Dr. Eric C. Wilson,
PGA Master Professional, Executive Director of Golf Operations
Keiser University College of Golf & Sport Management

Teaching adults is more difficult when classes are comprised of students from different generations, as are most adult education classrooms in today’s educational environment. “The notion that every person learns differently is now generally accepted among edu­cators, and there is abundant research to support the idea that every individ­ual has a unique way of thinking and learning.” (Coates, n.d.b, para. 8) “Ev­ery generation in American history has separate personality traits…The world views of 60-something’s, 40-some­thing’s and 20-something’s are in direct conflict because these genera­tions bring different values, motivations and life experiences” to the classroom. (Alverson, 1999, para. 3) Additionally, the teacher will be a member of one of the generations in the classroom, add­ing another dilemma to his/her task of communicating effectively and provid­ing quality instruction to every student. “It’s hard to motivate, coach and give assignments to someone you don’t or don’t think you understand.” (“How veterans”, n.d., para. 9) “Every generation in American history has separate personality traits…

they bring different values, motivations and life experiences” into the class­room. (Alverson, 1999, para. 3) “Life experiences shape the way people learn.” (Brown, 1997, para. 5) Instruc­tors should be able to identify genera­tional groupings and identify the val­ues, motivations and life experiences their students bring into the classroom if they wish to provide effective instruc­tion to all students.

In their comprehensive book Genera­tions, Strauss and Howe “define a generation as a special cohort-group whose length approximately matches that of a basic phase of life, or about twenty-two years over the last three centuries.” (p. 34) “We cannot, of course, expect that the length of every generation must always be twenty-two years – or any other precise number. The world is far too complicated to follow our simple model like clockwork. The effective length of each phase of life is always shifting a bit from one era to the next.” (p. 61) They note that “The peer personality of a generation is essentially a caricature of its prototypi­cal member.” (p. 63)

There are numerous divisionings of twentieth century American genera­tions by birth dates and labels. For the sake of continuity, Strauss and Howe’s breakdown of generations by birth year, beginning in 1943, with corre­sponding cohort values for compari­son, follows:

Baby Boomer Generation (1943- 1960)– Values include health and well­ness; personal growth; involvement; optimism; personal gratification; and youthfulness. Also, “work for Boom­ers is the most closely held value.” (Coates, n.d.c)

Baby Boomers in the Classroom

As one of the largest cohort-groups, understanding Boomers will be critical for the instructor in the multi-gener­ational classroom. Baby Boomers in the classroom: 1) are interactive and nonauthoritarian, 2) have good people skills and like to be free to form relationships with their co-learners, 3) respond well to a traditional classroom, as long as there is an opportunity for interaction, networking and teamwork, 4) like friendly, collegial instructors who share their own vulnerability through anecdotes and examples, 5) are win­ners, 6) can be motivated to learn if they believe the knowledge and skills they are acquiring will give them new ways to come out on top, 7) like inter­active activities, 8) hate role-play, 9) like materials that are organized in a way that makes information easily acces­sible (like USA Today), 10) enjoy skill

building, practical activities, as long as they aren’t required to show their shortcomings in front of others, 11) should be coached, not directed. (Coates, 2001, p. 19)

Generation X (1961-1981) – Values include ambition; fearlessness; respon­siveness; (Brown, 1997); humor; inde­pendence; the truth and nothing but the truth; diversity; flexibility; money as a means of survival; and people/ personal relationships. (Hicks, R. & K., 1999)

Generation Xers in the Classroom

As the other largest cohort-group, it will be equally important to under­stand Gen Xers and their impact in the multi-generational classroom. It is also extremely important to realize that Gen Xers tend to have the most conflict with Baby Boomers. (“How veterans,” n.d.) “It is fairly safe to say that if Boomers embrace an idea, Xers will reject it. The Generation Gap is deep and wide.” (Coates, n.d.a, para. 4) Gen Xers in the classroom: 1) are very self-directed, 2) have nontradi­tional orientation to time and space – it doesn’t matter when or where the job gets done, as long as it gets done, 3) do not like having to show up at the same place and same time every day, 4) do not care for ceremony – they re­spond best to instructors who get right to the heart of the content and who demonstrate their expertise, 5) want to have fun, 6) learn best when they have a chance to sample and learn by doing, 7) enjoy role-play, 8) are not as attracted to the traditional classroom as their predecessors, and 9) resent teachers who “pull rank” on them. (Coates, 2001)

Millennial Generation (1982-2003)– Values include personal relationships; process-orientation; diversity; enjoy­ment of people and life; change-embracing; character development; personal responsibility; control; endur­ance; spirituality; open expression; and technology. (Hicks, R. & K., 1999)

Millennials in the Classroom

Millennials have burst into the multi-generational adult education class­rooms in large numbers. Instructors have been able to welcome them with open arms. if they prepared in advance for their arrival. Millennials in the class­room: 1) need more structure and at­tention from the authority figure in the classroom, 2) are motivated to learn in order to reduce stress and increase their marketability, 3) place high value on developing good interpersonal skills and in “getting along,” 4) are polite, believe in manners, adhere to a strict moral code, and believe in civic action, 5) place a high value on making money – more than any previous generation, and they see education as a means to this goal, 6) like learning to be fun and entertaining, 7) get bored quickly in a learning environment that is not highly active and interactive, 8) greatly dislike standup talking, 9) are avid readers – written information works well for them. (Coates, 2001) “Millennials are the first generation since World War II to be confronted with higher aca­demic standards than those of the last generation – and to show early signs of meeting those

standards.” (Howe, N. & Strauss, W., 2000, p. 18)

Generation Z (2004-Present) – While Generation Z has yet to enter the adult education classroom (based on Strauss and Howe’s birth years define transitional grouping that will impact the classroom in the coming years. Values include the fact that they want to change the world (25% are involved in volunteering); advanced college de­grees are less important to them; they are entrepreneurial; they are digitally over-connected; they worry about the economy more than anything else; they are less active; they are close with their families; they communicate with speed and often use emoticons and emojis instead of words. (Peterson, 2014) These values will dictate how teachers should approach and edu­cate Generation Zers in the future.

How teachers can provide more effec­tive instruction in the multi-generational classroom

“Teachers must be alert to the need for continual updating of their teach­ing skills and practices. Wagschal (1997) reports: ‘I’m not sure when it happened. I was no longer a contem­porary of my students. The adults kept coming. Their ages stayed about the same, but I kept getting older…. Who would have dreamed that it was no longer appropriate to ask a 30-year-old adult learner what they were doing when John F. Kennedy was assassi­nated?’” (Brown, 1997, para. 5)

Assuming the need for teachers to continually update their teaching skills and practices, there should be a way to accomplish this. Numerous publications speak to adult educa­tion, lumping all “adults” into one group, irrespective of their birth year or generational grouping. However, with all the information available about differences/similarities among genera­tions, a concise, concrete method by which teachers can improve their skills and practices in multi-generational adult education classrooms has yet to be found. Therefore, having used the rational model of decision making/ problem solving set forth by Stoner and Freeman on pages 254-259 in their book Management, the following Instruction Methodology for Multi-Gen­erational Classrooms is proposed:

1) Identify the generational mix in the classroom via data collection, questioning and observation.

2) Identify students’ values and classroom preferences.

3) Identify your personal values through research, personal insight, and reflection.

4) Identify conflicts in values and classroom preferences among stu­dents.

5) Identify conflicts in values between you and your students.

6) Develop instruction methodology (both process and content) which best encompasses student values/ classroom preferences and most effectively avoids or defuses value/ classroom conflicts among students and between instructor and stu­dents.

7) Deliver instruction.

8) Request feedback from students.

9) Refine instruction methodology.


Teaching in a multi-generational class­room is not an easy task. As Brown succinctly stated: “Effective instruction requires the teacher to step outside the realm of personal experiences into the world of the learner. It is the learner who must be engaged for learning to occur, the learner who must make the commitment to learn.” (1997, para. 6) The nine step approach outlined provides teachers a methodology for planning the delivery of instruction in multi-generational classrooms, and gives teachers a way to target each learner uniquely and all learners as a group.


Alverson, M. (1999). The new generation gap. Retrieved March 11, 2002 from http://ehost­vgw5.epnet.com/deliveryoption.

Brown, B. (1997). New learning strategies for generation x. Retrieved March 3, 2002 from

http://ehostvgw5.epnet.com/delivery. asp?deliveryoption.

Coates, J. (2001). Generational learning styles. (Available from Learning Resources Network,

P.O. Box 9, River Falls, WI 54022).

Coates, J. (n.d.a). Day three – Understanding generation x. Retrieved May 17, 2002 from

http://www.lern.com/members_area/shared_ course_content/gls/transcripts/understanding

Coates, J. (n.d.b). Day one – What are learning styles? Retrieved May 17, 2002 from

http://www.lern.com/members_area/shared_ course_content/gls/transcripts/what_are_lear

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http://www.lern.com/members_area/shared_ course_content/gls/transcripts/older_adults_i

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workplace. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2002 from

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Generation Z. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/26

Stoner, J. & Freeman, R. (1992). Management (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:

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Strauss, W. & Howe, N. (1991). Generations: The history of America’s future