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ATD Blog

Moving Modern Learning Beyond Buzzwords

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

As an L&D professional, you’re more than familiar with the latest buzzwords. Whether building agile, embedded, microlearning courses that are fully gamified and social, or creating learning journeys enhanced by artificial intelligence to empower people on their learning paths, you have a mouthful of terms with which to describe your training programs.

All of these capabilities and concepts may be useful and effective, and at the very least, interesting to talk about. But at the end of the day, what are we really after—beyond the buzzwords?

We Want Results

We want to know that our efforts are improving employee performance. We want to increase customer success, support and enhance the culture, and help reduce risks for the company. We want positive outcomes that align with and drive the goals of the business. That’s a modern learning culture at its core. These are very worthy goals, and for the first time in history, these outcomes can be tracked and to some degree of accuracy and measured against training programs.

I’ll stop right there, however, and acknowledge that doing so isn’t easy. It’s not a one-and-done exercise, but rather, a process. And, like any process, it requires steady effort over time.

Expectations Have Changed

The process for achieving results starts with examining who our learners are and what they expect. This is critical because by and large their expectations have changed—even in just the last five or so years. For starters, learners are actively seeking more learning. They expect to be able to “pull” it, meaning that they can access a wide range of courses on demand, rather than only doing required “push” courses. What’s more, workers want to design their own destiny and create custom learning paths that propel their careers and spark their interests.

In fact, ADP research shows that 65 percent of employees report wanting as much training as possible to help them achieve their career goals. This suggests that today’s workforce places a great deal of value on learning. It’s time we meet our learners where they are. I see this as a positive and exciting change, and hope we can rise to the occasion and provide the education that modern learners want, in the ways that they want it.


Modern learners must adapt and learn new skills faster than any time in history. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time spent working in a single job is now only about four years. That number shrinks to two years or less in the top 10 tech companies. People are reinventing themselves more frequently than generations before and, according to the statistics, will have to do so many times in the course of their careers. The World Economic Forum cites that “...35 percent of the skills that workers need—regardless of industry—will have changed by 2020.”

Plus, modern learners want to be untethered from the office and the desk. They want to train from any device at any time. This isn’t news, of course. We all know that it’s a mobile-first, remote, globally dispersed worker world, and learners are demanding training be available in the palm of their hands from anywhere.

Changing workforce demographics also add to the shape of the modern learning landscape. Research shows that Millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996, or ages 22-37 in 2018) will comprise more than one of three adult Americans by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. This means developing training that appeals to and engages people who may have grown up with technology at their fingertips—an IBM PC (1981) or the first Apple Macintosh (1984) was always in the house. They likely consumed a steady diet of Nintendo and MTV, too, which is why gamification and video should certainly be in your training playbook, if they’re not already.


What to Do Now?

So, we know our L&D jobs matter more than ever in driving the goals of the business. And we know who our learners are and what they expect. The next challenge to address is conveying what we know (to some degree) to the rest of the organization. That’s key to building a modern learning culture. Some quick tips to share the value and importance of training:

  • Put on your sales hat. Become the champion of your own programs and commit to selling the value of training as a competitive advantage.
  • Meet with managers. Discuss the importance of leading by example and buying into the training vision. Without their support, you’re fighting an unwinnable uphill battle.
  • Nurture these leaders. Get frontline leaders more involved in determining the training needs and potential skills gaps on their teams.
  • Promote the value to individual contributors. A trickle-up approach can earn key advocates from within your team.

Work with team leads to set a baseline for what you plan to measure, whether that’s team or individual performance goals, or tracking skill sets that support larger company goals. The reporting functions in your learning management system will be your most valuable tool for measuring the outcomes that matter to your organization. Again, be sure to get key stakeholder buy-in on what you’re tracking and why.

Bottom line: a modern learning culture requires a new dedication to reporting and analysis. For a deeper dive into moving your L&D function beyond buzzwords and shift focus to the realities of modern learning, join me for a live Q&A discussion during our webinar on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, at 2 p.m. EDT.

Also, mark your calendar for our live session at the ATD 2018 International Conference & Exposition, on Sunday, May 6, 2018 from 1:30-2:30 p.m. in Room 23A, where we’ll delve even deeper into this subject matter.

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.

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