Formal learning still plays an important role in the workplace, but the impact of social learning is empowering to today’s workforce, particularly to those younger workers who grew up with both social tools and mobile devices. The challenge to companies today is to empower all workers and provide them with an environment conducive to how they want to learn, bridging what some people call a generational digital divide.
What Is a Generational Digital Divide?
The idea behind a digital divide is that some people have access to new technology while others do not, leading to a gap in opportunities and information sharing. A generational digital divide, then, is a gap that occurs when younger people adopt new technology that many older people don’t. One major concern for older employees is that they will lose their competitive edge in the workplace if they fail to keep up with changes in technology.
How Do Generations Differ on Their Technology Usage?
Younger workers are the least engaged employees; fewer than 30 percent of millennials feel they have the opportunity to contribute to the best of their ability at work. But the millennial generation also tends to be far more comfortable with digital, collaborative, self-directed learning than some older workers. Plus, as social learning expert Luis Suarez points out, younger workers’ devices are almost an extension of their brains. They have integrated the device so thoroughly into how they learn, work, communicate, and function, that many would feel something close to helplessness without them. For these workers, Suarez says, “if it’s not on mobile, it didn’t happen.”
While many older workers experience a similar dependence on devices in their daily lives, they are not as cognitively integrated with their devices as millennials and younger workers seem to be. To increase younger workers’ engagement — and many older workers’ as well — meet them where they are and empower them through continual self-directed social learning opportunities facilitated through appropriate interactive tools.
Marcia Conner, author of The New Social Learning, agrees. “Organizations need to provide millennials with ways to contribute and connect non-stop,” she says. “The smart ones won’t settle for anything less — and those who will are unlikely to be the leaders of your future. Older workers may be willing to work in traditional ways, but many are excited about the opportunity to share their knowledge and continue to learn that new technology offers. This is your best chance to unearth the range of their insights based on their years of experiences.”
Does a Generational Digital Divide Exist?
Though he acknowledges differences in people’s learning preferences by age, Suarez rejects the so-called generational “digital divide.” He sees social learning as the only path to effective workplace learning for workers of every generation.
“We were born to be social learners,” he says. “The social networking platform almost doesn’t matter — Twitter, Facebook, blogs, communities, collaboration tools — working with human behavior instead of against it is the key. We thrive when we are in control of what we’re learning, from whom we’re learning it, when we’re learning it, and how we’re applying it. Social learning enables all of that.”
To learn more, check out our white paper, “Social Learning and the Future of Work.” It explores how social learning can empower and engage your employees while allowing them to learn in a way they prefer.