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Home / Resources / What learners REALLY want: 3 ways that can meet their needs

What learners REALLY want: 3 ways that can meet their needs


Understanding how people learn in the workplace is fundamental to delivering effective elearning, so when 5,700 employees share their views, I’m all ears.

The not-for-profit research organisation, Towards Maturity has published a new report from the learner perspective, which challenges us to re-examine what we think we know about workplace learning.

Tune in

In the American rom-com, What Women Want (2000), directed by Nancy Meyers, Mel Gibson plays a man who miraculously acquires the power to hear what women are really thinking. He’s an advertising executive so his power gives him a massive advantage in selling products to female customers but in true Hollywood style his new ability profoundly changes him for the better.

The film came to mind when I read the Learner Voice (Part 2) report by Towards Maturity; it’s the L&D equivalent of hearing what learners are thinking. Getting to the heart of how people really learn in the workplace is vital for organisations trying to deliver an effective learning strategy so when data like this comes along we need to tune in.

I’ve picked out three reoccurring themes of the report which I think are particularly pertinent to elearning, and included some suggestions of how to make sure your elearning delivers in these crucial areas.


Over half of learners at all levels including managers, sales staff, new starters and those over 50, cited relevance as one of the top factors contributing to great online learning. Forty one percent also reported that their current online learning was not relevant to their need and this presented a major barrier. Relevance has been a mantra in elearning for some time but this new research shows just how much it drives the learning experience.

To make your elearning as relevant as possible:

  • Find out what really matters to learners
  • Spell out what's in it for them
  • Use scenarios that relate to real life roles
  • Use custom-made or tailored elearning for maximum effect


When staff actually do their learning was a key topic explored in the study and the findings reinforce the image of a workforce learning on the go. Fifty nine percent of new starters and 56% of line managers said they are most likely to learn online when travelling to and from work. Sales people are mostly likely to learn at the point of need with 49% saying this is when they do their elearning. The study doesn’t ask which devices learners are using but with so many learning in transit it’s safe to assume it is a mix of laptops, smartphones and tablets. So creating flexible, multi-device elearning is a must if it’s to fit with the experience of most learners.

To make your elearning as flexible as possible:

  • Factor in multi-device at the start of an elearning project
  • Choose a responsive platform such as Adapt that allows elearning to adapt so it works on any size screen
  • Make the most of scrolling layouts in your elearning design


The number one barrier to learning online (by a long margin) was time. Sixty three percent of learners said they struggle to find time for self-study. The Learner Voice report also flags up another issue for learners - timeliness. Along with relevance more than half of learners want learning to be timely and available when they need it but 45% of staff said they often can’t find the learning they are looking for. It’s clearly a real frustration. One way to overcome this challenge is to help learners access what they need in manageable chunks so elearning can fit into the learning reality of the modern workplace.

To make your elearning as manageable as possible:

  • Focus in on the most important learning objectives
  • Cut the fat and keep it simple
  • Make modules shorter - no more than 20 minutes
  • Consider micro-learning of 10 or 15 minute bursts to highlight specific learning points

The Learner Voice report highlights trends common to all organisations but Towards Maturity also helps individual businesses dig deeper into how their own staff learn with a Learning Landscape Audit.

As a Towards Maturity Ambassador, we’re keen to spread the word – after all delivering effective elearning is much easier when everyone listens to learners.

Author: Aaron Pont, Learning Solutions Architect at Sponge.