The Modern Learner: Are You Meeting Their Needs?

January 30, 2018 18:10 by Dana Peters

Thanks to several factors, five generations make up today’s workforce; each with their own unique aspirations, motivations, and life experiences.

It’s quite possible today’s workforce is the most diverse any business leader has experienced. From a training standpoint, the changing workforce and the emergence of new technology has changed the definition of what today’s learner looks like regardless of generation. The modern learner knows no age.

It’s imperative that companies and learning development professionals continually grow and adapt their learning culture to meet the expectations of today’s learner. Reaching today’s learner begins with understanding who they are and what they want.


We’ve developed a short list to define today’s modern learner. Knowing and understanding who today’s modern learner is, can help you decide if your company is doing everything it can to reach them effectively. 


Today’s modern learner is…


Requires Convenience


Today’s learner is on the go. They want to be able to ‘learn’ everywhere they are. This can mean accessing learning opportunities from their desk computer and phone, but it can also mean accessing it from home, accessing it from a tablet, or from their mobile device, whenever and wherever they want to.


Seeks Instant Gratification

Time is valuable for today’s learner. They are often overwhelmed and overworked and almost always distracted by some internal or external force. Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that the average attention span of today’s adult is just 8 seconds. That means in 8 seconds or less, your learner will decide if your session is worth his or her time. Clearly stating the objectives up front, the course agenda, and intended benefits of the session will hold the learners attention for the duration of the session. Mixed media including video, activities, and small group work will also help retain learners’ attention. In addition, today’s learner wants answers now. On demand learning is crucial for today’s learner. That’s why technology like Google, Alexa, and Suri are so popular. It’s important to make sure your company can provide opportunities and resources for in the moment and on demand learning. 


Demands Value & Relevance


This too plays into gratification. Today’s modern learner wants it all. Not only do they demand instant gratification and convenience. They want big returns on their investment of time and energy. Time is valuable and today’s learner does not want to spend time away from day-to-day work for something that has little or no relevance to their current responsibilities or doesn’t enhance their potential for that next promotion or career move.


In Control


The modern learner wants to be in control of his or her learning and development. They want options and choices and they want to be in control of their career and development path. Learning choices should vary in content, in length, in availability, and in medium. The modern learner does not need mandatory learning and development requirements to learn. They choose learning, but it must be flexible, convenient, and on their own terms.




Social elements drive today’s society, both on the personal and professional front. Today’s learners rely on Google for answers and they look to peers and colleagues to provide them with the ability to support their learning on the job. In fact, Bersin reports that nearly 80 percent of workforce learning happens via on the job interactions with peers, teammates, and managers. As stated above, the modern learner wants to learn. They want to grow and adapt to be more successful on their job and they want to share their ideas and collaborate with other like-minded professionals.


I want to be clear, the modern learner can be found in all generations. Too often, these discussions take place with a focus on serving a younger, more technology focused generation.  A Baby Boomer, for example, can appreciate the convenience and technology virtual learning provides just as much (or even more) than a millennial.


Now that you know more about what the modern learner looks like, is your company doing everything it can to reach them?


Let us know in the comments below!


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