The changes in consumer behavior are undeniable and sweeping. The impact of smartphones and tablets is felt in media, in the retail, travel, and transportation industries—and in education and training. Ubiquitous connected devices, with their speedy search functions and digital assistants, place a vast galaxy of facts, figures, instructions, and aid within easy reach.

Those connected consumers are also employees and learners; that’s why, in sync with the evolution of consumer behavior, a marked transformation is occurring in learners’ behavior and their expectations around digital media.

Learning and development (L&D) professionals could wait until the swirling vortex of change settles into definable patterns—or jump in to influence the response of the eLearning community and guide the evolution of digital learning. The eLearning Guild is initiating a crucial conversation about the future of digital learning and how L&D professionals can anticipate and best meet learners’ changing needs.

As part of this conversation, Learning Solutions Magazine is publishing four articles: On September 6, in “Digital Learning: An Interview with David Kelly,” the Guild’s executive director shared his views on just what digital learning is. Here, the magazine takes a look at how L&D professionals might adapt to changes that are already reshaping eLearning. On September 27, Learning Solutions Magazine will present some insights on digital learning from the executive point of view. And on October 4, the magazine will examine how changes in the way employees learn could change the way L&D assesses learning.

In addition, the Guild is exploring the digital learning landscape at DevLearn 2017 Conference & Expo next month in Las Vegas. Senior learning leaders will delve into digital learning strategies October 24 at the Executive Forum on Digital Learning. The conversation on digital learning continues, as a special area of focus, throughout the conference, October 25 – 27. Register today!

A traditional approach to training and corporate learning assumes that employees show up to a specific place, whether in-person or in front of a computer, for training. When the learners arrive, they find that L&D professionals have defined learning objectives and prepared materials based on those goals. A professional instructor delivers the teaching, or a professionally designed self-directed course steps learners through this curriculum. All learners complete the same learning modules, which might culminate in a test that measures their recall of the information.

This traditional approach puts decisions about what content learners will consume, when they will consume it, and on what devices in the hands of managers, instructional designers, and L&D professionals. The material is generally contained within an LMS or other framework maintained by the L&D team. This team defines the learning objectives, creates the relevant content, and delivers the training.

For decades, corporate learners have had few other options: Simply put, the expectation was that the organization would provide you with the information and training you needed.

Learners take control

People don’t learn that way anymore. And it never was the only way they learned—at least, not exclusively. But the resources that would enable them to do anytime, anywhere, self-directed, and socially supported learning did not exist. Learners today have seized control over much of their learning; their consumer experiences have led them to demand more personalized content and more immediate access to information. The digital learning arena is adjusting to this shift, to shared control over the what, where, and how of learning:

  • Learners accustomed to quickly finding resources that help them solve problems expect eLearning and job aids to be available at their moment of need.
    What this means for L&D: In place of some formal courses, L&D professionals might design problem-solving and performance support tools that offer quick access within the workflow. (For more on the concept of workflow learning, read “Learning Leaders: Bob Mosher Advocates ‘Workflow Learning.’”)
  • Learners have become more independent in seeking out learning and information through internet searches, and they expect access to a broad variety of sources.
    What this means for L&D: Rather than creating all instructional content in-house, L&D professionals might become more selective, investing scarce resources in creating only that content that learners cannot find through independent search, social learning, and informal learning. L&D professionals might also look at curating some high-quality external content as an alternative to creating it.
  • Rather than being evaluated based on completing a prescribed set of content items and recalling specific information for a test, learners expect to be evaluated on how well they complete a task or do their jobs.
    What this means for L&D: All learners might ultimately have to perform the same tasks, but how they become proficient is changing. For some companies and tasks, where uniformity of product is essential, conventional training might still be needed. For others, where learners need a more generalizable skill, evaluation might shift from formal tests on a defined body of content to evaluation of on-the-job performance, use of digital credentials to mark competencies, or other means of evaluation that have yet to emerge.
  • Rather than “show up” to learn at stipulated times, learners expect access to learning materials on their own time and on their own devices. They are less willing—and less able—to take chunks of time off from work to go learn.
    What this means for L&D: A shift to on-demand content is already evident. “Responsive” and “universal” designs are likely to dominate as eLearning moves from office laptops to a broad variety of learner-owned smartphones and tablets.
  • One size never really did “fit all,” and learners are no longer willing to consume redundant or irrelevant content.
    What this means for L&D: Content created by L&D teams should be directly applicable to learners’ roles; much of it is likely to target specific tasks or problems so that learners can use it as needed. In-depth eLearning might offer flexible navigation so learners can review (or skip) sections of content, according to their personal knowledge gaps and job demands.
While the roadmap to future digital learning solutions is still murky and open to myriad interpretations, some of these trends are likely to shape digital learning of the future. And in offering greater flexibility to learners, L&D professionals also benefit from a larger toolbox. No longer tied to the old paradigm of creating eLearning within a SCORM-compliant LMS, L&D can—as learners are doing—identify learning opportunities in a huge variety of activities and environments. Learning does occur anywhere and everywhere, and digital learning professionals will need to measure and assess knowledge and skills that employees acquire both within and outside of formal training. Read Learning Solutions Magazine’s October 2 feature for a discussion of what that might mean.