Young vs. Old

I often hear how “young people” (around 18-35) are very comfortable and savvy using technology. In my experience I haven’t seen much difference between the learning needs of young adults and older adults.  Yes, younger people are more comfortable with technology as general rule, but that doesn’t make them more skilled at using it and they have the same struggles as anyone else.  There are a couple of key differences I’ve found between a younger and older audience:

Experience: Many older workers have seen the impact of technology in their work lives evolve from no-impact to major impact. They remember the “dark days” of paper, typewriters, punch cards, terminal screens, arcane commands, hand-coding and other time-consuming and uninteresting tasks that were once required to create documents, enter data, perform calculations, create applications or issue commands. Younger workers weren’t around during that period and their expectations for easy to use/learn, intuitive applications is much higher and their lack of experience can mean additional training time explaining concepts like database relationships, web server/browser behaviors or security issues.

Attitude: Older workers (really, older people in general) tend to be more patient and appreciative of the efficiency opportunities provided by new technologies and are often more willing to expend the effort to learn the new tool. Younger workers tend to be less patient with learning complicated new technologies; however because of this they can be strong advocates for pushing an organization to adopt easier to use and more sophisticated tools and solid allies when you are pushing for real change. If you market the benefits of the tool correctly to older works, they can be just as passionate a champion.

There’s no question it would be awesome to have ERP or HRMS applications use Ipad, Android or Xbox type interfaces or be able to talk to them like HAL or the computers in Minority Report, but those kinds of advancements are still some distance in the future. In the meantime, these sorts of tools are going to be complex and require both usability improvements and training resources to maximize their potential in the hands of all end users, whether old or young.

Adult learning needs are essentially the same, no matter the age. There are different challenges for younger vs. older, but by following the fundamentals of show, tell and do you can bring both groups up to speed on the applications you want to implement.