“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

-Chinese proverb

Recently I was a guest on an SAP-sponsored radio program called Game-Changers discussing the way that different generation groups prefer to learn.

While conducting research for the program, I had a conversation with a 28-year-old female friend about the process of learning.  I made the erroneous assumption that due to her age, she would prefer to learn new content on a computer. She responded, “I am on the computer all day long, why would I want to spend extra time learning that way?”

It made me re-think some common misperceptions.  I often hear about the uber-tech millennial who prefers all information to be transmitted at sonic speed over the Internet.  Like any other generation or group, while some general observations can be made, it is risky to generalize.  Upon further probing, I learned my 28-year-old friend prefers to learn with others, so that best practice sharing along with business relationships can happen.

Her preferences made me reflect back on my experiences completing my Master’s degree in 2009.  The degree program in Instructional Technology (learning to use technology to enhance instruction) included students of all ages 20-50’s.  The program was offered in three formats:  1) online, 2) face-to-face, or 3) some combination of both coined as HyFlex by esteemed educator Dr. Brian Beatty. 

One might predict that the population of learners for this type of degree would prefer online participation.  Surprisingly, many of the students preferred face-to-face learning.  And while input and collaboration was possible for the online learner, the majority of attendees in my Master’s program still preferred to attend in person.  The consensus was that live learning seemed to possess more dynamism, and networking was an advantage.  These same reasons matched my 28-year-old friend‘s preference-– the collegial nature of the communication was an extra benefit to learning.

Through a survey of graduate students in Hyflex programs, Dr. Beatty learned that a more accurate deduction about online vs face-to-face preference could be made from the gender of the learner.

“Female graduate students, on average, reported that it was more important to them to feel connected to the people involved in the class (teacher, peers) than it was to feel connected to the content or activities. Male graduate students, on average, reported that it was more important to them to feel connected to the content or activities being studied than it was to feel connected to the people involved in the class (teacher, peers).”

The good news is that in today’s work world we have many options for all learners and content.  E-learning has become much more interactive and interesting.  With conference technology, members in remote locations can join in, and collaborative technology keeps improving.  Face-to-face learning can be supplemented with online and/or telephonic coaching.  And the traditional face-to-face learning has been mostly improved, replacing the “Sage on the Stage” lecturer with the expert facilitator who taps into the participants’ knowledge.

In summary, it’s a great time to be learning….and it will only get better!

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