How Do You Learn?

When I am afforded the opportunity to speak at an event to those as passionate about employee development as I am, I often begin by asking the audience “How do you learn? Of course I get the standard “I’m a visual learner” or “I learn best in a classroom environment”. But when I further clarify the question by asking “How do you learn when you are not at work?” I often get a different answer and that intrigues me. Almost always the answer to the latter question is “When I want to learn something at home, I use Google or YouTube.” As learning professionals, why is it that most of us fall into the trap of doing what we’ve always done in the past instead of looking and listening to our learners and adapting accordingly? With over 20 years experience in this field, I made some assumptions as to why, but we all know what happens when you assume! So I began a very non-scientific study to either confirm or negate my assumptions. I spoke to almost 100 companies with differing geographies, employee bases, budgets – some were well established with a lot of learning technologies in place and some were trying to manage employee learning with very little resources. Some of these companies definitely had a learning culture and some looked at learning as an afterthought or a nice-to-have. Despite these varying differences, for the companies that were continuing to do the “same old, same old”, I asked the question “Why?” and here’s some of what they said:


  • “This is how we’ve always done things”
  • “It’s always worked in the past”
  • “My vendor contracts prohibit me from changing”
  • “Employees don’t care, they just want to tick the box and get credit for training”
  • “If I start to do things different, my budget might get cut
  • “I don’t have the time or resources to try new things”


Now, I’m not making any judgments because I can guarantee that at least once in my career I’ve thought or said one of the aforementioned. However, if you are reading this and you are thinking any of these reasons are good ones, I challenge you to re-think your strategy. With 5 generations in the workplace today, we HAVE to be more conscious of how people learn, regardless of how we’ve done things in the past. If you are a best-practice learning leader that has been flexible and adaptive despite these (and other) challenges – I applaud you. But you represented less than 15% of the companies I spoke with. So what are these “best-practice” learning leaders doing that’s different and how are they focusing on the original question of how people learn outside of work? Well, I asked that question too and here’s what I found:

  • More social and peer-to-peer learning
  • Increased focus on micro-learning, such as short video
  • Making it easier for learners to find relevant content (better search engine)
  • Creating corporate social platforms (like Facebook)
  • Creating a corporate video platforms (like YouTube)

Needless to say, these are just some of their answers, but I did see a common theme. Companies of all sizes that want to really impact ALL learners are beginning to shift towards how people naturally learn. One might argue that the Baby Boomers don’t learn the same way that the younger generation does, and there is definite truth in that. However, I am far from being a Millennial and I know how I learn when not at work, you guessed it, Google and YouTube! I am not suggesting that every company and every learning leader needs to drop everything and completely change what they’re doing. I am simply suggesting that you take a look at what your doing today, and if it hasn’t changed in the past few years, it might be time to re-evaluate and consider ALL of the employees you serve and how they learn.

So I ask you….”How do you learn?”

How do you learn? Let’s chat!


Ed Flahive
Chief Learning Officer – Videonitch

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