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The Rise of the Empowered Learner: 4 Things You Need to Know

An empowered learner is also an empowered employee. Let that idea sink in for a second. Changing old training methods to suit current learners’ needs isn’t just about taking technology and shortened attention spans into account, it’s about empowering today’s workforce with the tools they want and need to be satisfied with their jobs and to be better assets to the company as a whole. 

Getting to this point means doing away with old methods like lengthy lectures and dense presentations and acknowledging that no one really likes being talked at. Not only is it boring, but it's also not effective. 

Consider anytime that you’ve had to sit through a seminar or lecture. What do you remember from it? It’s likely you probably have a more vivid memory of what kind of doughnuts they served in the conference room after than the lecture itself. Look no further than this example to see why changing learning preferences and media consumption is so important.

Changing the way we train employees is imperative because employees themselves are also changing. In order to make the most effective changes to our learning and development programs we need to know this new learner profile that is rising:  “Empowered Learner.”

1) They are Students of Professor Google

Today’s learners want information right around .5 milliseconds after they learn they need it. In other words, they want information immediately and loathe the idea of getting it in an inefficient manner because they are used to this speed and because their lives are too packed to not have it. 

The Internet is a powerful tool in accomplishing this goal, and modern learners are leveraging its awesomeness with a vengeance. In fact, more than 70% of workers use the web as a go-to source of information about their jobs and any unforeseen problems that arise. And why wouldn’t they? Quick Google searches are what they’ve grown up with, and they are pretty darn useful. This has become a constant part of their lives, and they are bringing this drive for information “right now” to the workplace along with all their mobile devices that make searching immediately possible.

But wait. This doesn’t mean workers want only completely informal learning, but they do need formal training to be presented in a concise and efficient way, 24/7, and on-demand. This is because they require that information while their work is already in progress, so it has to be quick to keep productivity going.

The answer to both formal and efficient? Bite-sized eLearning. Elearning courses broken down into digestible modules present an opportunity for learning to be just-in-time while also having structure. These modules need to be short and easy to access as needed to work alongside Web-search learning. Workers can learn this way without breaking their workflow.

2) They Own Multiple Devices

Today’s learners use computers, phones, tablets and a variety of other devices and hybrids to access the Internet. While smartphones are the most used and most multi-functional for the majority of learners, you can’t limit your courses to these devices. A Smartphone may be easiest to use while commuting to work, but that doesn’t mean a learner won’t want to view your course on a larger screen once they are at their desk.

Users are even prone to accessing information on two different devices at the same time. Example: Streaming videos on a laptop while using a smartphone to scroll through social media. This includes a reported 87% of people using another device while also watching television. 

What does this mean for eLearning development and training? Your content should be available anywhere your learners are and on all their devices because this is what they expect. You need to start planning for micro-learning moments too. Here's a guide on how to do it. 

Also read: Why Responsive eLearning is Essential to Meet Modern Learner Needs

This also means that your content needs to be exceptionally engaging to break through all the distractions created by multiple screens, social media outlets, and news sources. Even more importantly, your information needs to be relevant. Interesting or fun content is good to a degree, but learners will back out when they don’t see value in your information. 

3) They Want to Learn on Their Terms

In the age of empowerment, learners expect companies to not only present relevant information and training that will make their jobs better and easier but to also give them choices in how they get it. 

What choices do they want? It mostly comes down to flexibility. They want to be able to learn when and where they want not be stuck in a classroom or having to log in at a specific time each day. Empowered learners also like the choice in how material is presented. They crave multiple formats. Sometimes they feel like watching a video, sometimes they don’t.

As an eLearning designer, you need to consider and create multiple paths to get to the same conclusion to accommodate this need for flexibility. For example, your course should be responsive - aka. designed so that it can be started on one device and continued on another and back again.

Online learning naturally appeals to the modern workforce because it doesn’t require learners to be stuck at their desk or in a room the entire day. For salaried workers, it is particularly useful to be able to squeeze in training during a commute or during lunch instead of having to take time away from regular work to learn. The idea is to embed learning into day-to-day work.

This is something that is attractive to all learners, not just Millennials. All learners enjoy being able to pick and choose what they learn to address issues that are the most pressing at that time. We, as designers, can empower our learners of all ages by giving them choices and making them feel included in how they learn.

4) They Expect Ongoing Learning  

A 2016 Pew Research Center study showed that nearly ¾ of adults considers themselves to be “lifelong learners.” This means they plan to continue learning for personal and/or professional reasons.

This is different from former workers who were OK with being passive recipients of information. Today’s empowered learners, instead, are more curious, they have a constant hunger for learning, and they are enthusiastic to continue developing their skill sets. They don’t want pushed, motionless style lectures anymore. This type of information transmission is too drawn out and inconvenient. They want to be active and permanent participants in the learning process. 

This empowerment of being able to constantly gain new knowledge has led to a workforce that is largely concerned with expanding their leadership skills because they are well aware they are going to be the new leaders. Modern learners think about jobs as opportunities to learn and grow. Read more: Millennials Want Jobs to Be Development Opportunities

Proof of their hunger for ongoing learning and education, is the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2016, which revealed that they want to spend a high proportion of their time learning. The research found that Millennials would like to up the time allotted for leadership development from 2.7 to 4.5 hours per week.

Read more: Learning Is Not a One-Time Event! Promote Continuous Learning

Empowerment is Opportunity for Learners and Designers

Empowered learning is an opportunity for companies to make training more personal and effective, but what does that mean?

Here is how this makes a difference: In the old days of employee training, it was common to load up an employee with ALL the information they would need all at once. This would often be done within the first few days of a job, and it was all mandatory and all at once.

Now, training, with the aid of eLearning course design, goes more like this: when a new hire comes in, or an existing employee has a new job to do, there is a well-organized training catalog presented online. The employee is allowed to learn from it when he or she chooses to do so. This shows trust in the employee, basically saying “we know you’ll get the information you need when you need it. And we won’t push information you already have know.”

When training is required, you can give a deadline but give learners OPTIONS to do the lesson in one or multiple sessions. Typically a set of modules that are 10 minutes or less apiece is a good way to break this up.

This fosters that sense of empowerment which makes employees feel more invested in their own training.

What all this is saying is that a new learner profile is rising, their way of learning is changing, and therefore, the L&D programs and training content and the tools and technology should reflect this new reality.Incorporating these choices and empowering our learners further gives us the opportunity to create a stronger company with happier, better-trained employees. Being flexible to our learners’ need for flexibility helps us roll with all the incoming changes the workforce is experiencing because of shifting economies and technology. 

Read more: 4 Must-Read Studies of 2016 to Understand the Modern Workforce



Karla Gutierrez

Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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