As I get older, I catch myself gradually yet inexorably forgetting more things and — on rare occasions — resisting learning new things. I’m probably not alone in this, as these traits commonly appear to some degree in the aging and aged. For well-documented biological and psychological reasons, very few people grow more receptive and lucid after passing a certain point in their lives (usually ranging from their late twenties through their early forties).
Because of these factors, some organizations might be tempted to write employees off after they reach a particular age. After all, why teach someone who doesn’t want to learn something new and will likely forget it anyhow? Better to focus on the dynamic digital natives of Gen Y…!@!
If enterprises and the learning leaders who serve them take this view, though, then they’re making a terrible mistake. In fact, older employees are quite capable of learning, and would probably surprise even themselves in their ability to do so. All that’s needed is an approach that takes into account their priorities and learning preferences.
I recently came across one example of a learning system for older workers in the American Management Association book Working Longer: New Strategies for Managing, Training, and Retaining Older Employees. Specifically, the authors lay out seven principles for educating employees who are ostensibly past their prime:
1. Motivation: Minimize any experiences that would potentially make participants have feelings of failure, and instead adopt an incremental approach to new subjects that incorporates positive reinforcement.
2. Structure: Design programs based on work tasks.
3. Familiarity: All training programs, even those that cover new topics or use new modalities, should build on the existing skills of older workers.
4. Organization: Hold interventions to change the attitudes of older, high-level personnel.
5. Time: Allow more time for older workers to master and be assessed on new skills.
6. Active Participation: Giving older employees the opportunity to practice helps them get engaged with the learning program and builds their confidence in their abilities.
7. Learning Strategies: Make sure they know how to process the content, as their own methods of learning might not help them to memorize and prioritize the right information.
Of course, I probably don’t need to do that much (if any) persuading to get learning leaders to realize that older employees are and will continue to be a vital part of the workforce, and that they’re completely capable of learning new things. However, as we devote so much of our attention to what’s next in talent, let’s not neglect what already is.
What are your learning strategies for older workers? Let us know!