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Forget The Pencil & Paper When Teaching Millennials

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

Step into a typical room where training is being held and you’re most likely to find round tables, flip charts, and a pull-down screen for the powerpoint slides. On the tables, you’re likely to see pens, notepads, and either a binder or spiral bound “participant guide” for taking notes and completing written “exercises.”

In many ways, it mirrors the learning approach that many baby boomers were weaned on – the teacher/facilitator/trainer lecturing, with occasional bursts of group discussions and individual exercises.

While this classic approach definitely falls into the comfort zone of most baby boomers, it is definitely out of bounds of many Gen-Yers’ and most Millennials’ comfort zone.

The big disconnect?

For Gen-Yers and Millennials writing with pen/pencil and paper is like speaking a foreign language that they’ve only studied slightly. Their fluency is in thumbs and keyboards.

Forcing Gen-Y’s and especially Millennials to use pencil and pad would be like asking baby boomers to use an ink pen and ink well. The utensils interfere and slow down the thinking process. When we do not provide the right tools for learning, we inhibit learning.

Imagine handing a baby boomer a fountain pen and ink well and then telling them to complete an exercise in the next 10 minutes. Instead of being able to focus on the assignment, they would most likely focus on how to get the ink in the pen (and not on their hands), and then they would need to concentrate on how to use the pen without creating Rorschach type blots on the paper.

Before they’ve written a couple of paragraphs, they would have to stop, and repeat the entire ink-filling process over again. It wouldn’t take long for the boomers to start protesting out of frustration because the tools were getting in the way of their ability to do their best work.

Yet, all too often boomers dismiss the same need from Gen-Yers and Millennials. Instead of accepting the real differences in writing approaches, many boomers assume that everyone can write with pen and paper. That would be like asking an Italian speaking person who only knows rudimentary English to write a composition in English.

What the boomers often forget is that they are bi-verbal composers. Native to pencil and paper, they’ve learned how to verbally compose with technology.

The same cannot be said for some Millennials whose native approach to written communication was the keyboard. While many know how to write with a pen, few do more than sign their signature. They are not fluent.

With multi-generations in a training class, the answer is not to switch completely over to iPad learning – that would frustrate some of the boomers as much as pen and paper stifle the thinking of Millennials.

For the next few years, the answer is to take a blended learning approach which focuses on the needs of Millennials for keyboard writing while, at the same time, accommodating baby boomers who do their best thinking with pencil and paper.

Over the next 3-5 years, fewer and fewer baby boomers will recoil from the keyboard and will opt to learn the way the Millennials do.

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Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.