This chapter reviews the characteristics of learners of different generations. In particular, it compares their differences in terms of learning preferences as well as their typical skills and attitudes towards technology in e-learning. In addition, it discusses the impacts of these shared and varied learner characteristics on e-learning and provides suggestions and recommendations on how to address generational learning diversity in e-learning design and delivery. In responding to the emerging learning technologies, this chapter specifically analyzes generational learners’ preferences and characteristics regarding learning technologies, and the practical implications for designers and educators working on e-learning for highly diversified audiences representing various generations.
With the increasing diversity apparent among online learners, it is crucial to understand their differences from a generational perspective; in particular, how they learn, how they prefer to learn, and how they would learn better (e.g., Appel, 2003; Dede, 2005; Oblinger, 2003). Current generations are typically placed into the following categories: (1) those born before 1946 are known as the mature or silent generation; (2) those born between 1946-1964 (or 1961) are labeled as Baby Boomers; (3) those born from 1965-1981 or 1961-1980 are known as Generation X, or the Xers; and (4) those born in 1980 (or 1982) and later are referred to as the Millennial Generation, Generation Y, the Net Generation, Nexters, or the Internet Generation.
However, such attempts to classify generations of people are never that simple. For instance, more recently, there is news about the Zippie or Generation Z (McKay, 2004). Zippies, or upwardly mobile youth (i.e., ages 15-25) of India who walk with a “zip in their stride” (Friedman, 2005, p. 184), were extensively spotlighted in Thomas Friedman’s (2005) highly popular book, “The World is Flat. With more than half of the population in India being under age 25, the Zippies are certainly a huge cohort group that deserve close attention in India, as well as in countries or regions with similar populations. The Zippie phenomenon in India (McKay, 2004), however, is more than a local occurrence, as it reflects to a certain degree the global trends regarding technology and mobility. In addition, with the ease of travel and immigration, such groups can be found anywhere globally, thereby impacting the design and delivery of e-learning throughout the world.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Ning: one of the web2.0 technologies for users to create their own online communities free of charge.
E-Learning: the use of online technologies to deliver content at a distance sometimes used interchangeably with online learning or Web-based instruction. May include e-training, online learning, knowledge management
Nontraditional Learning: may include informal learning, innovative approaches to teaching, learning and training.
Learning Technology: technology that’s used in teaching and learning. Often refers to computer technologies Internet technology, web resources, mobile devices, hardware and software for design, delivery, evaluating, management, facilitating of teaching and learning
Zippie: also known as Generation Z, similar to Neo-Millennial students. Originally refers to the young people in India with mobile zip drives, and includes young people on the go with computer technologies in general.
Emerging Technology: new, evolving technology.
Neomillennial Learning: a cross-generational learning style highlighted with multimedia fluency and technology competency
Generational Learner: learners of different generations with different characteristics in terms of lifestyle, learning preference and technology use, and more
VARK Model: a widely applied learning style model that emphasizes primarily four types of learners and learning preferences: visual, aural, read/write and kinesthetic.