How well do we really understand the corporate learner? Training managers suggest that the most common strategy, by far, used to understand what learners need is to approach the employee’s manager or employee directly. While that is not necessarily a bad approach, I believe it adds to one of our biggest challenges – aligning the goals of training with the business outcomes we are trying to support.

As a function, learning and development (L&D) should consider learner preferences when developing training programs. Both managers and employees can provide valuable insight into the direction of training development, including insight into specific topics, skills or knowledge needed to improve job performance. To make effective decisions, however, L&D must also consider how the training is delivered.  This matching process is one where the learner’s preferences can be a key indicator of their willingness to actively participate in the program.

Training Industry recently conducted research on what learners want and how they want to learn. Not surprisingly, the research concluded – it depends.  It depends on the topic, it depends on the department, but most importantly, it depends on the quality of the training. A learner’s perception regarding the quality of the training changes based on the likelihood that they experienced at least some portion of the program in a modality they prefer.

Understanding why learners liked or didn’t like a program is a challenge for L&D. Learning is not linear and extends beyond the training event. The success of new products in the market indicate that the future of training design will be self-directed, with the learner determining how much time they are willing to invest in the training and the order they prefer to consume the content.

In a world with tight budgets and lofty demands on the L&D team, this can be overwhelming. But I believe the secret may be in how we assemble our programs. Microlearning content may be the key since it is easier to edit, update and keep current. Bite-sized learning empowers the learner to learn when they need it, even in the flow of their job. It also allows the learner to decide what parts of the program they want to consume, which does introduce some risk.

Approaching training design with a focus on understanding the learner is where the L&D team can have significant impact. Sure, the content must still be great, but how it is structured and delivered can enable L&D to meet the need for flexibility that today’s learners crave. Having empowered employees spending less time on learning and more time performing is really one of our core objectives.

From my perspective, asking employees how they want to learn is not really a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to improve the learner experience.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts about the perspectives shared in the magazine, and please feel free to send any content ideas for future consideration.