Why your employees want to learn on demand (and how L&D can get it right)

June 1, 2022
June 26, 2023
Learning And Development

Make no mistake, we’re living in the era of on-demand. Think about the services you use every day, whether it’s what to watch, what to wear or what to eat, clicks and minutes are all you need to wait for your fix. If that!

And when information is the commodity you need, you’ve got Google, YouTube, forums, comment boards and social media to give you answers in a hurry.

But, for most, there’s one part of our life that’s lagging painfully behind the rest – how we learn at work.

From resources scattered all over the place to platforms that delay our thirst for knowledge to the point of dehydration, there are many reasons companies fail to deliver learning on tap.

If you’re an L&D professional, you’ve probably got three big questions on the tip of your tongue:

  • When and how did we move into the on-demand era?
  • Is this really reflected in the way people expect to learn at work?
  • What can I do about it!?

Good news, we’ll talk you through all three of those right now, but also give you the too long: didn’t read version quickly too.

Why do employees want to learn on demand?

The likes of Netflix and Deliveroo have changed our expectations for on-demand content. We now want answers to problems when we can solve them – in the moment of need. And hybrid learning is catching up to hybrid working.

Changing expectations: How our everyday lives shifted the appetite for on-demand

Want to know the real dividing factor between Millennials and Gen Z? It’s whether the concept of Blockbuster sounds like the best thing ever or an unnecessary inconvenience.

Anyone born before 1996 is blessed with a nostalgia-tinted view of a visit through those blue and yellow, boredom-busting doors. But if you take the idea at 2022 face value, it sounds like a cumbersome and counterproductive way to consume content.

And that’s because anyone born after the year that brought us VHS rental favourites like Twister and Independence Day has essentially grown up or moved into adulthood with Netflix as a constant.

Uber did the same thing for the taxis you’d order at kiosks and train stations, Deliveroo put an end to awkward phone calls to order a takeaway, and all three are beacons for why people want what they want, when they want it.

The Netflix, Uber and Deliveroo effect: Why their popularity has driven on-demand expectations

These three modern behemoths have a few things in common: They bring multiple providers or services into one convenient place, they let you order or stream in a friction-free way that happens on your terms, and they provide instant summaries of your activity on the platform.

Oh, and they massively reduce the time to gratification when compared with the traditional methods.

These are major factors behind their popularity and influence on behaviour, a trends that’s only grown in recent years.

Uber’s active monthly users increased every quarter from 2016 to 2019, a trajectory that was punctuated by COVID and resumed after restrictions eased.

Deliveroo staved off the lure of returning to dine-in restaurants and drove a 59% order increase between July and September 2021. That trend continued through the final quarter of the year, and the company hit the high end of its 60-70% growth trajectory for gross transaction value over the calendar year.

Netflix, meanwhile, added 16 million new subscribers in 2020 and took its total to 220 million – a number that stayed around the same level until an early 2022 dip.  

So whether it’s feasts for the eyes, feasts ordered from favourite restaurants or the rides that take us closer to either that little bit faster, it’s no wonder we’re expecting more and more on demand. Including when it comes to how we learn at work…

How and where today’s learners want to find resources and information

In short, at work, at their own pace and at the point of need – where learning can be applied.

And that was true a good while before COVID had any influence on our perceptions of work. LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report revealed that 68% of employees want to learn at work, 58% at their own pace and 49% at the point of need.

How the shift to hybrid working accelerated these trends

When we moved to working from home overnight, we essentially didn’t have a choice but to follow the three principles above.

In-person training was off the table, so it was learning on the job or nothing. We were working asynchronously, meaning everything happened at our pace. And with shoulder taps out of the question, that point of need learning became even more important. We had to find solutions to our challenges (and there were plenty of those) when they popped up.

Fast forward two years, and we’re now in a much better place – but hybrid has absolutely stayed with the majority of employees to some extent. On average we spend around two-thirds of our work week at home and the rest in an office, according to Loom’s The State of Modern Work Report.

We’ve got more autonomy about how and where we work, why wouldn’t we want the same for our learning and development opportunities?

The trouble is, a lot of companies are still using stop-gap measures from the start of the pandemic and not something built for hybrid working. Sure, your meetings happen in hybrid and remote formats, but are you helping people learn effectively off the back of those?

Can they find recordings of meetings outside their timezone on-demand? How about summaries of the key takeaways? Are there pre-meeting materials that would help everyone get more from it? And are the right people being invited in the first place?

For many companies, the answer is no! But we’ll get to the solutions very shortly…

Breaking down time as the development barrier through on-demand learning

It’s the oldest L&D trope, but huge numbers of employees feel time is their biggest barrier to learning. Back in 2018, it was named as the key reason most employees stopped learning and even in 2020, 61% named it in their top three development hurdles.

But there are two often overlooked components of this argument:

1) Of course people struggle to find time for learning if it takes an age to locate what they need to do it. Resources are scattered in many companies, or it might be that the information hasn’t even been captured in a searchable format. That’s why employees can spend up to two hours searching for information they need each day.

2) In the real world, nobody is blocking out time to find answers to the things they need to know.

And this is probably the biggest example of where L&D needs to follow our everyday behaviours. If your people are busy, time blocking just isn’t the answer. Outside of work, nobody’s noting down the questions they want answers to and spending three hours looking them all up.

If we’re cooking a new dish, we’re following the recipe as we put it together. Maybe we’re upcycling a chair or changing a headlight bulb, whatever it is, we’re finding information and applying it in real-time.

Because of that, the content is often built to be used at our moment of need. It’s a step-by-step guide, maybe there’s a video to follow along with, and, most crucially, it’s specifically helping us overcome one challenge. We don’t need to sift through 50 pages because the information we need is right there.

By adopting this Holy Trinity of on-demand, microlearning-style and easy-to-find, L&D can replicate our real-world learning habits at work.

How can I deliver on-demand learning to our employees?

By now, we’ve got a pretty good understanding of why our employees want to learn on demand and what they expect from us. The final piece of the puzzle is offering ways with which they can find the content they need on-demand, to develop independently and at their own pace when moments of need arise.

Here are five things you can start doing today to deliver on-demand learning:

Consolidate resources and bring them into one place

On-demand 101, but if people don’t know where to go for information, they might not even start! Especially if they’ve wasted time trying to track down the right resource or person before…

It’s a tale as old as time in most companies though. Resources are scattered across shared drives and different platforms, saved on people’s personal drives or, even worse, the knowledge hasn’t been captured at all! It’s only found within the brains of one valuable employee.

So, your first port of call needs to be bringing everything into one place, to the end of a single search, so that people can find it when they need it! At HowNow, we integrate with tools like Google Drive and SharePoint so that all your resources can be found in one platform – alongside everything you’ve created in HowNow, of course.

Knowledge Sharing Single Search GIF

Capture knowledge from your most valuable people

At the same time, you should be using that central base to capture knowledge from all your subject matter experts. As we’re no longer working in the same rooms as our default, stopping by their desk isn’t exactly an option. And as your hybrid team grows, newer employees might not know who to ask in the first place.

Both are enemies of building an on-demand learning culture, and it normally results in two outcomes:

1) Repeat questions are asked to some of your most experienced, knowledgeable and busy people. So those asking the questions might end up waiting a while for the response they need.

2) Subject matter experts keep having to provide the same answer to a question that comes up time and again, adding to their stress levels and workload.

If you’re capturing consistent answers to those repeat questions and bringing them to the end of one search, you alleviate those two pain points. Question-askers can type their query into a search bar and get instant answers, while question-answerers only need to do it once and can direct people to that in future.

Ensure consistency across offices and borders

“The Office As We Know It Is Over”, a bold claim from Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, but one backed up by 800,000 visits to the rental giant’s career page after it was made.

It came as part of an announcement that their employees can now work from wherever they are “most productive” and spend 90 days overseas each year as part of that.

But why does it matter? Well, for one, it shows that huge swathes of people are at the very least interested in this idea. But it’s also the perfect microcosm for how we work today – we’re in global teams, our departments are distributed, and we might become remote employees ourselves (perhaps choosing an alluring Airbnb for an extended workation.)

L&D’s role is to make sure people have equal access to resources and learning opportunities, wherever they’re from or based. Whether it’s localising content into multiple languages or providing different versions of resources for different offices, there’s plenty to do.

Start with an audit of where your people are based and the content they currently have access to.

Running group meetings and training sessions? Shift your mindset!

It’s important to remember that providing more asynchronous and independent learning opportunities doesn’t drive a nail into the coffin of real-time group development. But it should drive a wedge wide enough for us to rethink how we carry out synchronous and team learning.

A prime example would be the content that sandwiches the event; the pre and post-session resources you make available. Would an exercise ahead of time make for a more productive discussion? If so, how can you capture that in a resource people can digest independently?

By the same token, what are the key takeaways or sections of the session people will likely need to revisit later? Let’s say we’re hosting a session on our brand update, from origins to conception and how to apply it. Once it’s over, people will likely to need the colour codes at regular intervals, or maybe they’ll need the logo in various formats and guidance on how to use it.

Uploading an hour-long recording of the session doesn’t help them do that, but dedicated and specific resources for each would. It’s this re-wiring of our training brains that we need to achieve.

Balance pull learning by pushing relevant content

On-demand doesn’t mean leaving people to their own devices and hoping they find what they need. In fact, there’s a fair argument that you can just as easily provide on-demand learning by pushing relevant resources to people.

Let us explain using HowNow as an example. Each time you log in, you’ll be greeted by recommended content based on your role and goals and delivered through artificial intelligence. If you’re ready to read it now, go for it and if not, bookmark it to come back to later.

By the same token, admins and managers can assign content to people through the platform and set deadlines for when it needs to be completed. Although it has to be completed by a certain time, it doesn’t need to be done at a certain time. So people are being connected to relevant resources, without having to find them for themself and with the freedom to engage on their schedule.

Bring learning to the places people already work

If people are going to learn at the point of need, then you need to make learning available in the places they’re already working. That way, they can access and apply learning in the context where it’s relevant and applicable.

If someone works in the customer support team, integrating your learning tech with Intercom or another support tool would allow them to find knowledge in the same place they engage with customers. Let’s say your platform is down and they need the recommend response ASAP to reply rapidly – removing the app-switching allows for a quicker and more consistent response.

And if it’s the sales team, accessing the sales playbook or advice from internal experts directly in Salesforce empowers you to learn in the moments you’re most motivated.

At HowNow, our integrations let you bring that knowledge to the places people already work. Plus, we’ll help you implement all the other on-demand learning tips we’ve discussed, and we’d love to show you how! Book a demo today (on demand, using that short form) and we’ll be in touch.