Multi-Generational Workforce Training Requires Personalization

By: on July 20, 2018

Age is just a number … unless you’re a corporate trainer.

For these folks, age is also a significant challenge: How in the world do you engage every employee in your organization during training when they can span five different and distinct generations?

U.S. Workforce by Generation, 2017
The U.S. workforce by generation

Source: Pew Research Center

Basic math says small and midsize businesses (SMBs) should prioritize training around millennials—they passed Generation X as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce in 2015 and will make up a majority of workers by 2020.

But there’s a major flaw with this prioritization approach: Even if 80 percent of your employees are millennials, you’re still ignoring 20 percent of your workforce. In a world where all it takes is one employee that wasn’t engaged during cybersecurity training to bring your whole organization down, that has consequences.

And if you believe that older workers aren’t as interested in training or that it doesn’t provide as much of a return, you’re wrong.

The bottom line is SMBs that rely on “one-size-fits-all” training that prioritizes only one generation’s preferred learning style or desired skills will alienate a portion of their workforce and fail to meet desired training outcomes.

The best solution to the challenge of multi-generational workforce training isn’t prioritization, but personalization. Organizations need to deliver personalized learning experiences to every single worker to engage them fully in the material and achieve positive results.

With help from the Gartner report, “Digital Personalization Improves Learner Experience” (available to Gartner clients), let’s look at how personalization improves multi-generational workforce training and detail ways you can implement it in your SMB through the right data, training content and learning technology.

Training Personalization Fixes the Broken Learner Path

U.S. businesses are investing more in employee training than ever before: hiring more training staff, implementing new technology and creating or purchasing better course material.

These investments are important if you want to reskill or retrain your best workers. But the impact of these improvements are minimized by an antiquated learner path in use at many SMBs:

Example of a Typical Learner Path in Corporate Training
Example of the the typical learner path in corporate training

As you can see, this path often leaves others trapped in the following frustrating loop:

  1. Do the one course offered on a subject.
  2. Take a final assessment.
  3. Repeat until you pass.

And why has this broken system become commonplace? The reasons aren’t a huge mystery.

Historically, small businesses haven’t had the time or budget to offer different types of trainings or experiences with one subject (or didn’t care to). Replace “assessment” with “final exam” in this path and you’ve described the U.S. collegiate system.

But this isn’t good enough. As Gartner puts it, “organizations can no longer afford to simply create one set of training materials and treat all audiences the same.”

SMBs need to segment their multi-generational workforce thoughtfully, and present each segment with training that caters to their needs to improve learner engagement and knowledge retention.

That’s where personalization comes in.

Borrowed from the worlds of marketing and online retail, personalization leverages historical data, worker preferences and predictive analytics to deliver timely, relevant training content to each individual worker based on their tendencies and needs.

Example of a recommended learner path

Example of personalization in employee training (Source)

If you’ve ever been on Amazon and gotten a recommendation based on your purchase history, you’re familiar with personalization. This concept isn’t limited to online shopping or the largest corporations anymore though.

Personalization is increasingly being leveraged by companies of all sizes to offer better training to their diverse workforces. According to a survey by Brandon Hall Group, 48 percent of businesses say they sometimes use personalized learning, while 10 percent say they use it all the time.

Personalization works to negate three significant weaknesses of the typical learner path that are only made more glaring with a diverse, multi-generational workforce:

  • Employees are no longer assumed to have the same baseline knowledge. Proficiency tests before training can allow you to cater the learner path for each worker based on what they already know, so you don’t waste their time.
  • Workers aren’t forced to learn the material in one specific way. If younger workers would prefer to learn through an informal conversation with a subject matter expert, they can. If older workers want to be in the classroom, they can too.
  • Material can be re-contextualized on repeat attempts. If an older employee fails a final assessment, they usually have to take the same course again with the same information presented in the same format, yet a different result is expected. With personalization, you can switch up the format to reinforce the material.

In the next section, we’ll show you how you can implement personalized training in your SMB.

How to Implement Personalized Training in 4 Steps

While it’s true that switching from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to a personalized approach in your training program won’t happen overnight, SMBs shouldn’t take this as a signal that it’s beyond their grasp.

Gartner points out that personalization isn’t a static experience, but one that can range in complexity from “simple content recommendations to more-advanced, rule-based workflow recommendations, to advanced and adaptive learning experiences.”

With this flexibility in mind, here are the four steps to implementing digital training personalization with a multi-generational workforce:

Segment Your Training Audience Using Hard Data, Not Gut Feel

The quickest way to sink any personalization effort is to make assumptions about your audience based on generational stereotypes. Millennials may be digital natives, but that doesn’t mean every millennial in your workforce prefers to take an online course.

That’s why every personalization effort should start with gathering hard data about your audience to understand how to best segment them into unique groups. The ideal way to do this is through a formal survey of your workforce.

Your survey should aim to uncover not only every worker’s role and training needs, but also their learning preferences and career aspirations. Some examples of questions you should include are:

  • “What is your role in the organization?”
  • “What are your career goals?”
  • “Which skills do you have now?”
  • “Which skills do you want to learn to advance your career?”
  • “Do you prefer the cadence of instructor-led training or a self-paced online course?”
  • “Would you prefer to do online training on a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone?”

When survey results come in, ask managers to bring it up in their one-on-ones with their direct reports to go over their responses.

This data is meaningful for two reasons:

First, you can segment your training audience into meaningful groups like “mobile-only” or “engineers that prefer instructor-led training” to act as a baseline for your personalization efforts.

Second, you can also use the survey results to compare what your workers want with your current course offerings to identify glaring content gaps, which leads me to step two …

Flesh Out Your Training Content With Needed Topics and Formats

This step is sadly unavoidable: In order to deliver personalized content to workers, you have to expand the offerings available to your employees.

Luckily, with a bit of strategy and help from content partners, this effort doesn’t need to be crazy expensive or involve building a ton of courses from scratch.

First, bucket the subjects you’re covering into three priority levels: the topics you need to cover, the topics you want to cover as an employer and then the topics your employees said they want training on from the survey.

How to prioritize topics to cover in employee training

Start with your needs, and exhaust various resources to flesh out the training options for that topic. Here are some good options to consider:

  • Training course libraries like, Udemy and BizLibrary offer ready-made online courses on thousands of topics.
  • Partner with local universities, non-profits and trade organizations that offer workshops or classes in your area.
  • Reach out to subject matter experts through LinkedIn and ask if they’ll lead a webinar training or lend you useful resources.
  • Leverage the existing skills and knowledge in your workforce to create user-generated content (UGC).

The goal is to build up as many options for training on your prioritized topics as you can.

Establish Learning Paths and Administer Pre-Training Proficiency Tests

After you have your targeted segments and training materials, it’s time to align them.

Beginning again with your priority topics, create a list of courses or trainings that your different segments will complete in order to be considered proficient in that area, based on their preferences.

You may give one segment—your salespeople who prefer self-paced training—a path of four to five online courses regarding sales tactics. You may give another segment—your marketers who want to be in the classroom—a path with classes and workshops on your marketing automation system.

A customized new hire learning path in LearnUpon

Ideally, workers are able to complete the trainings in whichever order they choose to give them maximum freedom and flexibility. But if there are some that should be done in order, make that clear.

Once your baseline paths have been established and you’ve assigned workers to their path, administering a baseline proficiency test in that area before they begin training can personalize it even further. Workers that fail the test can be required to go through every course and training in their path, while those that pass can take a more abbreviated route.

If a worker fails a certain course, you now have other formats of training to offer them in order to reinforce the material.

Leverage an LMS to Analyze, Adjust, Advance and Automate

If you’ve done steps one through three, you’re already offering a basic form of learning personalization, and you’re likely able to do so through a combination of a proprietary training site, training course partners and spreadsheets. Congrats!

But in order to offer true digital personalization like those folks at Amazon, you need a learning management system (LMS). These platforms offer a number of advantages over more manual methods to take the personalization of your training to the next level:

  • Learning analytics highlights areas for improvement. You can learn which courses and formats are working, and which ones need an overhaul based on engagement metrics and assessment scores. Analytics can also tell you which workers need extra attention or to have their learner path adjusted.
  • Course rating systems float the best courses to the top. As workers rate courses, the system automatically flags the ones rated highly by similar workers in the same segment or topic area and serves them to relevant employees.
  • Adaptive learning makes adjustments automatically. Leveraging AI and predictive analytics, adaptive learning features can tap into each worker’s course histories, career goals and on-the-job performance review scores to recommend new courses or adjust their learner path automatically.

These aren’t some far-flung features only available in the most expensive systems either:

Gartner predicts nearly half of all learning technology providers will look to streamline the learner’s experience by providing context-aware (re: personalization) capabilities this year.

There’s no excuse not to get started.

Adopt an LMS to Deliver That Personal Training Touch

Whether you’re training 18-year-olds or 80-year-olds, it’s not about prioritizing one group over the other. It’s about leveraging data and technology to provide personalization to everyone in your multi-generational workforce so they get the experience that will set them up best for success.

To do that well, you need an LMS. Period.

Here’s how to find the right system that fits all of your needs:

  • Head to our LMS software page. Sort and filter top-rated products by your industry, size or budget. Click on a product to learn more about it.
  • Check out the FrontRunners® for Learning Management. We highlight the top LMS products on the market based on real user reviews.
  • Call 855-998-8505. Our team of LMS software advisors is standing by, waiting to answer your questions and actually recommend a few systems based on your needs. This a completely free, no-obligation consultation.

Note: The information contained in this article has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. The applications selected are examples to show a feature in context, and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

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