Overwhelmed. Distracted. Impatient.

These are a few of the words that leading analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte uses to describe the modern learner. And they should come as no surprise. Technological advances, increasing customer demands, stiffer competition, and rapidly changing products are transforming the traditional workplace—along with what, and how, employees need to learn. Yet, while organizations should be delivering training that meets modern learners’ changing needs, many businesses are stuck using outdated approaches that simply fall short.

Here’s what three modern learners from three separate industries (information technology, health care, and retail) have to say about the challenges they face and how organizations can provide the best support.

Information technology

Meet Paul Carman, principal solutions architect at Hewlett-Packard. Carman supports some of the company’s largest clients across the East Coast of the United States and up into Canada. In his role, he’s required to maintain top-notch technical expertise on all the products he represents. The products can include hundreds of features and functions that are updated approximately every six months. So, getting up to speed involves massive self-initiated knowledge acquisition—often from a stack of documents that Carman says could easily equal two feet in height. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” says Carman. “If there are 50 things I should know, but I feel like I only know 10, I not only have to learn about the other 40, but I’ve got to figure out how to learn about them. So, it can be stressful, especially if you’re going to a customer’s site and one of the 40 you don’t know is one of the things they care about.”

Because Carman also spends 60 percent of his time on the road, he can’t sit in on week-long, instructor-led training sessions. Scheduling one-on-one time with colleagues to tap into their expertise is also a challenge. “I feel like there are high expectations about what you’re supposed to know,” says Carman. “But traditional training methods aren’t enough to meet the escalating job demands of today’s fast-paced, mobile workforce. At HP, we’re investigating ways to address this.”

For Carman, an ideal learning program would include a combination of training methods, ongoing evaluation, and continual reinforcement. “I think you need to have a mix of training—videos, classroom, documentation, etc.—because people learn in different ways,” says Carman. “I also prefer if there is some mechanism for scoring how well you've learned what you’ve learned, as well as something that identifies how much you remembered six months later. Then, if you don’t remember something, you can go back and learn it again.”

Health care

Carman’s vast knowledge requirements and desire for a better way to learn are echoed by Fred Argo, an executive sales representative and territory account leader for surgical care at Ethicon—a world leader in the manufacturing of surgical devices. Argo is responsible for selling multiple lines of surgical products and services while also mentoring a team of sales reps.

Within the past five years, Argo’s job has changed significantly. The sales cycle has lengthened and he’s responsible for more products and accounts than ever before. “It’s overwhelming,” says Argo. “The feeling that you have is that you’re the jack of all trades and master of none.”

While Argo is an experienced rep and can build on existing knowledge of surgical procedures and products, he says it’s easy for reps to feel, “stressed, less confident, challenged, and spread thin” because they have to be responsible for such a large product portfolio without always having enough time to get up to speed on everything they need to know.

Argo believes the best way to help today’s workers is to implement training programs that allow success to be attainable but that also challenge employees to increase their knowledge levels. “There is a balance between being bombarded with information and not having any training at all,” says Argo. “Things that are important, but not important to do your job effectively, can just add to stress. So, it’s important for training to be relevant to your role.”


Dei’ Gardner-Jones, a divisional asset-protection manager at TBC Corporation—one of the nation’s largest marketers of tires for the automotive replacement market—couldn’t agree more. He says it’s important to zero-in on training that pertains specifically to the work employees need to accomplish. “Give me something that’s a little more tangible, a little more useful to help with the kind of job I have,” says Gardner-Jones.

In his role, this means training that can support him in recalling a mindboggling amount of critical information necessary for identifying risks associated with operating TBC stores. “It can be overwhelming at times,” says Gardner-Jones. “The kind of job I have changes every second, every minute, of every hour of the day, and every day looks different from the previous day.”

Gardner-Jones’ vision of learning replaces the traditional notion of day-long workshops and, instead, incorporates microlearning, which is already part of the company’s existing eLearning platform. “If I was going to put a training program together, I would make it about short intervals of learning. One, because I know this helps retain information longer and, two, because it's less intrusive on your day. And those short bursts need to include more robust information and happen more often in the course of a person's lifetime on the job.”

Is anyone listening?

While Carman, Argo, and Gardner-Jones each have different backgrounds, perform different roles, and work in different industries, they describe the impact of accelerating knowledge requirements and amplifying pressure to fast-track to competency using the same word—overwhelming! They know there are better ways to learn. And organizations need to start listening to what they have to say.