Learner Preferences Are Front and Center

learner preferences for learningWhat do learners want? It’s the eternal question, asked by Learning & Development (L&D) leaders throughout the industry. The answer is important because research shows that when learners are delivered learning that meets their preferences, they do better.

Training Industry’s most recent Learner Preference Report found that training programs delivered through at least one method preferred by learners were 50% more likely to be effective.

But this year has been a challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted both work and training. So what do learners want in 2021 and how can L&D organizations give them what they want during a time when work as we know it is changing?

Learners want to be taught by instructors

This might seem like an odd thing to write on a blog for remote workforce learning, but surveys of learners show they want to learn in classrooms, face-to-face, from an instructor. According to the Training Industry learner preference report, more than half of learners prefer live, in-person ILT.

A recent article from Training Magazine focusing on IT professionals (the very people you’d think would prefer training delivered with technology) takes that further — learners don’t just prefer online training, they think it’s more effective than any other kind of training, particular formal training that takes them out of the office or formal onsite training.

Why the interest in formal classroom training? For one thing, many learners are comfortable there. They grew up going to school in physical classrooms, and when you’re in the classroom you don’t have to learn new platforms or worry about any other technical concerns, which might be an issue for learners who aren’t tech-savvy.

But it’s more than just habit; learners appreciate being able to ask questions of an expert, and the rich classroom experience that a seasoned instructor can provide. The Training Industry report found that 52% of learners prefer ILT. (That’s a slight drop from the previous year’s report, which showed that pre-pandemic, 55% preferred ILT.)

While learners might prefer live, in person training, the pandemic means they don’t have access to it at the moment. So how do the 48% of learners who don’t prefer ILT like to get their learning?

Learners believe on the job learning is effective

After ILT, the second most popular training modality was on-the-job training; 31% like learning on the job best. This was also the modality that most learners thought was most effective. Both on the job training and on the job coaching were considered the most effective training by the learners surveyed.

They appreciated the chance to learn and practice new skills at the same time, rather than taking a lesson and waiting to apply it to work, and learners also enjoyed getting feedback in the moment from their supervisors.

Learners are starting to prefer “pandemic-friendly” training

E-learning was the third most preferred learning modality, according to the Training Industry report, with 28% of learners preferring online training. The report found that during the pandemic, more remote methods of training began to gain popularity. Virtual Instructor-Led Training, for example, got more popular during 2020. So did other pandemic-safe methods of learning delivery, like podcasts and videos.

Learners enjoy online compliance courses

As popular as ILT is for every training topic, learners like some topics to be delivered via e-learning. A favorite e-learning topic? Compliance.

Compliance is rarely listed as anyone’s favorite kind of training; both companies and employees know it’s necessary for organizations to stay up to date with regulatory standards. It can also be dry and boring. However learners say they enjoy compliance training that makes the material engaging.

E-learning does that; often compliance courses can be purchased off-the-shelf, and contain entertaining animations and questions that keep learners engaged. E-learning modules also aren’t that long, so they’re able to present the important pieces of information quickly and effectively. About half of learners also said they preferred gamified compliance training, which adds another layer of engagement.

Learners want a say in their learning

In the Arthurian tales (stay with me here, this is related), King Arthur is asked a somewhat-dated riddle: “What do women really want?” It takes him a whole year, but he finally gets the answer from a witch: “women want control over their own lives.”

Learners are very much the same. They want to be collaborators in their own learning. Human Experience Management (HXM), which puts workers at the center of their own experience at work by focusing on their preferences and experiences is currently gaining credence in the Human Resources world. It’s the same for learning; when learners are able to take training the way they prefer it, they tend to be more effective, more satisfied at work, and better at their jobs.