Learning has always been part of human nature and life experience, for it was necessary to ensure survival. Gradually, people started organizing their knowledge into subjects, and soon learning transformed into a formal and well-structured process. But the learning process is still evolving, and it usually gets altered when people’s habits and views on life change. What defines a learner today? How do they spend their time and what are their values? In this article, we will list the characteristics of a modern learner to help you navigate in today’s learning environment.
Leaner of the Past
In 3500 B.C., Egypt became the first civilization to realize the need to teach its youngest members how to write, read, and treat other members of society. However, it wasn’t until the Middle ages that the term “formal education” appeared.
Even so, when speaking about the learner of the past, we don’t have to go back in time thousands of years. We are going to look at a learner’s profile at the beginning of the 2010s, as during the last nine years the learning process has undergone a major revolution.
It’s 2010. You walk down the street and see Mark – a typical white collar employee of a big company, who is now heading to his office. He probably has a cell phone in his hand, however, he doesn’t check it very often: statisticians say it was done only few times a day, mostly to see if there were any missed calls from his wife or colleagues. Mark has never used his phone to make notes or learn new languages, and the phone’s capacity to support a variety of social apps wasn’t a factor to consider when choosing which cell phone to buy. Actually, he would laugh at someone to suggest such non-sense!
In the office Mark spends eight hours in front of his computer, rarely staying overtime, but he is keeping up with the deadlines. He also devotes some time to chit-chat with his colleagues. They go to the bar sometimes to reminisce about the days they were studying at college together.
Mark is open-minded and loves to travel. He likes asking questions and learning from his peers and management. This is a type of person who is ready to learn new information but is not willing to bring books home and spend his free hours on acquiring new work skills.
Most likely, Mark’s life has little in common with the way you spend your days, right? But some of you might suddenly feel nostalgic: after all, this probably was your life just ten years ago. For younger people, though, his habits sound too exaggerated and even unbelievable. Who today would be checking their phone only for calls and messages, but not to take a look at the number of likes their new Instagram post gets per minute?
Leaner of the Present
Undoubtedly, Mark is “out-of-date” and reminds us of dinosaurs a lot more than reality. But what are these features without which one can hardly draw a picture of a contemporary person? Here is a full profile of a modern learner! A person known to us all, because most often we can see them by simply looking into the mirror.
1) A modern learner is overwhelmed with information. Today you can learn something new every moment, and you don’t even need to open a book or your laptop for that. People learn “on the go”, by looking at insightful social advertisements in the street, reading useful posts on Instagram on how to make their lives zero-waste, or by taking a glance at news’ notifications on their phone.
Just think about it: in 2018 more than 600 000 books were published in the US alone, compared to 2.2. million published worldwide in 2014. It would be impossible to read them all, even if you were to stop eating and sleeping!
So, learning has to be short, yet on point, without containing unnecessary information that the person will forget after reading another tweet another TV star.
2) While there is plenty of information that is easily accessible and affordable, learners of today are more eager to learn than ever! In his study, Bersin found that people are motivated to acquire new knowledge simply because they love the process. Motivation also comes from the desire to be innovative and keep up with the newest trends, perform better at work, and acquire skills that will be beneficial in everyday life. This is definitely good news for employees who have a well-developed learning process, considering that having access to high-quality training is put as top value by 86% of employees worldwide.
3) The fast pace of the modern world has shifted the learner’s focus from present to the future. Modern students are focused on the future. That’s why they no longer want to spend time learning “hard’’ skills that might be useful for only one industry. The “hard” skills that are in demand today are AI and programming languages, which are the most popular courses on the major learning platforms, such as Coursera and Udacity.
A marketing person wouldn’t devote much time to learn industry specifics anymore of, let’s say, publishing. She would rather spend time acquiring “soft” skills, such as leadership, body language, or the ability to learn more effectively. These are the skills that will be useful in any company and will never get outdated.
So, when deciding on what your employees have to study, focus on the skill rather than just the provision of information.
4) While almost half of respondents claim that their learning happens during working hours, a modern leaner learns anywhere, anytime. 48% prefer to devote their evenings and weekends to training, 30% complete courses during coffee and lunch breaks, and 28% don’t waste time while commuting and read something useful instead. It is amazing how corporate learning has become part of our everyday activities! Therefore, try to choose a learning platform that is easily accessible from any device and consider implementing micro-learning in your workplace.
5) Many would guess that a modern learner never leaves his house without a mobile phone. We check our phones more than 10 times per hour, and for some people all their work happens within their cell phones. How is that connected to learning? According to the research, when a question arises during course completion, in 96% of cases a mobile phone will be used to look for an answer. Therefore, it’s important to think about how to implement mobile learning in your company so that it benefits your employees, without distracting them.
6) Teamwork and cooperation are the top values for a modern person. Your employees need to have the ability to get management support or ask their peers for some piece of advice on the training.
76% of companies with well-developed learning cultures ensure their managers communicate with the teams regularly and provide support when needed. Learning experts emphasize that lack of teamwork and cooperation is one of the 3 main obstacles to employing effective training.
Involving your staff in the design of learning and actively listening to their feedback thus is the best way to respond to their learning needs.
7) Last, but not least, it’s hard to imagine a modern learner putting much effort into completing a course that he considers of bad quality and little relevance. Having great motivation to learn something exciting and applicable, a learner of today puts training quality and relevance above anything else. The money invested in corporate learning is constantly growing, with 34% of training budget increasing over the last 2 years. Therefore, always make sure your training aligns well with your business goals and delivers engaging content in order not to leave your employees disappointed.
Rapid technological advancements have managed to change our lifestyle in mere 8-10 years. Today, more and more people are looking for a purpose in their job and education. When creating a training for a modern learner, you should never forget what they value: quality, relevance, support, and flexibility. Your employees expect you to respect their motivation as well as their lack of time. Essentially, if you want to achieve success with your course, try to adjust the learning process as much as possible to their learning needs!