5 Ways to Meet the Needs of the Modern Learner

At the heart of today’s digital transformation is the modern learner. Organizations are racing to keep up with the pace of change, to leverage the mix of ever-changing digital technologies, data, and channels, and to provide their employees with the support and resources they need to stay current.

As a Towards Maturity In-Focus report, The Consumer Learner at Work, shows, modern workers are, in general, highly engaged learners who are curious to learn more. (Editor’s note: Registration required to access the full report.) Here are a few of the stats from that report:

  • 80 percent of learners can see how learning can help further their career
  • 70 percent agree that online learning has had a positive impact on their job performance
  • Over 50 percent engage to improve professionalism and want to take control of their career and development
  • 26 percent engage in learning through curiosity

So, this is great—it makes our job as a training organization a snap, right? Not quite; there’s more. Referring to Bersin by Deloitte’s widely available infographic “Meet the Modern Learner”:

  • 38 percent of workers say they have opportunities of learning and growth in the workplace
  • Employees say they can spend only 1 percent of their time on training development
  • 70 percent of employees access answers to on-the-job questions through other sources

(Editor’s note: if you use the link above, you will need to register for a free account on Bersin by Deloitte’s site in order to access the infographic. Or you can use Google to find the infographic freely available on many websites.)

In addition, 74 percent of employees feel they aren’t achieving their potential at work, according to a long-term research project commissioned by the Middlesex University Institute for Work Based Learning and reported in an article by The Learning Wave, a New Zealand leadership development organization providing management education and training.

What’s all of this data telling us? The issue for the modern learner is not a lack of desire to learn—they understand the new landscape and pace of the digital world, and are desperately trying to keep up. As Bersin points out in “Meet the Modern Learner,” today’s modern learner is overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient. They want learning content that is relevant, focused and succinct, timely, mobile, and engaging.

Here are five ways to address the needs of today’s modern learner.

1. Prioritize the learner

Make sure you put the learner at the center of the solution and that you’ve properly addressed their needs. Ensure the content is focused on driving behaviors and impacting work performance. The thing that matters most to today’s learners is that we answer their question, “How’s this going to help me perform better and faster on the job?” They want to know that their effort and time devoted to learning is going to have some sort of personal impact. Additionally, today’s learner wants learning that is centralized, personalized, self-paced, entertaining, and social.

2. Complete a proper analysis and design process

Learners are inundated with hours of ineffective learning, sometimes categorized as “stuff.” To avoid creating more “stuff,” it’s important to start with a proper analysis of the problem or business issue, without assuming training is the solution. If it is, you want to make sure you’re focused on the right solution designed to solve the right performance problem(s). Create learning objectives and learning content that directly address the determined performance needs. Create content that allows learners to practice behaviors they need to change. Having a plan and following the proper learning design process is key to developing effective learning. Understand that time is always an issue, but it should not be a reason to skip the necessary steps to creating effective learning solutions.

3. Simplify the experience—limit content, and make it bite-sized

With the needs of today’s modern workforce and an ever-changing working environment, there is an insatiable need to keep up, at both a personal and organizational level. People find themselves inundated with information from all angles, and there never seems to be enough time to consume all of it. Our job as learning designers and developers is to look for opportunities to deliver the right amount of the right content at the right time. Focus on what really matters, get rid of the clutter, and present content in a way that can be easily consumed and digested. 

4. Design for usability (mobile, accessible, and available)

Mobile-only users now outnumber desktop-only users 2 to 1, according to a September 2016 Google report, How People Use Their Devices. An increasing number of people are relying more and more on mobile devices as a key source of information to help manage their personal and professional lives. Our learners want the information they need, when they need it, on any device, and wherever they are. Learning happens everywhere, so providing multiple delivery methods and channels for our learning solutions is a must.

5. Choose the right eLearning authoring tool

As mentioned, in many cases learning solutions will require a blended approach with a number of methods and channels to address the performance need. Choosing the right tool(s) for development is not a simple task, and choosing the right authoring tool is no exception. There are a lot of variables to consider when making your selection, and all of the previous points should play a role in this process. Examine the following desired tool traits from both the learner’s and designer’s perspective:

  • Learner
    • Easy to navigate
    • Accessible and mobile
    • Logically chunked, relevant, and engaging content
    • Personal and experiential
    • Structure and activities support performance needs
  • Designer/developer
    • Easy and intuitive
    • Provides enough creative control and flexibility
    • Cost fits within budget
    • Allows for project collaboration
    • Allows me to achieve my objectives effectively
    • Produces output that is accessible to everyone
    • Supports my preferred delivery method, and supports multiple devices with a single output
    • Allows for quiz and assessment creation
    • Supports standard tracking methods
    • Provides numerous support channels

The right authoring package will allow you to deliver content the way it was designed and intended, and the way the modern learner wants and expects. Mobile-friendly content is at the top of the list, and responsive and adaptive design are quickly becoming an industry best practice. Examine all of your options and choose a tool that will allow you to deliver content to multiple devices, one that is flexible and extendable in its design, and accessible to all. Select a tool that you can grow into, not grow out of, and make sure it has good reviews and a solid support system.

Today’s modern learners are tomorrow’s leaders, and they are central to the success of our organizations. As technology continues to evolve, so do the needs of today’s learners. It’s important for learning organizations to keep up with technology and the needs of today’s learners by enabling learning designers and developers with the skills, processes, tools, and templates necessary to develop effective learning solutions to meet the needs of the modern learner.

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