The 3 Needs of Corporate Learning, Part 2: Learner Needs

In the lead up to the launch of the 2015 Towards Maturity Benchmark Report on 5th November, we’re exploring three areas of need for corporate learning that have emerged from the data we’ve analysed this year. They are the needs of the business, its learners and its L&D team.

In Part 2, we take a look at what learners need from the learning and development function in 2015 and beyond.

Changing Learner Needs

A good way to find out how your colleagues learn is to ask them. And that is exactly what should be at the heart of any learning strategy, Robert Todd, former head of learning technologies at LinkedIn, told delegates at the recent World of Learning conference held in Birmingham,

“Understand how colleagues want to learn and what motivates them to do a good job and support that.”

Our research into learner preferences, Learner Voice 2, lifts the lid on how learners learn. Overwhelmingly, learners want to collaborate with peers with 91% of the whole sample of workplace learners saying that team collaboration is either essential or very useful for learning what they need for their job (rising to 96% for those who have been in the company for less than 6 months and dropping to 84% of those in sales roles).

Moreover, more than 4 in 5 staff are willing to share what they know with their peers. This rises to 96% for those new in role and this drops slightly for the over 50’s to 70%.

Add that to the fact that most employees (88%) like to learn at their own pace and in their own way — Google and the web is an essential or very useful tool for 70% — and a picture emerges: learners like to be in control of their learning and learn from others.

What Learners are Doing Differently

Our research provides L&D teams with many insights into how learners are learning. As a part of our Learner Voice research we ask learners how they like to learn. Here are the top 10 findings:

  • Google and the web is an essential or very useful tool for 70%
  • The classroom is not dead — 64% still find them very useful
  • 26% of staff use their own phone to access resources to help them learn but 33% don’t want to use their own device, preferring to keep work and personal lives separate
  • 51% access learning and support resources from their mobile device ‘at the point when they need them the most’ with 44% accessing in the evening and weekends)
  • 65% agree that they are motivated by using technologies that allow them to network and learn with others
  • Staff are 4x more likely to go to YouTube for learning than their in-house social network
  • YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ are more popular for learning than Twitter and Facebook
  • 64% would recommend online learning as a result of their own experience
  • Line managers are the most influential in determining online learning behaviours
  • Only 26% agree that their managers discuss learning objectives with them before they start any formal learning

As you can see from these ten factors, learners like to use their own tools to learn, they like to share information with peers, they want to be supported and guided by their managers and they still find classroom training useful.

The big shift for L&D teams is that learners are more in control of their own learning than ever before. This swings the spotlight back on the L&D function. If learners are in control of their learning, how does the L&D team add value?

L&D Reality Check

The worrying reality is that early findings in our research this year shows just 30% of L&D professionals are proactive in in understanding how staff learn and understand what they need to do their job. This is slightly down from last year and highlights that 7 out of 10 L&D leaders have no idea how their learners learn, despite the fact we know they are taking control of their own learning.

In a data-driven consumer led society, the L&D teams seem to be struggling to catch up with the people that they are supporting. We have to start doing things differently!

This year’s Benchmark shows that Top Deck organisations continue to put learners and their experience as consumers of learning at the heart of their learning strategy. But they are in the minority — most organisations have yet to understand how their learners learn. Without this understanding, L&D teams will find it hard to design and deliver effective learning strategies. They will become increasingly out of touch with the people they support.

The good news, is that the Top Deck organisations are achieving the engagement and business impact that many of us aspire to and therein lies the opportunity — to distill what is working for them and use that as a blueprint to find new ways of connecting with our learners. As Nigel Paine comments in his book The Learning Challenge, “Where these CLO’s step today, the vast majority of learning leaders will step tomorrow.”

Also in this series:

We’d love to know your thoughts — leave a comment below!

*We begrudgingly use the word ‘learner’ in this article to represent the full range of individuals involved in workplace learning that are touched by corporate L&D — it seemed shorter than the full list: Director, line manager, nurse, engineer, doctor, consultant, volunteer, designer, project manager, developer………

Towards Maturity will be launching the 2015 Towards Maturity Benchmark Report on 5th November, during a free webinar in conjunction with the Learning & Skills Group. If you are responsible for driving L&D or business performance, register for the free event here.

Originally published at on October 12, 2015.