Making Learning Modern

Modern-day learners want access to the information they need when they need it. Here are some insights into the future of learning and development departments, as well as how to speak their learning language.
modern learning

Technology is changing the way we gather information and learn at an increasingly rapid pace. Just a few years ago, if you needed to change the oil in your car and didn’t know how to do it, you would have dug through the glove compartment for the manual, read the instructions the best you could, then given it your best shot. (Or given up and taken it to the shop). Now, a quick search on YouTube will serve up a video — and sometimes several — showing you exactly what to do, step-by-step, for your make and model of vehicle.

The ubiquity of handheld devices like smartphones also means we can learn wherever we are. In just the past five years, global penetration of smartphones has increased from less than 19 percent to nearly 75 percent. For many of us, search engines are the go-to resources whenever we need to look something up, gather insights or learn something new.

This consumer-oriented approach to learning has affected the expectations we have for learning at work as well. We don’t want to sit through hours of one-way lectures given by an instructor who can’t relate to our experiences. We want to be empowered to set our own educational path and to learn from people (often our own peers) who clearly understand what it means to apply the learning in our role. When we need to learn how to do something specific, we want help to be as easily accessible and relevant to our circumstances as the oil change videos on YouTube.

These new expectations aren’t just restricted to millennials or Generation Zers who seem like they were born with a smartphone in their hands. The reality of today’s work environments means that everyone from Gen Z to the oldest of the baby boomers is being asked to get more done in less time. With technology at virtually everyone’s fingertips, workers in an increasing number of industries are developing what we call a “millennial mindset,” where they expect to be able to use technology at work to learn and gather information when and where they need it.

Let L&D Be Your Ally

If you’ve been offering product training sessions and little else, the insights above can leave you feeling a little overwhelmed. How can you possibly get from where you are today to where you need to be? If your organization has a formal learning and development department, you may be closer than you think.

The makeup of L&D varies from organization to organization, but generally, these teams have at least one or two people who are experts/specialists in learning theory. Best case scenario, they have already invested in a modern learning platform that you can leverage. If not, it’s likely that they have at least looked into modern learning platforms but haven’t been able to justify the investment to the business. You can provide them with the opportunity. Worst case, they have no idea what a modern learning platform is and you can help them up their game while you investigate the opportunity together.

Once you are ready to begin developing training services, whether they are classroom services or e-learning modules, you will need someone to lead the effort. Your L&D allies won’t be the subject matter experts, but they can help your SMEs translate their knowledge into useful enablement services.

If you don’t have a background in training, getting up to speed on the terminology can help you have a more productive discussion with the learning professionals in your organization. Here are just a few terms with which you should be familiar:

  • Badging: Validations given to learners to attest to completion and passing of a course. Badges can be added to social profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn.
  • Credentialing: Similar to badging, credentialing is often used when attesting to the learner’s competency in an area.
  • Gamification: Adds elements of gameplay to learning such as scoring points, leaderboards and badges. Since salespeople tend to be competitive by nature, gamification is particularly effective in sales force enablement.
  • LMS: Learning management systems. A somewhat outdated term that refers to the systems used to manage and maintain learning assets as well as data on attendance, course evaluations and student assessments.
  • Microlearning: Learning that is delivered in short bursts that focus in on a very specific topic. Generally, microlearning is thought to increase retention. It also tends to be one of the best ways to increase participation within a time-strapped sales force.
  • M-learning: Mobile learning. Refers to learning assets that can be accessed through mobile devices. This term is also falling out of fashion. In a modern workforce, all learning should be accessible from a mobile device.
  • MOOC: Massive online open course. Originally offered by universities to the community, these online courses are open to anyone and free of charge. Private businesses are now taking the MOOC concept and transforming it into a learning platform for their sales organizations.
  • VILT: Virtual instructor-led training. Training that is offered in a virtual environment where instructor and learner are in different locations. This type of training fosters interaction between instructor and learner, and sometimes, between learners.

This story is an excerpt from “Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower a World-Class Sales Force,” co-authored by Miller Heiman Group CEO Byron Matthews and CSO Insights Research Director Tamara Schenk. This excerpt was adapted for Talent Economy. To comment, email