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ATD Blog

How to Be a Successful On-Demand Learner

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The benefits of on-demand learning are clear: flexible schedule and access, diverse content, personalized learning paths, and multiple modalities. But along with the positives, there are stumbling blocks for learners. On-demand programs require participants to be more proactive and persistent, and those unfamiliar with self-directed learning may struggle not only to succeed but to complete programs. If you’re planning on pursuing on-demand learning options, here are some tips to keep you on track.

Know Your Long-Term Goal

As you start to consider on-demand learning courses, think about what goals you’re trying to achieve. Are you seeking a specific credential that’s necessary to accelerate your career? Is your organization encouraging you to pursue a specific certificate? Are trying to deepen your expertise in a subject you already know something about? Do you need a refresher in critical skills for your profession? Are you planning to take on a new role and need to upskill?

With answers to these questions and input from peers, you’re ready to pinpoint the course you need. For example, ATD’s catalog of on demand education courses includes certificate programs like the Virtual Instructional Design Certificate On Demand for professionals looking to boost their credentials or courses like The ADDIE Model for Instructional Design and Needs Assessment for Instructional Design for those who want to bridge specific skills gaps.

Become Familiar With the Format and Technology

A characteristic of on-demand learning is its variability in format and technology. Most are structured like traditional courses, though, with specific readings each week, recorded lectures, assignments and assessments, and communication tools. This variety is intended to engage participants, but it can prove problematic if you’re unprepared and have a looming deadline. Before you even start the course, make sure you familiarize yourself with the platform that’s being used to deliver the course, as well as any types of communication tools like discussion boards and backchannel chat groups. Comfort with the tech will make it easier to progress through the content you’re trying to learn.

Establish a Schedule and Stick to It

Most people choose on-demand courses because they must juggle competing priorities and need to be flexible with their time. But just because you have anytime, anywhere access to content doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep to a schedule. How many hours per week will you dedicate to the course? Will you study during the day, in the evenings, or on weekends? Do you need to stop other activities to free up time for learning?


Establish a weekly routine. Set aside a specific time to read content, watch lectures and other learning videos, and complete assignments. Plan to participate in online discussions on the same day each week. Keep a regular study time. You don’t have to engage in learning every day, but you need a consistent schedule that enables you to keep up with the course materials. Additionally, let others around you know your schedule and that you’re unavailable during those time.

Set Milestones

If you treat your on-demand course like a hobby, you’ll quickly fall behind. Instead, pursue your course like you would your job and set up a few short-term goals. Once you sign up for the course, review all the expectations, assignments, materials, and so on. Break up your workload into chunks and establish milestones for completion. Create some reminders to complete those tasks, and treat these milestones as seriously as you would work performance goals or a face-to-face course.

It’s up to you to ensure you’ve allotted enough time to complete the work so you’re not starting an assignment the day before it’s due. If you’re having trouble holding yourself accountable, pair up with a fellow learner or enlist the help of a spouse or friend to check in on how you’re doing.


Prepare Your Learning Space

During the last year, remote workers learned that they need a dedicated space to get work done. Learning requires the same sort of consideration. Find out what works for you. For instance, some people will be more productive while listening to music, but others need peace and quiet. Whatever your setup, try to keep clear of unnecessary distractions (which means turn off social media). More importantly, make sure you have a strong internet connection to access your course materials.

Connect With Other Learners

Just because you aren’t physically in the same location with other learners doesn’t mean you’re all alone. Most on-demand courses offer discussion forums, group chats, access to experts, and so on. When possible, take the time to get to know your fellow learners. Introduce yourself on discussion boards and make a point to post questions, answers, and general comments on a regular basis. This will build your network and help enhance your understanding of the course materials. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to the instructor to introduce yourself or ask questions. Often, they’re eager to engage one-on-one with learners.

Don’t Give Up

Although you will try to anticipate any issues that could hinder your learning plan, you will likely encounter some problems along the way. A priority at your job gets in the way of you completing an assignment. Someone in your family becomes ill and needs your attention. A technology hiccup makes it impossible for you to access some course materials. Here’s the good news: If you keep to your routine as much as possible and participate in the community, when problems surface, you’re more likely to overcome them. So, stay focused on your goal, do the work, and don’t give up.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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