Times are changing. Instead of something you do during your teenage years or during boring off-sites, learning and training has become a continuous exercise. Modern generations are showing not just be learners, but to be lifelong learners. But what does that mean? And how does one design for this modern learner? This post will dive into the key pieces of advice for designing learning experiences in the age of the Modern Learner.

1. Use Microlearning for Ad-hoc Learning Environments

Modern learners have a lot on their minds as they are often juggling many tasks. As a result, they tend to have a short attention span. […] Wait – where was I? Oh yes, writing about a short attention span. […] In fact, according to Bersin research on the Modern Learner, they get interrupted every five minutes and if that is not distracting enough, they unlock their phones up to nine times an hour. Daily life and activities are demanding with an ever-increasing number of things competing for attention. Learners like to watch videos, but won’t watch much beyond the first four minutes–and the first 5-10 seconds is even more critical. Thus, you need to grab their attention quickly and to get your message across before something else comes along and distracts them.


Simultaneously, ad hoc training is starting to be a large theme in eLearning. Today’s learners are used to being able to instantly access learning materials that only comprise just what they need at that time. As an example, if someone wants to learn how to use a function in Microsoft Excel, they may do a quick search for a YouTube video on the topic. Thus, materials have to be relevant and immediately applicable.


Micro-learning, a type of learning with bite-sized and specific content, answers to the need for short and appealing content, as well as to the rise of ad hoc training. Additionally, having these short training sprints also allows for more frequent learning, as 5-10 minute content chunks can be easily slotted into nearly anyone’s day. In this type of micro-learning, the learner is the one in control, and is thus more likely to be engaged in the learning experience, leading to more learning and better retention over time.

2. Enable On-The-Go Learning by Making use of Wearables and Mobile Tech

Part of the ‘being social’ of the modern age is to interact with others seamlessly via technology. Mobile devices, and increasingly, wearables, help to enable this. The modern learner has (or wants to have) access to her mobile device 24/7. For answering any small questions that arise in a personal or professional context, there is an irresistible pull to grab a device and look for an answer.


Learning Experiences should accommodate this urge by providing training opportunities through mobile technologies. This approach would increase opportunities for exposure to learning material. Combined with gamification, being encouraged to learn while commuting or during the work day, will spur engagement with the material. Additionally, due to the social potential of technologies, they can be used to enhance communication and collaboration, even providing coaching opportunities on your smartwatch throughout activities to receive immediate feedback.


It would be a waste not to take advantage of the ease with which modern learners keep their tech mobile and handy and have them meet the learning content on these technologies. Not only will this lower the border to fit eLearning into daily tasks, it will also make it easier to access materials anywhere, from any device, and at any time.

3. Utilize Gamification as a Tool to Motivate and Improve Learning

Gamification is a trend that has penetrated many aspects of daily life over the last decades. Additionally, from an early age onward learning is thought to best be done while playing. Somehow, however, as we age we are expected to become serious and read through tough textbooks and endure hourlong classes.


Gamification in eLearning reverses this trend. By introducing playful and competitive elements in the online learning environment your learners will be motivated to move on to the next learning task and keep track of their performance. Some examples of this are collecting items as you progress through training content, introducing accomplishments, and using scoreboards to mimic a competition.


Another development that builds on the gamification component of Online Learning is a VR-empowered environment in which learners can go through trial-and-error scenarios to practice. Not only does this make learning fun, it also makes for better retention. The well-known 70-20-10 rule claims that 70 percent of all learning takes place on the job. The great part about having a VR-environment in which your learners can practice, is that this most closely matches the environment in which they are experiencing 70 percent of their learning. Learning-by-doing in real life is preceded by learning-by-doing in a VR-setting.

4. Appeal to Social Instincts by Designing Social Learning

Given the social characteristics of most tools the current modern workforce uses, it makes sense to appeal to social forces in online learning to engage them in the learning experience you designed. Online collaboration and communication forms a large part of the new generation’s success in performing its tasks. By using digital platforms to which they by now have become accustomed to and feel comfortable using, you meet the modern learners where they are (online), and how they interact (social).


Taking the use of an online learning platform as a given, there are various ways to make this type of learning social within your learning environment. One way is to introduce collaborative learning, in which learners with similar backgrounds or goals learn and grow together by working together and giving each other feedback. Another option is to introduce coaching, where those further along coach those in the earlier stages of learning. In any case, whether it is peer or coaching interactions, immediate and ample feedback is an invaluable aspect of this type of social learning.

5. Recognize Online Collaboration itself as an important Skill for the Modern Learner

Working flexibly has become more commonplace and can be considered as much as a hygiene factor for organizations. Utilizing collaborative social learning allows for the teaching of soft skills and higher level skills, and in the modern working environment, collaborating virtually is becoming an increasingly important skill in the workplace. When learners work together virtually in diverse teams, they are also practicing the very online collaboration skills that they will need in their jobs and careers.


Online projects that require teamwork may require even more effective communication, planning, task division and coordination than in traditional work settings. Thus, a by-product of your learning technologies may be an opportunity to practice and enhance these valuable skills.

6. Allow for Curated Personalized Learning

Given the different types of application contexts, but also the different types of learners and different learning paces you will be dealing with in your eLearning endeavor, allowing for personalised learning and a curated learning experience is key.


Every type of learner is different. Although you will want to have them progress through the same content, you may want to enable them to personalize the curriculum so as to allow them to go through the materials in a nonlinear fashion. For example, in a corporate setting of onboarding, learners may encounter certain job tasks at different times, depending on their activities. Being able to go through the training of one aspect first and coming back to another component later allows your new hires to gain skills just at the time when they start needing them. In addition to allowing for nonlinear training programs, you will also want to leave some room for your learners to complement the learning materials you have provided them with extra, external resources. Examples of those are Youtube videos, TED-talks, research articles, but also Codecademy trainings and what more.


By having your learners curate their own learning environment, they will be studying actively and have more control than by following a preset, linear training. Ultimately, this freedom in learning will add to retention and a more positive overall learning experience.


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