Learning Preferences & Differences In Indian Workplaces

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The new age workplace has multiple demographic changes challenging organizations to upskill/ upgrade their employees across career stages and develop them based on the organizations key goals and developmental areas for all the generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y/ Millennials) presently available at workplace. Different learning and development activities with technology integrated methods can be of great help to address the same in a short span of time. However, types of trainings, interventions that might benefit intergenerational groups needs to be identified based on respective generations’ characteristics, learning styles and technology cohesiveness for technology integrated learning methodologies. Relevance, Feasibility and Learning Impact to an individual and the organization are important parameters to designing and delivering different interventions.

Over a span of 3 months, we conducted 30 interviews in metro cities in India (Bangalore, Hyderabad & Delhi) involving working professionals belonging to Millennials (22 to 35 years), Generation X (36 to 48 years) and Baby Boomers (more than 48 years) cohorts of various IT & ITES companies/ organizations. Our findings show that both generations possess distinct characteristics, learning preferences and technology friendliness/ cohesiveness. We integrate these into a framework to form a conceptual model that learning and development practitioners can use to improvise their learning strategies in their respective organizations in a form that suits the needs of the organization.


In organizations today, generational phenomena may manifest in many ways and have varied consequences (Joshi, Dencker, Franz, & Martocchio, 2010). Research has focused on the behavioural characteristics commonly demonstrated by the Millennials and other generations (Eddy, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2010) (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010). However, changes in learning styles, preferences and mechanisms and technology friendliness/ cohesiveness of each of the generations at workplace today have not been extensively researched. Developing this insight is critical for learning and development professionals and instructional designers. This will help practitioners in creating effective training modules and programs to enable employees from across generations be successful at the workplace. Demographic changes challenge organizations to qualify employees across all career stages and to ensure the transfer of company-specific knowledge between experienced and young workers (Gerpott, Lehmann-Willenbrock, & Voelpel, 2017). This indeed leads to multiple improvements on various assignments being implemented at the organization level.

Generations at Modern Workplace

A generation is defined as a group of individuals born around the same time who share specific attitudes and values that can influence their behavior and expectations at work (Benson & Brown, 2011; Bristow, Amyx, Castleberry, & Cochran, 2011; Schullery, 2013; Twenge, Freeman, & Campbell, 2012). Different generations bring their own style, attitudes and knowledge to the workplace. Learning everyone’s strong points through mentorship and feedback helps make for a collaborative and collegial work environment. Understanding generational differences has been a great value add in hiring, training, retaining employees, communication styles, work ethics and technology in the workplace. From a social perspective, a generation can be defined as a group of individuals born within the same historical and socio-culural context, who experience the same formative experiences and develop unifying commonalities as a result (Mannheim, 1952, Pilcher, 1994). Every generation’s location in history limits its members to a specific range of opportunities and experiences, provides predisposes them to a certain “habitus,” a mode of thought and action, and restricts their range of self expression to certain pre-defined possibilities throughout their lives (Eyerman & Turner, 1998; Gilleard, 2004; Mannheim, 1952; Ryder, 1965).

Baby Boomers, Generation X & Millennials

Its common to have Baby Boomers (born around 1946 - 1964), Generation X (born around 1965 - 1981) and Generation Y (born around 1982 to 1998) all working in the same office. Generation Z (born 2000 onwards) will be the next to enter the workforce and the work dynamics is bound to change further based on the overall technological evolution in the modern day workplace.

GenY’ers have earned the reputation of being entitled, lazy and over praised, others are driven and using technology to help them advance every chance they can. This generation is the very well educated generation and they have different motivations and backgrounds. Millennials, generally want to make a difference and have fun while doing it and have an environment where they can continue to learn. Millennials cohort form a greater percentage of the workplace eco system and therefore it becomes critical for the organizations to incorporate systems and processes to suit the needs of the cohort. Gen X’ers, often called as slackers and want their independence and work life balance while Baby Boomers are known to stay with an organization for a long time, preferring structure and acceptance of authority figures. Though not all members fit into this categorization.

Generational differences in the workplace has been an interesting research area over the past two decades, generating multiple volumes of research articles, book chapters and books. We critically review the research evidence concerning generational differences in a variety of work-related variables, including personality, work values, work attitudes, leadership, teamwork, work-life balance and career patterns, assess its strengths and limitations, and provide directions for future research and theory (Lyons & Kuron, 2013) Different generations cohabiting the workplace can lead to better recruitment, retention, succession management, communication, employee engagement and conflict resolution (Dencker, Joshi, & Martocchio, 2008)

Despite a recent explosion of research concerning generational differences in the workplace, scholars and practitioners are presently faced with a confusing disarray of evidence generated in a variety of contexts, with different methodological and theoritical perspectives on the nature of generations. (Joshi, Dencker, Franz, & Martocchio, 2010). Our qualitative study make three contributions to the literature. First, we examine the theoritical foundations of generational characteristics, behaviors, differences of the same in the workplace. Second, we examine the learning preferences of each of these generations as a part of talent development agenda. Third, we understand how technology cohesiveness of the different generations and reasons behind the same. We conclude with a number of directions for future research that build our recommendations and address substantial gaps in the exitsting body of knowledge.

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Millennials at Workplace and the Changing Scenario

With the increasing population of the millennials in the workforce (Farell & Hurt, 2014), there has been increased interest in the behaviors which typify this cohort of new workers. Concerns emerge with some research citing dysfunctional behaviors of the millennials such as self-centeredness associated with the “Look at Me” generation (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010). The millennials are also reported to be disrespectful, disloyal and lacking in work ethic on the other hand (Monaco & Martin, 2007) (Myers & Sadaghiani, 2010)


We conducted qualitative interviews of about 10 individuals belonging to all the 3 generations. These interviews were recorded and then transcribed for our reference purpose. The same was further coded and decoded to get a better perspective of the same. These interviews gave us a broader outlook to a variety of perceptions of individuals belonging to different generations at a given workplace. This therefore shows some form of commonality in characteristics and attitudnal patterns thereby making it easier for us to correlate to a specific type of learning styles and ability to get along with different types of technology.

Intergenerational Learning Processes, Styles & Preferences

From the beginning of human race, intergenerational learning has occurred in families in terms of knowledge transfer from grandparents or parents to their children (Hoff, 2007; Newman & Hatton-Yeo, 2008). In the past few decades, owing to demographic changes and shifting family structures, intergenerational learning outside the family context has grown in relevance (Newman & Hatton-Yeo, 2008). Research on outside family intergenerational programs, such as university initiatives (Bratianu, 2014; Tam, 2014) and game-based education (Pappa et al., 2011), provides preliminary evidence for the positive effect that intergenerational learning has on the development of individuals’ knowledge, skills and attitudes outside family relationships. Organizational & Talent Development scholars have only recently become aware of the opportunities inherent in intergenerational learning (Ropes, 2013). Particular attention has been paid to the directionality of interaction processes between individuals from different generations (Harvey, 2012; Knight, Skouteris, Townsend, & Hooley, 2014; McCrea & Smith, 1997; Tempest, 2003).

The traditional perspective on intergenerational relationships as occurring in families assumes that intergenerational learning is a unidirectional knowledge transfer process from one generation to another. This understanding is rooted in the idea that older advisers (e.g., grand- parents, parents, or teachers) socialize younger individuals (e.g., children, adolescents, students). In the organizational context, mentoring is a typical example of a relationship in which younger employees are expected to learn from their older col- leagues’ experience (Hunt & Michael, 1983). Yet, scholars have also looked into reverse mentoring relationships in which younger employees teach their older colleagues new concepts, trends, and technological skills (Baily, 2009; Chen, 2013; Murphy, 2012). No matter which generation is the instructor or the scholar, the basic understanding of the unidirectional approach is that a more knowledgeable person transfers information to a less experienced individual.

By contrast, more recent research emphasizes that intergenerational learning should be framed as a bi-directional development process rather than a “one- way street,” because both generations can benefit from intergenerational exchange (Fair & Delaplane, 2015; Knight et al., 2014). From this point of view, all employees—irrespective of their age or position within the company—possess unique knowledge that they can share with their colleagues (Fuller & Unwin, 2004; Senge, 1990). Accordingly, interactions between employees of different generations are an opportunity for a bidirectional learning process in which individuals from both generations can learn from the unique knowledge of the other.


Traditionalists — Born before 1945, traditionalists tend to favour a more structured, “command and control” oriented learning program. Classroom lectures are often preferred. As more experienced members of the team, members of this generation may also be ideal mentors in select roles and organizations.

Baby Boomers — Born between 1946 and 1964, baby boomers expect a more personally-focused learning structure. The classroom continues to be an effective setting, although members of this generation tend to favour in-class participation, reflection, and feedback to bring them more directly into the process.

Generation X — Born between 1965 and 1981, the members of Gen X are often noted as the most fiercely independent of the 4 groups, prioritizing self-directed educational opportunities and programs that enable them to learn on their own schedule.

Millennials — Born after 1981, this latest generation to enter the workforce has married the learning preferences of its two predecessors, favouring highly personalized training on a self-directed schedule. As the members of Gen Y grew up with the internet, it should be no surprise this cohort also prefers to access information on-demand, whenever and wherever they may happen to want it.

Conclusions and Managerial Recommendations

Millennial cohort have different characteristics and therefore different behaviors to be able to align with different needs.


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