Learners as consumers: How does L&D need to change to keep up with the evolving needs of their audience?

Written by Lyndon Wingrove on 13 March 2017

People love to learn. They are doing it all the time in their personal lives, and this lust for learning and the pick and mix approach is quickly spilling over into the professional realm. Individuals are adapting to this new mode of learning, and rapidly discovering their power as consumers of information. 

Instead of employees coming to their L&D teams to find the information or support they need, they are going to outside sources, because they know they can access what they require. As a result L&D is being left behind, and in order to have any chance of regaining credibility within the eyes of employees (and the wider business), the function needs to change; but how? 

L&D can no longer rely on the 'push' approach, learners are more selective and able to research, and the only way the 'pull' approach will work is to create a compelling offer.

  • Embrace digital – the digital revolution has been one of the most influential vanguards in changing the way people learn, and has opened up the whole world to learners. Yet, despite this, L&D on the whole has continually struggled to effectively integrate technology into learning strategies; basic elearning modules are often the limit of digital resources on offer or there is too much focus placed on trying to find the 'best' LMS at the moment and too long spent trying to set it up and get people using it. But when you consider what individuals are utilising outside of work - social media, virtual reality, augmented reality, games, podcasts, apps, videos, websites, and blogs – it’s clear that L&D functions are not making the most of the resources available. Almost all employees, regardless of age demographic, are using these tools and rather than playing catch-up and trying to assimilate current technology because it’s the thing du jour, L&D strategists need to adapt what exists to fit the workforce they are supporting and also find ways to get ahead of the curve. Simply put, make it easier for people to research and find, not narrow down their options.
  • Build your brand – a key flaw in L&D strategy is the consistent underestimation of the impact of brand. People use resources they know and trust; Google has worked hard to define itself as the brand you can rely on for virtually everything, and it’s why ‘Google’ has now become a colloquial verb as much as a name. Does your L&D function have a recognisable brand? Do employees fully understand the extent of what you can offer? Do they know how they can access the resources you provide? If the answer is no to any of these, then this is damaging your reputation, and people will not immediately make the link between their learning needs and the service you provide. In order to reign supreme with consumers you need to be in the forefront on people’s minds otherwise learners will shop elsewhere.
  • Have the resources people need – although reputation is important, it has to be backed up by action, and in L&D this means having the resources available to support learners’ needs.  As the L&D function one might assume that this aspect is covered, but this isn’t always the case unfortunately. The key to success here is get to know your workforce; they are consumers so treat L&D like a business and aim to create a balance between services people actually want to consume, and what the business requires on a strategic level.
  • Become a partner – ultimately the biggest change L&D needs to make as the consumerism mindset continues to take over, is to become a trusted partner, an enabler of learning and a source of advice and support rather than just a provider of predefined training solutions. If someone requests development in an area that’s outside of your available catalogue, direct them to a resource they can use. This way you not only enable them to learn what they need, you also maintain the connection with employees, build your brand, and make sure they are directed to business sanctioned resources.  

Using these strategies you can enable people to learn effectively, while still providing some guidance; fear of losing control over what employees learn, and risking them developing their skills in a way that isn’t cohesive with the strategy of the business is still a priority for L&D teams, but should not result in them being perceived as blockers.

Embracing digital, building a brand, providing access to the right resources and embedding a partnership approach will help avoid this potential pitfall of consumerised learning and ensure both you and employees reap the benefits of this evolving form of professional development.  


About the author

Lyndon Wingrove is director of capabilities and consulting at Thales L&D


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