If you teach online, whether within or outside a learning organization, and against all odds you’re still surprised to see older age students joining in, your disbelief is about to become a thing of the past.
Technology makes it so that any activity we did in the past is now made different for those who engage in it today, at the age we had back then. Learning is the perfect illustration. Classrooms today are a highly digitally interactive experience, something widespread but just a few years ago. We’re right to feel envious of the newest cohorts! Except that we’ve reached a level where technology not only enhances education, but it’s starting to subvert the whole process. Older generations want to remain in school or get back. Fortunately for them (fine, for us) a vast marketplace of opportunities in older and lifelong learning is starting to sprawl, primarily through digital means.
Unfortunately, history has not been a helpful ally when it comes to promoting the virtues of adult education. Especially when they belong to HR departments. Re-training and “cross-skilling” are often involved in conflicts and clashes between organizations and workers, and the last decades haven’t been kind to the latter group, with the deterioration of unions and real wage stagnation. In-job training ended up framed as another steeple in the growingly competitive chase.
But there’s another frame possible. A tale of empowerment that takes no more youthfulness than you already have. And one that makes the best of what technology can offer. A special edition of the prestigious Harvard Business Review highlights many of the growing ideas on adult education, including some key pieces of evidence that should help shift a few minds.
Just like regular education, corporate training is “largely front-loaded,” with learning invested in the youngest at the expense of the veterans.
Almost paradoxically, this puts at risk not just job security for older workers, but the “Return on Equity” companies have made. Failing to train experienced professionals in the latest industrial advancements is akin to stop renovations on an old house because you bought a plot of land in a place with potential—nevermind that the old house is an established asset in a well-connected neighborhood.
The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Failing to invest in older employee training leads to productivity and satisfaction plateaus, leading to believe the investments aren’t worth it. Meanwhile, vitality and life expectancies continue to rise. (Then again, optimal retirement ages and social security risks rise too.)
Another main point in the Harvard extensive coverage is all training is not made equal. Evidence from community and technical college suggest that older-age students do not necessarily want to remain in their tracks, just in time as the economy demands more flexibility and background diversity. Bold companies today might even dare to send employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s back to college, to enroll in majors that didn’t exist when they first arrived. To understand how software and algorithms will effortlessly do in an instant what took most of their working routines, and not feel undermined, but marvelled and inspired. Ultimately, to shed light into how industry can sustainably address ever-changing, fast-evolving realities.
The last frontier in this new stage of broader educational consumption is perception. Often students, methods and topics are segregated by age, unnecessarily so. Time and again we discover that gamification, flipped classrooms or momentum learning work for everyone. Technology doesn’t see age. Institutions and classmates shouldn’t either.