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Great Expectations: Meet the Consumer Learner

Oliver Craddock 

April 26, 2017

As consumers, technology has played a huge role in changing the way that we interact with brands. If you lead or develop people in your organization, have you considered what these changes mean for you and your workforce? The key is the expectations of a new type of learner – the consumer learner.

We are all increasingly demanding outside of work. Anyone who instinctively searches Google, or reaches for the weather app on their smartphone, expects information at their fingertips – and these people are coming to work with the same elevated expectations. The consumer mindset has transferred to the workplace. That may seem daunting and risky to some, but it provides an enormous opportunity for those who embrace the shift.

Who is the Consumer Learner?

Naturally, the term “consumer learner” describes millennials who have grown up with advanced technology. But it also includes older people who have embraced digital change through mobile devices, social media, online shopping, WiFi, and on-demand TV.

Research by Bersin by Deloitte shows that employees consult their smartphones an average of nine times an hour. These people are time-poor and demanding, and expect to be able to access anything they want at the touch of a button. These are our consumer learners.

Who doesn’t prefer to book a table for dinner on their smartphone while commuting, or to check an Amazon order’s status while waiting for the next meeting? Similarly, as people look to their employers to provide them with greater opportunities, we can expect significantly increased demands for accessible, relevant and impactful learning.

Why Should You Care?

Would you be engaged in helping your organization to succeed if you felt that it wasn’t interested in your development? I would expect the answer to be no – and the consumer learner is no different.

Research by Gallup has identified three key elements that drive engagement at work:

  • Having the opportunity to do what we do best each day.
  • Someone encouraging our development.
  • Believing that our opinions count.

Yet only 32 percent of the people who took part in the study rated themselves as engaged with their employer.

The consequence of this is inevitable – people will go elsewhere to find these key elements that make them feel valued. And the impact of this on your organization should not be underestimated. The cost of voluntary turnover has been calculated by Bersin by Deloitte to be $109,673 per lost employee when combining recruitment costs, training and lost productivity.

On the other hand, the effects are significant when an organization is successful in engaging its people. Research by Gallup shows that organizations with a high level of employee engagement report increases in productivity of 22 percent.

How Do We Make This a Reality?

The key to engaging employees is to give them the opportunity to learn and develop. Organizations that get this wrong are guilty of providing “scrap learning” – development that people don’t apply to their roles. Individuals waste 11 percent of their time with this learning equivalent of spam.

This misuse of time costs the average organization $5 million per 1,000 employees each year in lost productivity.

Top performing firms, labelled by Bersin as High Impact Learning Organizations, are consistent in their approach. They don’t simply provide a greater volume of information, which will likely result in scrap learning. Instead, they create the right environment for learning and offer information in a way that meets their consumer learners’ expectations.

The impact when organizations build a learning culture is:

  • 12 percent increase in employee productivity.
  • 1.2 percent increase in revenue.
  • 3.2 percent increase in profits

But don’t despair if you feel that your organization has a long way to go. Research by ATD shows that only 31 percent of organizations consider themselves to have a learning culture.

Mind Tools works with organizations around the world that are at various stages of this journey. Therefore, we know that, although it can be challenging, you have to focus on why you are making this change and on the rewards you’ll reap.

I’m sure that, at this point, you are asking yourself what to do now. So my next post will look at the results of our own research, which reveal the consumer learner’s expectations. They also show how best to maximize this opportunity for increased engagement and productivity.

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