From Boomers to Zoomers: Why Active Learning is Essential for Training the Multigenerational Workforce

May 21, 2024 | New Workplace Leadership | 7 min read

The other day I heard a gen Z loudly exclaim "you’re lying!" on a virtual call and I actually flinched. It took me a few seconds to realize that they actually weren’t aggressively calling the person a liar, and that it’s a gen Z way of saying ‘no way’ or ‘that’s crazy’. Okay, so I am a little out of touch with gen Z terminology on that (I know, I’m cheugy), but it did get me thinking. Different generations communicate differently. We use different words and phrases, different tones, different facial expressions. And all of this can impact how we relate to, and how we work with each other.

The modern workforce is incredibly unique in that for the first time, we have five generations actively in the workforce. This includes the silent generation, baby boomers, genXers, millennials, and genZers. While this diversity clearly has many benefits, it can also create challenges and friction as we navigate each other’s work styles and communication preferences. 

And every generation has something in common. We all must constantly adapt as innovation and regulation emerges, as events unfold and cultures shift. This makes it crucial for organizations to consider the impact of having a multigenerational workforce as they create their learning and development strategies. For learning professionals, this is often incredibly difficult. 

How do you consider the different needs and expectations of everyone at every level in the organization? And how can you tailor training to diverse learning preferences, skill gaps, and needs across different populations, including different age groups? 

It’s no easy feat. But organizations are finding success with active learning, an approach that puts learners in the driver’s seat when building new skills. Implementing a more active learning strategy requires a thoughtful introduction to a multigenerational workforce that may already struggle with common challenges, like interpersonal communication or technical literacy. 

Before jumping in, we need to understand what shaped each generation and how their communication styles differ.  

What Shaped the Different Generations and Their Communication Styles

The Silent Generation  

Baby Boomers 

Generation X 

Generation Y  

Generation Z  


It’s easy to see that while many of these generations have similarities, they are shaped by different current events, differing access to technology and the continued change of society. 

With these distinctions in mind, it is clear that a one-size-fits-all learning strategy is not only ineffective — it's obsolete. 

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Embracing Active Learning to Support a Multigenerational Workforce

Active learning is an engaging educational approach that emphasizes hands-on participation, problem-solving, collaboration, and immediate feedback, shifting from traditional passive learning to interactive and experiential methods.

This could be as simple as hosting a training session to review a case study and encouraging group problem-solving to provide space for senior colleagues to draw from their extensive experience and share valuable insights with younger colleagues. Or simply providing your employees access to interactive learning tools like conversation simulators. This way they can practice important business conversations in a controlled environment before heading into the big meeting.  

It's crucial for organizations to consider multi-modal learning solutions because it enhances engagement, knowledge retention, and practical skill development among employees of all ages. 

By promoting collaboration, critical thinking, and real-world application of knowledge, active learning equips individuals to excel in their roles, drive performance, and contribute effectively to organizational success in a dynamic and competitive business environment

Here’s why your organization should consider active learning: 

Tailored Learning Experiences 

Personalized, tailored learning experiences that cater to individual preferences, skill levels, and interests across generations can be an invaluable tool. A simple benchmarking assessment could provide crucial knowledge on each employee's skill level and recommend content for their continued growth. 

Read Next: 6 Things the Most Engaging Learning Environments Have in Common

Targeted Skill Development 

By emphasizing practical application, problem-solving, and experiential learning activities, active learning equips employees with hands-on skills, competencies, and insights that are directly transferable to their roles. This approach bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, empowering employees to apply their learning effectively in real-world scenarios, driving performance and productivity. A great way to enhance targeted skill development is through 1:1 coaching. Coaching can drive long-term mindset and behavioral change that can support individual and team growth, which in turn, fuels business success.  

Enhanced Adaptability and Continuous Improvement  

The interactive nature of active learning encourages adaptability, agility, and iterative improvement in training programs based on real-time feedback and outcomes. Organizations can adjust learning strategies, content delivery, and engagement techniques swiftly, ensuring that training remains relevant, impactful, and aligned with evolving business needs and employee expectations.

Also read: 'A Better Version of Ourselves': How Innovative L&D Can Drive Transformational Culture Change 

To accommodate diverse learning styles, forward-thinking organizations are adopting a multi-modal approach. Blended learning, which incorporates a mix of face-to-face interaction, digital resources, and on-the-job experiences, is resonating with employees across the generational spectrum. By offering varied learning channels, companies can optimize engagement and knowledge retention. 

Crafting the Future of Workforce Learning

Acknowledging and addressing the unique learning styles of each generation is a strategic imperative. By doing so, organizations can create a powerful competitive advantage rooted in a workforce that must continuously learn, adapt, and innovate.

To craft a learning program that resonates with all generations, organizations must be agile, open to change, and willing to invest in technologies that enable personalized, scalable, and efficient learning. This approach not only ensures that companies are competitive and relevant but also that the workforce remains engaged, fulfilled, and ready to take on the challenges of tomorrow. 

The road ahead is complex and nuanced, but by valuing the diverse learning paths of your workforce, we can weave a tapestry of strength and adaptability that will stand the test of time.