What Do Learners Want & Does It Matter?

smiling man types on a computerWhat do learners want? It’s a big question for Learning and Development (L&D) pros everywhere, and for anyone who has ever begged a learner to fill out a survey or questionnaire after a training module.

Training Industry’s most recent Learner Preference Report has once again answered that question, surveying hundreds of learners to find out which learning modalities they prefer. As in previous reports, there were a few clear winners, but also a couple of surprises when it comes to online learning.

Learners (Still) Want to Be Taught by Instructors

Surprising probably no one in L&D, live Instructor-Led Training (ILT) is still the most-loved learning modality for learners. According to the Training Industry learner preference report, 50% of learners prefer live, in-person ILT.

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.

The classroom provides other advantages as well: learners appreciate being able to ask questions of an expert, and as well as the rich classroom experience that a seasoned instructor can provide. It may also help to be side-by-side with fellow learners.

There has been a small change in learner preferences, however: a 2% change, to be precise. Back in Training Industry’s 2022 report, 52% of learners preferred ILT. This is part of a slow but steady downward trend in ILT’s popularity; pre-pandemic, the same version of the Training Industry Report showed that 55% of learners favored ILT over other modalities.

But what does it all mean? It may be that digital alternatives to ILT are showing their worth. It may also mean that learners favor modalities they’ve grown used to — post-pandemic, online training has been the norm.

Learners are Starting to Prefer Online Learning

Online learning is rising in popularity, coming in second this year, with 34% of learners preferring it over other learning modalities. It beat out on-the-job-training, which was second last year.

It’s particularly popular for certain subject areas; this year, online learning is the most popular training modality for compliance courses and is climbing in popularity when it comes to technical training topics.

The reason learners want online learning for these specific subjects seems to be complexity: compliance can be dry, and technical subjects can be confusing. Learners seem to prefer online, self-paced learning that lets them take their time with dense subject material. It also helps when learners can go back and use course materials as a reference when they need a quick refresher on that content.

Online learning can also make dry subjects a little more fun. Compliance and technical courses can be purchased off-the-shelf, and contain entertaining animations and questions that keep learners engaged. Online modules also aren’t very long, so they’re able to present the important pieces of information while keeping the learning short and snappy.

Learners Believe On the Job Learning is Effective

On the job training might have fallen from second to third place in overall popularity, but it’s still number one in a key area: perceived effectiveness. Eighty percent of learners believe on the job learning is the most effective form of instruction.

They appreciate being able to learn and practice new skills at the same time, rather than taking a lesson and waiting until they have a chance to apply it. Learners also enjoyed getting feedback in the moment from their supervisors.

Should We Give Learners What They Want?

Training Industry is always pretty clear in their annual report that the best modality for a particular subject isn’t always the one that learners prefer.

So does it matter what learners want? In a word, yes. Training Industry’s research shows that when learning is delivered through at least one preferred method it’s 50% more likely to be considered effective by learners.

Perceived effectiveness is important. Learners who believe their training was effective tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, clearer about their work requirements and feel more supported by their supervisors.

In other words, learners want a say in their learning. They know what they want, and when we give it to them, they tend to do much better, in learning and at work in general.