from the book Learning in a Disruptive Age

If you ask business people “how people learn,” their most common answer is “on the job” and this seems to be true – sales people learn by making sales calls, engineers learn by doing design, train drivers learn by driving trains. The key to success then is not to provide a lot of formal training, but rather to create an environment that supports rapid on-the-job learning. However, what has changed fundamentally is the time people have available to learn. This and the way consumerism has changed had a serious impact on the expectations of the modern learner. Just as the modern consumer wants to be in control, wants to be able to shop 24/7, share their experiences and wants to treated as individuals, the modern learner shares similar expectations:


As part of your designing your learning strategy, you need to consider the modern learner – who they are, what they expect and how your learning strategy will add value to them. In this article we will highlight for you some of the key features of the modern learner as outlined by Bersin[1] as well as some of our own observations and experiences:

Untethered and distributed : Currently, a lot of employees find themselves working from several locations and structuring their work in non-traditional ways to accommodate their lifestyles and work requirements. In the South African context ‘workplace’ also doesn’t necessarily mean a localised office. Companies and training departments are finding it difficult to reach these people and even harder to develop them efficiently.

Overwhelmed and time-strapped : A famous saying we have is that the modern employee needs to do “double the work, at half the time, at half the cost, with half the resources”. This leaves very little time for learning and research is suggesting that only approximately 24 minutes a week per employee is available in their busy work lives. This very clearly implies that we need to rethink our traditional models of days and days of classroom-based learning.

Demanding and on-demand: Consumerism and “available on demand” has impacted the modern learner’s need to access learning at the point of need. Just as we can choose what entertainment we want to watch at what time (the Netflix approach) we also want answers when we need them. The modern learner is looking for answers outside of traditional training and development channels – “we google the answers we need”. The dilemma with this is that you have no control over the appropriateness of the learning content to your organisational context and requirements.

Collaborative: Learners are also developing and accessing personal and professional networks to obtain information about their industries and professions. Up to 80% of workforce learning happens via on-the-job interactions with peers, team-mates and managers.

You also need to consider how adults actual learn, especially the modern employee dealing with modern workplace challenges. You may want to consider:

·        How you present learning experiences. With shorter timeframes available for learning, chunking may be a suitable approach. Chunking is the process of developing information on a single narrow topic and delivering it in a short, simple and memorable way. It is also known as micro-learning.

·        How you make sure that people can actively recall learning experiences at point of need. Active recall is the process of actually retrieving information from memory – when a question is asked, e.g. product knowledge – can a suitable answer be provided?

How you apply the principles of continuous learning re-enforcement. This is the process of providing information to learners in a repetitive and consistent way that reinforces a prior learning event, such as a workshop, improving the retention of the knowledge