The Modern Learner

modern learner at work

Put quite simply, the modern learner is any corporate employee today. The modern learner’s attributes, expectations, and demands have shifted from those of corporate learners even just five years ago, not to mention previous decades. And corporate learning has had to catch up.

The good news is, by meeting the needs of the modern learner, organizations can have a big impact on business results.

modern learner using Intrepid's platform

The World of Work Has Changed

It’s abundantly clear that the world of work has changed, and is changing at an extremely rapid pace. The type of work done, the skills and competencies required to be successful, how we work with others, the physical location of our work, just to name a few aspects. Consider the list of jobs that didn’t exist a mere 10 years ago, including app developer, social media manager, web analyst, medical biller/coder, SEO specialist, elder care services manager, and many more. Or the list of billion dollar companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago either, which includes Hulu, Twitter, Uber, Dropbox, Spotify, airbnb, and Fitbit.

world of work is changing

Learner expectations are mirroring social, demographic and technology changes

  • In the last five years global penetration of smartphones has increased from less than 19% to nearly 75%.
  • In the last five years, social media use has exploded—monthly active Facebook users has increased by a billion (to 1.6B users)
  • User-generated content is growing exponentially – particularly video. In the last 5 years, the hours of video uploaded per minute on YouTube has grown from 24 to 400 – almost 17x growth.
  • And of course, we all turn to Google or Bing as our first source of learning every day

modern learner on a mobile device

And these demands of modern business and the modern workplace mean a new kind of corporate learner: the modern learner.

The modern corporate learner is digitally networked, always connected, distracted, under time pressure, at the mercy of competing professional and personal priorities, tech-savvy, more interested in exploring learning opportunities on their own and learning from and collaborating with peers than being told what to do when.





But the ubiquity of information & workload has a cost to the modern learner’s ability to focus and think:

58% of knowledge workers say they have only 15-30 minutes per day for thinking & reflection—and 40% say they have no time for reflection at all.

Modern learners want learning to be easily searchable, accessible at the moment of need, and available in small chunks.

They expect learning solutions to look and feel like consumer apps that allow us to collaborate with our peers.


They want learning to be mobile-first so it fits into their life and work – wherever that may be.


They demand their corporate learning be ruthlessly relevant to their jobs, and a seamless aspect of their worklife.


Finally, they’ve been conditioned to search and drive their own learning experience online through resources like Google. Today learners are empowered and self-directed to find high quality learning solutions just for them.

All Millennials are modern learners…

…but not all modern learners are Millennials.

All demographics active in the workplace today—Millennials, GenX, Boomers, Generation 2020, even the Silent Generation:

  • are time-starved
  • go to the internet to find information
  • are native to (or at least certainly accustomed to) social & mobile
  • expect well-designed online experiences

Everyone is a modern learner


Modern learners have the right to an effective and engaging corporate online learning experience. Check out Intrepid’s Declaration of Modern Learner Rights to see the 10 Articles we think all designers and course owners of modern online learning need to keep in mind in order to have an impact on the business.

Because learning initiatives must be good for both the learner and the business, in order to be good for the business.

Corporations want to meet the needs of the modern learner…


are changing the mix of learning and delivery methods

74of companies have increased the use of learning technologies that deliver learning anytime/anywhere


of companies consider social learning features (discussion, collaboration) essential or critical


have increased their use of micro-content

…but learning organizations aren’t meeting expectations…


of companies believe their learning programs are effective



of employees say they have workplace opportunities for learning & growth

…and company satisfaction levels with legacy technologies are low.


Average satisfaction grade with current learning technology


of companies are very satisfied with social features (discussion, collaboration) of current learning technology


of companies switching their LMS cite an improved user experience as the reason

“This ‘learning experience platform’ [approach] is primed to become an important disruptive force throughout corporate learning.” – Josh Bersin

There are myriad ways to leverage learning technology to meet the needs of modern corporate learning…


Self-directed online learning experiences for just-in-time, performance support, and individual exploration


To prepare for and extend the impact of in-person workshops, avoiding the ‘now what’ of dip-and-dunk approaches, and giving those high-touch ILT experiences lasting impact


Corporate MOOC approach, for business goals requiring fast, impactful collaborative cohort-driven learning across the organization


Continuous learning journeys over time, either all online or a mix of in-person and tech-enabled

…and the right mix depends on your business goals, culture, and learning needs.

modern learners in multiple industries

This all sounds great for the individual modern learner, but…


…what does meeting the modern learner’s needs do for the BUSINESS?

modern learner sharing information

Global Reach
Time zones are no longer an issue, and postal codes don’t limit networks or cohorts, so businesses can both reach and connect all of their learners wherever they are, using whatever languages they do business in.

Institutional Wisdom, or the ‘Wisdom of the Crowds’
By connecting learners across the organization, businesses reap the benefits of increased sharing of ideas, and can harvest best practices and make those insights available to other learners over time.

Cost Efficiency
No high-overhead ILT expenses, and an average 20% reduction in training time with shift to online learning. In addition, a short-form content approach makes it feasible to use existing content from previous programs, Sharepoint sites, presentations, or other internal repositories, which can in some cases save on content creation time and expenditure.

Speed & Agility
Update and iterate content at the speed of business, and react to changing corporate, market, and learner needs quickly and easily. Cascade change management initiatives to all employees simultaneously. Reduce wasted learner time away from the job, and decrease time to proficiency.

Employee Engagement
Retain your workforce—and their tacit knowledge—by providing training that really sticks, and showing your employees your commitment to their development. Provide the bridge between learning and work the modern learner craves, within the context of the critical initiatives that will help your business succeed.

Additional Resources

podcast:Business Impact of the Modern Learner” from Brandon Hall HCMx Radio with Sam Herring (CEO, Intrepid)

article: “Short Form Learning Turns Less Into More ” by Manjit Sekhon (Director, Learning Experience Design, Intrepid)

article: “Learning at the Speed of Business” by Richard Benson-Armer, Arne Gast, and Nick van Dam (McKinsey & Company)

podcast: “Badging for Business: Next-Gen Professional Learning” from Getting Smart, with Sam Herring (CEO, Intrepid) and Catie Bull (Marketing Manager, Intrepid)

article: “The Brass Ring: Collaboration-Driven Learning Online” by Sam Herring (CEO, Intrepid)

infographic: “Three Big Myths about Workplace Learning” by Degreed

article: “Companies Make New Learning Technologies a Top Priority” by David Wentworth (Senior Analyst, Brandon Hall)

article:Seven “C”s Ensure Learner Engagement in Corporate MOOCs” by Hilary Albert (Learning & Development Specialist, Microsoft) & Manjit Sekhon (Intrepid)

blog post: “Meeting the Five Moments of Need” by Judy Albers (Principal Consultant, Learning Experience Design, Intrepid)

report: “Predictions for 2016: A Bold New World of Talent, Learning, Leadership, and HR Technology Ahead” by Bersin by Deloitte

webinar:Making Good on the Corporate MOOC Promise” with Ludo Fourrage (Microsoft), Peter Zemsky (INSEAD), and Sanjay Advani (Intrepid)