Laptop studying man
ATD Blog

3 Critical Characteristics of Modern Learning

Thursday, May 3, 2018

In a recent post, Moving Modern Learning Beyond Buzzwords, I discussed common phases like agile, embedded, micro, and immediate. While these words may seem modern and beneficial, what we’re really striving for as L&D professionals is not to chase the latest trends, but to achieve results.

We want to be able to prove that our efforts are driving outcomes like better employee performance, more consistent customer success, a more energized culture, and reduced risks for the company. We want to know that our programs are aligned with and positively affecting the goals of the business. In fact, the 2018 HCM Outlook by Brandon Hall Group cites that 76 percent of companies see aligning the learning strategy with the business is an important or critical priority for achieving business goals. That’s what modern learning is all about! (We recently co-hosted an ATD webcast on this topic. For more, check out the recording of "The Down and Dirty Realities of Modern Learning: Beyond Buzzwords.")

In this post, I’d like to take this discussion in a slightly different direction and examine three critical characteristics of modern learning. Regardless of what types of courses you create and deliver, what LMS you use, and what devices your learners prefer, there are a few common threads that you must weave through your program to truly categorize it as modern—and thus, meet the needs of today’s workforce.


Continuous learning isn’t a new concept, but it’s still a very relevant element of modern learning. Delivering on the promise of ongoing learning is more attainable than ever because we have the technology to make it possible (and possibly even easy). We can integrate the LMS with other platforms to weave learning into people’s day-to-day workflows. Training no longer requires breaking away from your daily tasks and duties to develop an isolated skill. Now, it can be experienced within the parameters of your job function, while still expanding your expertise in that very function.

Continuous learning is simply a sign of the times. Technology has pushed the pace of business to unprecedented speeds. Professionals in any role or industry can attest to needing to know more new things faster than ever. If we don’t continuously learn, our skills become stale (or worse, obsolete) at a rate that I doubt our grandparents could even imagine. Further still, when we stop learning, our motivation tanks and we either quit and stay, or look for new opportunities elsewhere. It’s our job as L&D experts to help keep our teams equipped to meet these changing requirements and to prepare people for ongoing success.



A variety of technologies make it not only possible, but easy, to offer engaging off-the-shelf content that your team didn’t create in-house. Why reinvent the wheel developing courses on common topics like policy and compliance, customer service, sales mastery, leadership and management, and so forth? You can purchase professionally developed, video-based content that covers all of your bases without wasting a second attempting to animate a single graphic.

What’s more, using prebuilt content frees you up to work on the proprietary solutions. Inevitably, every organization will have some amount of company-specific training that it must develop in-house. The key point, however, is that a modern learning culture should shift the balance away from creating and more toward curating. There’s so much great training material available; it’s putting yourself and your learners at a disadvantage to try to shoulder the entire content burden without third-party help.



While traditional L&D models pushed courses to people and required them to be completed within an assigned timeframe, today’s learners can take control of their own development. They’re actually reaching out for new information on a daily basis. A recent ADP study showed that 65 percent of employees report wanting as much training as possible to help them achieve their career goals. But they’re not sitting back patiently waiting for the next training to arrive. Instead, they’re actively seeking it.

We’ve all become accustomed to (and quite enamored with) what I like to call a “search engine mindset.” When we want answers, and we want them now. There’s no turning back on this reality. L&D departments must throw out old ideas about only making information available as it’s ready to be pushed. The new norm is to provide access to a rich library of on-demand content.

Want to Learn More?

Those are just a few high-level thoughts on what makes a modern learning environment. If you’re interested in this topic and are attending the ATD 2018 International Conference & Expo, May 6-9 in San Diego, please mark your calendar for part two of "The Down and Dirty Realities of Modern Learning: Beyond Buzzwords," where we’ll dive deeper into how to meet the changing expectations of today’s learners. You’ll find me in Room 23A on Sunday, May 6th, at 1:30PM leading this interactive session.

Lastly, please accept our warmest invitation to stop by Gold Sponsor Booth #1901 for a gourmet coffee, a chance to win prizes, and a chat with our learning experts. Also, be sure to attend Networking Night on May 7 aboard the USS Midway Museum. It’s an awesome event and for the third year in a row, sponsored by Litmos by CallidusCloud. Looking forward to meeting you in person!

About the Author

Mike Martin is chief learning officer for Litmos by CallidusCloud. Over the past 20 years, Mike has lived many exciting professional lives, from facilitating team building programs and ropes courses in the woods, to authoring distance-based instructional resources online. He has been a full-time instructional designer, LMS manager, eLearning developer, corporate trainer and consultant, professional speaker, outdoor educator, and built and run training departments for billion dollar companies. Mike is an innovative and energetic leader dedicated to helping people excel, and prides himself on his ability to motivate and inspire those around him.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.