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Marnie Threapleton

Towards Maturity

Head of Advisory Services

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The Consumer Learner at Work: Is L&D Ready?


Seismic shifts in how work is done present a huge challenge for L&D professionals. At the core of this challenge is the impact of new ways of working on how individuals learn. Pervasive mobile technologies mixed with easy access to content and peers put learning in the hands of individuals.

Employees are no longer passive recipients of training, they are proactive consumers of learning. Additionally, the environment in which employees are consuming learning is changing rapidly. According to Global Futures and Foresight 2014:

  • Generation Y will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025
  • 83% of millennials say freelancing will be their career model
  • 79% of HR Execs are expecting employees to have simultaneous (or portfolio) careers by 2018
  • 33% of people are working past the age of 65
  • 25% of the workforce will be aged 70 by 2028

The line between learning that takes place inside the workplace and outside the workplace is diminishing and will continue to do so, as these changes impact organisations. In short, the consumer learner is here to stay.

With all this change, it becomes imperative that L&D teams understand how colleagues learn, in order to better support them. However, according to our 2015 Industry Benchmark Report ‘Embracing Change’, 70% of L&D professionals do not proactively try to understand how individuals in their organisations are learning.

It is this lack of understanding of ‘consumer learners’ that prompted us to investigate the consumer learner perspective.

The consumer learner

In our In-Focus report, The Consumer Learner at Work, we analysed data from over 2,000 individuals, either paying fully or partly for their own learning. They were a wide range of ages and job roles, from both the US and Europe. One thing that they all have in common is that anyone of them might work in your organisation.

We found that these modern workers are highly engaged with learning: They are curious to learn, keen to move their careers forward and keen to maintain professional standards. The following statistics say it all:

  • 80% can see how online learning can help further their career
  • 70% agree online learning has had a positive impact on their job performance
  • Over 50% engage to improve their professionalism, wanting to take control over their career and professional development
  • 26% engage in learning through curiosity – they simply love to learn

And there is more!

  • 93% of these ‘consumer learners’ are responsible for their own learning and development in their place of work
  • 88% know what they need to learn
  • 81% know how to access what they need to learn
  • 42% agree that their company provides relevant online learning for their job
  • 57% are investing their own money to supplement their training in a wide variety of work-related skills, such as CPD, IT skills, team building and leadership, amongst others

These figures indicate that this particular sample of workers are aware of what skills they need. They are also more than prepared to invest their own time and money in acquiring them.

Why? Because they don’t think their employer is providing the necessary opportunities.

L&D is struggling to connect with learners

According to our benchmark data, employers are finding it hard to deliver credible learning experiences, with four-in-five L&D leaders admitting a struggle to engage employees internally. Furthermore, only 21% support career aspirations or personal job goals.

The course is one area where there is a big gulf between the expectations of learners and L&D teams. Over half (53%) of L&D teams still view the course as their only option for building and supporting performance. Learners, however, place much greater importance on online resources and collaborative learning:

  • 80% of learners in our consumer learner study say Google or other search engine resources are essential or very useful to learn what they need to do their job
  • 77% rate working in collaboration with others as essential/very useful
  • 66% rate self-paced learning e-learning courses as essential/very useful
  • 47% rate classroom courses as essential/very useful
  • 70% use their own smartphones and 52% their own tablet for work-related learning

These workers are clearly consumers of learning.

For L&D, that means shifting into the learner-as-consumer mindset and understanding that learners are social individuals who want:

  • To work collaboratively: 77% of respondents said working in collaboration with team members was essential or very useful to learn what they needed to do their job
  • To meet and discuss work: 75% say general conversations and meeting with people is very important (75%)
  • Manager support: 66% want support from their managers
  • Mentor support: 61% want support from a coach, mentor or buddy (61%),
  • Network support: 57% want support from personal and professional networks within the business and 52% from external professional networks

While formal, structured learning inventions are still very important and valued, L&D needs to ensure that it encourages and facilitates all of these social, collaborative ways of learning.

7 behaviours of highly engaged L&D teams

We have distilled seven behaviours that enable the top performing L&D teams to support their learners. The leading percentages are those of Top Deck organisations (those scoring in the top 10% for the Towards Maturity Index) - versus the average from the benchmark (in brackets) - who are applying the actions.

  1. Listen to Learners: 86% are proactive in understanding how learners learn (vs. 30% on average)
  2. Think beyond the course: 73% provide micro-content - less than 10mins (27%)
  3. Simplify learner experience: 84% allow access to learning anytime (58%)
  4. Support staff in their careers: 78% support career aspirations (or personal job goals) with technology learning (21%)
  5. Facilitate collaboration: 43% encourage learners to solve problems together using social media (11%)
  6. Support performance: 51% managers provide active support in the application of learning in the workplace (15%)
  7. Help staff help themselves: 67% encourage individuals to organise their own learning strategies (34%)

As you can see from the data, those organisations that listen to their employees and provide relevant support to help them perform better are the ones that are seeing much improved business performance.

Times are changing. The evidence suggests that some - if not all - of our workers are already consuming learning in fresh, new ways. Is it time that L&D caught up?

Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

How consumer focused is your L&D strategy? Find out by confidentially benchmarking with your peers here

Author Profile Picture
Marnie Threapleton

Head of Advisory Services

Read more from Marnie Threapleton

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