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Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Linda, in her late 50s, faced a steep learning curve when her job required her to learn spreadsheet software. She balked. Her evaluations began heading south.

Linda kept fighting the system until she turned 60, when she accepted early retirement.

Linda’s boss undoubtedly jumped to the assumption, “Older people resist learning.”

But Linda’s friend gave me a clue. “They didn’t offer her classes!” she said. “They just insisted she learn on her own.”

If Linda had been more aware of her learning style, she would have realized what was going on. She could have enrolled in a class on her own to learn what she needed. She could have looked online.

She could go further, choosing a class based on whether she wanted hands-on practice during the course (something I would want) or if she’s the type of learner who moves easily from observation to practice on her own.

Linda was also demonstrating a cohort effect, although she’d probably never heard the term.

Not so long ago, when you wanted to learn how something worked, you consulted a manual. You could call customer service and get one-to-one help.

When I set up my first online shopping cart as recently as 2002, I phoned the company. A tech rep courteously walked me through the set-up in minutes. Now, just a few years later, the company charges exorbitantly for telephone support. Independent consultants charge upwards of $400 to give clients what the tech gave me for free.

Today’s generation resists formal training and manuals. They learn dynamically, searching online for exactly what they need to know. They watch videos. They take classes.

This style of dynamic learning has become more than a preferred learning style. It’s a necessity because formal training often becomes obsolete very quickly.

Back in the year 2000, I took a course in HTML – the language used to code websites – at a community college in Florida. Most of that training became outdated after less than ten years.

Now, when I need to code something, I do an online search for, “How to do X in HTML/CSS.” I know enough to interpret the code and adapt. And I do the same for Photoshop and other software.

The Internet world has changed even more dramatically since I drove to that evening class in Fort Lauderdale. Today I rarely use HTML because I use WordPress and other software. I never use Photosho. I use Canva, an online free program that lets me create images quickly with almost no learning curve. And I never paid a dime to learn it.

Bottom Line

You hear people complain, “Old people don’t learn.” That often means, “The previous generation doesn’t learn the same way.”

Today’s computer-literate people learn by grazing. They search the Internet when they can’t find easy answers. They ask friends for recommendations, often in open forums.

Older people grew up with manuals, usually paper manuals they could keep. I still remember the first time someone said to me, “There’s no manual for this.”

You can sometimes take classes when you’re learning something new. But most of us have so much software out there, we’re constantly learning…by trial and error, by calling the help desk, or by watching a video when we hit a snag. The software changes too fast for manuals anyway.

It can be annoying. It can be frustrating. It can be a reason so many people have high blood pressure.

But it’s not “because they’re old.” No way,