baby boomers can feel slightly fearful of technology, particularly with scaremongering over safety and security concerns often featuring in the news. This said, they are receptive to change, having already adopted many new processes and new technologies that businesses have implemented to reduce costs and drive growth.

Baby boomer learning

Your baby boomer employees are likely to be more senior within the company structure, and therefore it is important to allow them to voice their concerns and opinions as necessary. Managers can be non-receptive to change, particularly regarding the implementation of digital learning platforms. Research has evidenced that 58% of companies [1] believe that line managers are one of the main barriers to learning and development, with managers reluctant to allow their staff to ‘eat into’ their working hours for training purposes.

Estimates suggest that 1,000 baby boomers are retiring an hour [1], with 700,000 set to leave the working world [1] in the very near future. The generation, therefore, may be reluctant to engage with their own professional development as they feel it is an unnecessary use of their time. Furthermore, as devoted employees who have risen through the ranks, they are reluctant to put their teams through training as staff turnover is much higher than it was 20 years ago [1] – as millennials have less loyalty to a company, baby boomers are disinclined to provide training to their younger staff.

Furthermore, there is often a lack of measures put in place for management and leadership – these skills are necessary to provide the company with a strong management team, but as they are seen to be ‘soft’ skills, organisations often put precedence on training that leads to members of staff becoming qualified. As a result, the training and development of older employees can be left on the side-lines.

How can I get my baby boomer staff to want to engage with learning and development?

To engage your staff, it is important to promote a strong sense of community within your company. Baby boomers characteristically thrive in team environments, and can feel empowered if paired with millennials. By implementing a ‘mentor’ scheme, you allow your baby boomers to share their knowledge with your millennial staff, allowing them to teach their colleagues as they themselves were taught.

It is also worth considering that learning strategies for management and leadership training is often out of sync with the skillset of what your staff actually require for management. Indeed, 41% of training on Frontline Leader Development is not applied back on the job [1]. This can make learning seem redundant as it is not relevant to their requirements. To successfully implement management training, discussing concerns and best practices is crucial in order to implement the changes they seek.

Often, it is not your workforce that are a barrier to the learning and development of your company, but instead, the company itself. 66% of companies view the cost of development of a LMS, its maintenance and its set up as a barrier [1]. However, this is short sighted as efficient training can see a reduction of up to 18% in costs [1] once the system has been implemented.


For a Learning Management System to be truly successful with the older user, its user interface must be simple and effective. If this has been implemented correctly, users will not feel that they need to ‘learn to use the software’ – instead, it should be intuitive and similar to programmes that they have used in their personal lives. With 33% of Facebook’s users aged 45 years or older [2], baby boomers have proved themselves to be adaptable when it comes to emerging social platforms, and this reflects in how they use online tools.

Baby boomers should feel a natural affinity to online tools, as they should be developed with a practical, pragmatic approach in mind – an ‘all bells and whistles’ approach can be off putting and reduce the value of the product. Instead, it should provide learning in a comfortable format that does not feel forced.

Baby boomer staff can influence and guide millennial staff, many of whom will be the future leaders. It is important to recognise the baby boomers for their worth and value they bring. It is worthwhile to help them to understand e-learning as an important function, how it will support them and their teams and enable the business to provide training that is accessible, scalable and sustainable, supporting future growth and operational goals.

[1] Towards Maturity’s 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report

[2] The Statistics Portal


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