Teaching Across Generations—What Works Best?

Tahlea Jankoski | Published  August 08, 2016






Every generation of students brings new challenges and, consequently, new insights to education. Different learning styles and experiences make it necessary to develop a repertoire of best teaching practices that work with different generations. From Traditionalists to Millennials, teachers today are finding it it necessary to understand a wide range of cross-generational learning styles and the techniques that serve them best. 


This term describes the generation born before 1945. Traditionalists typically prefer structure, lectures, and direction on what is expected of them. They are more formal with their communication style and are less motivated by informal communication or learning styles. 

Traditionalist generally prefer:


Structured courses

Recognition for their contribution


Hard-working Baby Boomers

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are used to being taught through lectures. They enjoy reading books and are more likely to stay focused on one topic at at a time. Baby Boomers are hard workers and at times are classified as "workaholics." They appreciate direct communication and adapt well to either traditional or self-directed learning. 

Baby Boomers are versatile learners, requiring:

Clear communication

Either traditional or independent learning

Digital resources


Self-Reliant Generation Xers

 Born roughly between 1965 and 1980, Generation Xers tend to be independent, skeptical problem-solvers who are savvy about technology. They appreciate direct, clear communication when it comes to learning, but disapprove of micromanaging and tend to be independent learners. 

Generation Xers thrive on:

Clear and succinct directions

Independent learning

Digital resources

"Real-world" application


Tech-Savvy Millennials

Sometimes referred to as Generation Y, Millennials were born between 1981 and 2000. This generation is considered more tech-savvy than previous generations; yet, they are also more impatient and easily distracted. Having grown up in the early days of the digital age, Millennials expect instant gratification or constant feedback, as they are used to receiving everything immediately. Some may argue that it's hard to hold their attention, as Millennials learn more through doing than observing and listening. They are likely to get bored with lectures, but love to learn through interaction and hands-on application.

Successful learning among Millennials requires: 

Experiential learning

Hands-on learning

Opportunities to network and interact

Digital resources


Up-and-Coming Generation Z

While this generation is less defined, it is considered to be those born between the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. The people in this demographic are native to the digital age, They have been surrounded by technology their entire lives and use it not only as a tool, but as a way of life. Generation Z learners want to stay engaged in the learning process through multiple learning channels. They are motivated by experiential learning; yet they still need classroom discussion and application that can be facilitated by a teacher to improve critical thinking skills. 

Generation Z learning needs:

Experiential learning and real-world application

Multiple learning resources and channels

Independent learning


Moving Forward to Teach Generations

As educators build their understanding of learning styles among different generations and the tools to engage them, positive learning outcomes will continue to expand for educators and students alike. Digital literacy, real-world application, and communication are most common across generations, who are now accustomed to an environment that requires tech-savvy, hands-on skills rather than learning in a traditional lectures hall. 



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