You could argue that "modern" refers to any current learning practices, just by the nature of them occurring in the present or relatively immediate past. Or, the term could be explained as "involving recent techniques, methods, or ideas," which would point more toward the use of technology and related best practices. The term could also be partially understood in contrast to its predecessor -- "traditional learning" -- meaning that it is not strictly classroom-based and instructor-led.
Beyond these immediate definitions, what else does "modern learning" mean? To answer that, let's look at why we even needed the term "modern learning" in the first place. It's because we have modern learners!
And what are those?
According to ATD, "A modern learner is someone who is in an environment where content changes fast and learning needs change even faster. Modern learners want answers right away and rely on a wide variety of sources to find the answer. In other words, almost everyone today is a modern learner!"
To recap: modern learning is by nature current; it involves recent techniques, methods, or ideas; it's not strictly classroom-based or ILT; AND it serves the needs of modern learners who must process content faster than ever before and who want answers now from a mix of sources.
As such, to truly categorize your learning program as modern and to meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce, it must be upheld by [at least] three common pillars. These are the elements that support a well-thought definition of modern learning:
Delivering on the promise of ongoing learning is more attainable than ever because we have the technology to make it possible (and possibly even easy). As referenced in the ATD definition above, modern learners' needs change at record pace, so learning can't be an isolated, "drop everything to go learn something" activity. We can integrate the LMS with other platforms to weave learning into people’s day-to-day workflows. No need to break away from your “real focus” to develop an isolated skill. Now, it can be experienced within the parameters of your job function, while still expanding your expertise in that very function.
Plus, if we don’t continuously learn, our skills become stale (or worse, obsolete) at an unprecedented rate. Further still, when people stop learning, motivation can significantly decrease. It's a modern L&D expert's responsibility to help keep people equipped to meet these changing requirements and to prepare people for ongoing success.
A modern learning environment demands rapidly changing content to keep learners on top of the latest product, service, and company information. There's no time for dust to settle on your courses these days and often by the time you produce something new, it's already ready for a refresh or a delete. Fortunately, a variety of technologies now make it not only possible, but easy, to offer engaging off-the-shelf content that you didn’t create yourself. Why reinvent the wheel developing courses on common topics like policy and compliance, customer service, sales mastery, leadership and management, and many others? You can purchase excellent, professionally developed, video-based content that covers all of your bases without wasting a second attempting to animate a single graphic.
What’s more, utilizing pre-built content frees you up to work on the proprietary stuff. Inevitably, every organization will have some amount of company-specific training that must be created in-house. The key point, however, is that a modern learning culture should shift the balance away from creating and more toward curating. There’s a wealth of great training material available; it’s putting yourself and your learners at a disadvantage to try to shoulder the entire content burden without third-party help.
As mentioned, modern learners want information now. This is a critical piece of the larger definition. While traditional L&D models pushed courses to people and required them to be completed within an assigned timeframe, today’s learners are taking control of their own development. They’re actually reaching out for new information on a daily basis. We’ve all become accustomed to (and quite enamored with) a “search engine mindset.” When we want answers, we want them as close to immediately as possible. There’s no turning back on this reality. L&D departments must throw out old ideas about only making information available as it’s ready to be “pushed.” The new norm is to provide access to a rich library of on-demand content.
Modernize and thrive.
With these three pillars, you've got crucial structures in place to support your modern learning program. Regardless of what type of courses you're offering, the number of learners, your industry, or any other factors, remember that it needs to be continuous, content-rich, and immediate at the very least. Beyond that, you can add flourishes, details, and features as needed. Your modern learners will appreciate how you create training that helps them thrive in the face of the unmatched demands of the modern workplace.