The final presentation of this year’s LEAP Ahead conference was a panel discussion where some of our industry’s thought leaders answered questions and shared their opinions on a variety of topics. The subject that really sparked some energy in the room was around meeting the desires and needs of future learners in the workforce.

These Generation Z learners are now in high school or entering college. They’ve never known a world without portable devices, in fact, they may have used them in school as a replacement to textbooks. Learning for them has included a social and gaming aspect through sites like (a company I happen know well), Khan Academy and a growing list of other programs and applications that focus on the fun side of learning.

When they enter the workforce, our panelists expect that they’ll bring this frame of reference with them (after all, it may be all they know). This generation is eager to learn and assumes that employers will provide a myriad of opportunities to help them grow.

This generation has also grown up with YouTube, Google and Siri. Answers to any complex problem or situation are at their fingertips, yet they may not recognize this experience as “learning”. It’s just second nature. Like texting a friend for details on how to check their car’s oil levels, they’re subconsciously using their devices to find answers. The question pondered is more often “how can I solve this problem” rather than “how do I learn about this”.

In organizations with a younger workforce, social learning is gaining relevance and popularity. More talent and development professionals realize the value of leveraging these natural behaviors in different settings. Curating relevant and meaningful content, and providing a forum or a place for people to gather to experience the learning together supports collaborative working environments.

While it’s important to build programs specifically with future learners in mind, we were reminded that there is a strong current need for education to support, older, displaced or under employed workers. This group is taking the initiative to learn new skills needed to better their career. They’re very pragmatic and want to quickly learn new skills, apply them and have success. An important difference between generations to consider is available time: the time that adult learners are able to dedicate to learning may be fragmented, between or on breaks, before picking up children or after a full day of work.

At the end of our lively fireside chat, the group agreed that different types of learners exist in our companies today and to overlook any one of them is a disservice to our employees, company and customers. As more and more companies use learning and development programs for a competitive edge, their managers will need to understand what types of learners they have and work to meet their unique needs.

Thank you to Jennifer Dryden, Anne Derryberry, Stacy Friedman, Julie Dirksen, Judy Katz and Jane Bozarth for sharing your thoughts and wisdom and for helping to make the 2015 LEAP Ahead a great success.




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