Time to Focus on the Generation Gap Between Teachers and Students By Sangeeta Doraiswami

In every organization, it is normal to find a wide array of diversity among the members that make up the group, in terms of age, educational background, experience and skill. Of greater significance in an educational institute is the generation gap, most obviously between teachers and students, and even between different generations of educators in the same institution.
Sociologists identify five main generations, primarily in a western or modern context, These are: Traditionalists or the Silent Generation (born between 1900-1945), Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964), Generation X (born between 1965-1980), Millennial or Generation Y (1981- 2000) and Generation Z (born after 2000). Each generation has their own beliefs, attitudes, way of thinking, work ethic and preferences. As a result, each generation approaches social, economic, environmental, political, and technological contexts differently, and this impacts in turn upon how they learn. Increasingly in this modern age, differences in approach to and the use of technology and technology-enabled communication products for learning tend to define the generation gap, including in the context of education.
It can be seen that the generation gap in classrooms, between teachers and students, is often reflective of a mismatch between teaching styles and learning styles rather than age differences. Younger learners are more often digital natives and are therefore quick to adapt to new technologies. On the other hand, older generations are less adaptable and less instinctively comfortable with the use of technology for education purposes. This mismatch often builds frustration and is a cause of incipient conflict among educators and students.
Addressing this gap requires teachers to consciously avoid assuming that current learners will naturally enjoy or accept the same learning styles, goals, and interests of their own generation, several decades earlier. This is especially so as senior academics often feel that they are handing down wisdom and information obtained in the most ideal way from their previous generation; naturally, there is resentment if this sense of leadership is challenged. While it may be natural to have such an approach, it is counter-productive for educators to prefix their approach to teaching the current generation with references to “the way I was taught”. Such a prescriptive approach, if used, could potentially make students defensive and unwilling to learn. Educators need to remember that learning is contextual: teachers must be aware of how their own generation’s biases can inhibit interaction with their students, thereby negatively impacting upon learning.

Such biases manifest themselves differently by generation. For instance, Baby Boomers are less likely to readily use social media for learning or seek regular feedback. This is in sharp contrast to the more technology and media friendly Generations X and Y.
On the other hand, those from Generation X are more likely to appreciate structured development, regular feedback and mentoring, while those from Generation Y live in a world of constant communication and technology and expect regular feedback, especially from colleagues about how they are doing.

Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that shape each generation in structuring communication. It is also valuable to be alert to finding opportunities for each generation to share their learning experiences.

Some points to consider in setting up learning, by generation

Traditionalists – It is important for this age group to be recognized for their qualifications and experience.
Baby Boomers – Expect Boomers to be technologically familiar with emails and their computer, but are less likely to be busy with electronic social networking in the manner of younger generations. They prefer to work face-to-face and are receptive to classroom learning for soft skills.
Generation X – Expect this group to be sceptical and at times challenging, but hungry for knowledge and willing to seek plenty of feedback. They prefer on-the-job learning.
Millennial or Generation Y – Millennials want to work collaboratively across communities with ready access to technologies, which they see as being embedded in everything they do. They favour the concept of learning while doing, with regular coaching and feedback.
Educators must always be aware of the diversity of different generational perspectives, what this comprises, and actively work to understand how different age groups present their preferences and outlook. This will help build richer and diverse learning experiences. Such an approach helps build a more productive organization, and also offers room for creating better an understanding between generations.