Generational Differences in eLearning

Today’s workplace is a multigenerational ecosystem, employing four different generations for the first time in contemporary history.

Baby boomers, Generation Xers, millennials and Generation Zers, ranging in age from their late teens to the 70s, all have different expectations from employers, as Human Resource professionals know all too well.

When it comes to eLearning, accommodating those differences may feel like an insurmountable task, but as it turns out, eLearning can be the perfect conduit for on-the-job training, if done right.

In a study published on ScienceDirect, which examined the differences between generational age groups in their perceived satisfaction with eLearning, researchers found that overall satisfaction with eLearning was “fairly significant” among the various generations.

The key to that satisfaction is appreciating how different generations learn. According to instructional designers, one important factor in workplace learning preference is the predominant educational trends during a student’s formal education.

For instance, Baby Boomers were likely taught in a linear fashion, Gen Xers in pods or modules, and Millennials were taught in a more constructivist environment, conducting research in a networked structure.

These differences can help guide how courses and learner experiences are tailored to suit everyone. For example, while some subjects are best taught in a lineal manner, others can take a more narrative approach. Likewise, some questions have definite right and wrong answers while others allow for multiple correct options.

Recognizing these differences is the first step to ensuring eLearning meets the needs of both employers and employees, at any age.

Here are some other factors to consider when developing an online training course:

Keep it Simple

You can’t assume every learner will intuitively know how to navigate a course. Course design needs to be clear and user experience seamless so there are no stumbling blocks for anyone, regardless of their age.

Be Inclusive

The generational diversity in today’s workplace should also be reflected in eLearning content. Creating examples and scenarios that different generations can relate to will go a long way to furthering their understanding, and engagement. This could mean including stories that evoke emotions, which Baby Boomers may respond well to, while utilizing practical examples, which may resonate more with Gen Xers.

Allow for Different Learning Styles

We know Millennials prefer to have their learning on demand, available to them in mobile format, anytime and anywhere, while Baby Boomers will often complete a course in one sitting. Given that different generations tackle learning on different schedules, it’s vitally important to cater to these different styles. Having eLearning available on all devices – desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile, on an app or via an internet page – allows for employees to work where they want, when they want, within their own timetables and leaning styles.

Offer Different Rewards and Incentives

Regardless of generation, everyone is motivated differently. For some learners, successfully completing a course is reward enough, while others prefer more tangible rewards, such as a new job title or added responsibilities.


Xpan develops digital learning solutions for companies globally. From design to deployment, our team is making heroes of Learning and Development Officers and contributing to the worldwide number of individuals improving their workplace experience (and lives) with better learning.