By Janice Burns
How long have we been talking about the “modern learner?”
At the very least, the term has been around since 2014 when Bersin by Deloitte published the well-known infographic, "Meet the Modern Learner." The infographic is covered with words like overwhelmed, distracted, impatient, all of which probably apply to most of us, most of the time. Who could argue that employees have a small percentage of time in their 480-minute workdays to focus on training and development?
Heavy workloads, back-to-back meetings, and the magnetic attraction of our smartphones, with the constant barrage of emails and instant messages, make it difficult for leaders to focus on the task at hand, let alone training and development. What has changed since 2014? The battle for employees' time and attention has not abated. If anything, it has intensified. Yet there have been some positive indications that momentum is shifting in the right direction. There is evidence that budget constraints are no longer the top challenge keeping learning and development professionals awake at night. And there is no shortage of emerging technologies (such as augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence) opening a world of exciting possibilities for learning and development.
Despite these advances, according to the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey, the primary trend for this year is the need for organizations to change the way people learn. But how do we do that? First, we should recognize the similarities between learners. That starts with dropping the adjective "modern" when we talk about learners, particularly since we know that most people want the same things. In today's workplace, most employees are tech-savvy and want to connect with their colleagues and other experts in the organization to learn and solve problems. As pointed out in the Global Leadership Forecast finding cited above, there is little difference across the various generations in the workplace in terms of how they prefer to learn. Personalization tops the lists, which tells us that learning, regardless of how it is delivered or consumed, must be relevant.
I was reminded of this recently with a well-intended gift of a cooking class for my husband. While our family long ago crowned him a "chef extraordinaire," he wanted to perfect his ability to prepare Asian cuisine. To say that the first two lessons were disappointing was an understatement. The teacher was knowledgeable and engaging, but the lessons were basic and irrelevant to my husband. He learned nothing new. He said that he spent two hours of his precious time not learning.
Part of the problem was that the experience was not personalized to his needs. Personalization is critical to learning and learners are increasingly vocal in demanding personalization as part of the learning process. One of the best ways to personalize the learning experience is to use informal and formal assessments to increase involvement and engagement by presenting a clearer picture of their strengths and gaps. This ensures learners focus their limited time on the skills they need to develop the most.
In the case of my husband's cooking class, the good news was that by the third week the instructor recognized he had already mastered the basics, and she increased his engagement by pairing him with the most inexperienced learners. He was motivated to come back because the instructor recognized and tapped into his strengths, creating a powerful learning experience.
For more tips, read my full article “4 Ways to Craft an Effective Learning Experience.”