6 Prerequisites For Engrossed Online Learners

6 Prerequisites For Engrossed Online Learners
Summary: I have observed a disparity in how consumers of everyday information and consumers of training and development see, access, and consume information. To facilitate this intervention, I’ve identified 6 reality checks, or consumer sentiments, that need to be acknowledged and applied to training and development.

Engrossed Online Learners: Not So Hard A Task Anymore

It’s as if we live two separate consumer lives. In one life, we are an active participant in the digital revolution going on around us—where we find answers to questions immediately, where we compile our problems, where we make choices only after comparing and contrasting similar products on our smartphones, where we listen to books in the seams of our day, and where if we want something, we order it and receive it in two days. In our second life, we are passive observers to a by-gone era where if we want to find answers, we must attend a 2-day workshop in a month, where we are required to go through an internal portal for all tech and work-related problems which may take weeks to resolve, where learning is defined as clicking through the mind-numbing, self-paced courses, or virtually attending and listening to the talking head of death, and where choices are made for us.

Can you relate? Do you see what I see? The professional establishment has been conditioned for so long on what training and development should look, feel, and smell like, that it has forgotten to open its eyes and see what it has become and should be like. We must remember that our learners are also a consumer in a digital world.

6 Reality Checks For Training And Development

I believe that we, in the training and development industry, or associated professions, must make a concerted effort to start bringing the two lives together. In particular, we have to open our eyes and see what consumers want, and then align our learning programs and initiatives to those behaviors. To facilitate this intervention, I’ve identified 6 reality checks, or consumer sentiments, that needs to be acknowledged and applied to training and development.

As you look over these 6 reality checks, please replace the word "it" with answers, information, solutions, resolutions, personal development, tools, resources, or anything that applies to the acquisition of knowledge in some form or fashion.

1. I Want It Now!

The first consumer behavior we have to consider is how we all have been conditioned to want answers now, or just in time; in short, JIT.  Since you are likely one of the 44% of people in the world who own a smartphone [1], you probably also fall into some, if not all, of the following interesting consumer groups as well:

  • 9 out of 10 people use their cell phone in the bathroom [2].
  • 71% of people said they usually sleep with or next to their mobile phone [3].
  • 66% of people use their phone in their I-want-to-know moments [4].
  • 91% look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task [4].
  • 82% consult their phones while they're standing in a store deciding which product to buy and 1 in 10 ends up buying a different product than they had planned [4].

With data like that, it’s no surprise that Google processes over 40,000 search queries per second or 3.5 billion searches per day, or that 5 billion videos are watched on YouTube per day (Google search). Forrester Research claims that "the secret ingredient is the mobile moment—that moment where a customer gets anything she wants, immediately, and in context" [5].

Google has also realized how valuable this consumer behavior is and, since they have access to all the respective data anyway, it has started to share some of that information with us under the micro-moments movement. 'Micro-moments' are more than just a trend. Since Google introduced the concept 2 years ago, micro-moments have become as much a part of consumers’ lives as the daily commute, and the trips to the grocery store. In fact, people can’t remember what it was like not to be able to learn, do, or buy things when the need struck by reaching for the device in their pocket. It’s an entrenched behavior—micro-moments are only multiplying and consumers actually expect more, better, faster" [4].

Yep, fast food, self-checkout, Amazon Prime, streaming videos, lightning fast networks, instant access, and micro-moments are very real. What are we, in training and development, doing about it?

2. I Want It To Be Short!

Along with the consumer behavior of wanting it now, comes the demand that whatever "it" is, it has to be quick, short, to the point, or I’m moving on to the next learning fragment that does give me the quick fix I need.

For example, organizers of TED believe the ideal length of a presentation is 18 minutes, "and so all presenters—including Bill Gates and Bono—are required to come in under this mark" [6].  TED curator Chris Anderson explained the organization’s thinking this way: It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline [7].

But consumers want things even shorter than 18 minutes. According to MiniMatters, a video production, and a marketing company, out of the top 10 most popular YouTube videos, the shortest was 42 seconds, and the longest was 9 minutes and 15 seconds [8]. And according to Comscore video rankings report, the average online content video was 4.4 minutes [9]. This is significant because according to a 2016 Wistia video length study, for a video of 4-5 minutes, fewer than 60% of your viewers will still be with you–against 75% for a 1-2 minute video [10]. In other words, consumers ideally want videos that are less than 2 minutes in length. We also want what we read to be short as well, with the ideal length of a blog post around 7 minutes or 1,600 words [6]. We even want our URLs to be short, and thanks to Bit.ly we can get that as well (see all my source links below).

Yes, we want information coming to us in short, to the point, tell-it-like-it-is, bite-sizes, or we move on. What are we in training and development doing about it?

3. I Want It To Look Good, And Work Well, Or I’m Dumping It!

With so many choices at our disposal, consumers have the luxury to be super picky. And they are. We don’t stand for any lag in performance. In fact, 53% of people will leave a mobile site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load [11].  3 seconds!!!!! 9 out of ten 10 users will stop using an app if there are performance issues, and 86% of users deleted or uninstalled at least one mobile app because of performance problems [12]. No, we’ve been trained to expect perfection, and if it's not perfect then we fall into the category of the 46% of people who say they would not purchase from a brand again if they had an interruptive mobile experience [13]. It also has to look great. In 2016, 21% of Millennials deleted an app from their phone if they didn’t like how it looked on their screen [14].

Yes, consumers are a hard lot to please. With this kind of entitlement and selective behavior you’d think consumers were 'kings and queens'. The truth is they are. Kings or queens of their own personalized digital world, where they decide on the kingdom’s colors, theme songs, and even their own quirky entertainment fixes. What are we, in training and development, doing about it?

4. I Don't Want All This Other Crap!

One of the biggest challenges we have in the training and development industry is the belief that our companies have the "secret sauce" or perfect paradigm-changing experience, and that the only way to achieve behavior change is by going through the 3-day immersive experience. While I do not disagree that immersive ILT training experiences can be very effective in changing behavior, I also know it doesn’t work very well when you decide to "go digital" and throw all the ILT materials online and expect the same behavior. Much has been said on this topic over the years already, and I only wish to frame it in light of consumer behavior in this article. For example, a full 70% of consumers who come across unoptimized page content will leave that page in search of another site to complete their task [15]. People don’t want to waste their valuable time on sites or content that is not optimized for exactly what they want. They are virtually yelling at their computer screens—"Just give me what I want!"—but surprisingly enough, 82% of those same employees do enjoy reading relevant content from their company blogs [16]. Herein lie the reason for this consumer sentiment, and that is relevance. If it's not relevant to me, I am not interested.

Yes, it’s true we must keep "it" simple without all the cheese and fluff, but the key to a consumer’s heart is relevance. If what you provide helps the consumer meet a need, solve a problem, or answer a question, you’ll have a friend for life. Well, at least until the next time you fire-hose them with a bunch of irrelevant information. Then, they’re gone. What are we, in training and development, doing about it?

5. I Want To Be In The Picture!

There is no question that we are living in a selfie world, and we are all selfie girls and boys (my attempt at connecting to Madonna’s 80’s song, Material Girl). Never before in the history of mankind have there been so many portraits of oneself—besides waterfalls, with friends, by oneself, with our favorite meal, and in every other conceivable backdrop. We take selfies to prove to the world we were there, that we did that, with those people. Consumers just want to be in the picture. Social media has been the catalyst in this movement, with over 1.71 billion active Facebook users per month, and over 50 million Instagram active users per month, all taking selfies. Instagram users have shared over 40 billion photos to date and share an average of 95 million photos and videos per day. Holy crap, that’s a lot of pics!

You may be asking yourself why? Why are consumers so consumed with wanting to be in the picture? Simply put, they have been conditioned to believe that if they aren’t connected they’ll miss out on something important… like Kim Kardashian breaking up with whomever she is dating now. It's one of the side effects of being so connected. We are constantly being bombarded by the sometimes-subtle vibration and sometimes obnoxious ding of our phones, and most often for the most unimportant reasons. A Deloitte study in 2016 found that people look at their phones 47 times a day on average; for young people, more like 82 [17]. And in 2013, Apple proudly announced that 7.4 trillion push notifications had been pushed through its servers—a trend that has only continued to rise.

Yes, today’s consumers are the most connected group of people ever, and as such, they have allowed their digital sidekicks to change their behavior and often rule over them. Whether it’s our incessant desire to show we belong or the adrenaline release of liking, following, and not missing anything, we have become a reactive society run by our technologies. What are we, in training and development, doing about it?

6. I Want To Be Entertained!

The Leichtman Research Group estimates that 54% of American adults now have access to Netflix in their homes [18]. I’m not a math wiz, but even I can deduce that that is more than half of the US population. That number says it all. There is no additional evidence needed, except that there is still 49% of the US population that does not have Netflix yet, which is why Netflix plans to invest about $1 billion in marketing in 2017, up from $842.4 million last year, and it looks to spend $6 billion on new content this year [18]. I am pretty sure that most Fortune 500 companies would be thrilled just to bring in $1 billion in revenue, but Netflix is actually sending that amount to try and keep the 51% and get more of the 49%. Entertainment equals power and money. Pandora has even concluded that the average American listens to about 4 hours of content a day [19]. So, if we are not watching something, we are listening to something.

Yes, today’s consumer loves to be entertained. So much so, that we tune in, plug in, turn on, whenever we have a spare moment, and often when we don’t like while at work. What are we, in training and development, doing about it?

One More...

Now, that I’ve blasted you with 6 consumer sentiments, there is one more consumer behavior that incorporates everything else we’ve just covered, and it this—I want the same at work! Your learner and the modern day consumer are one and the same, and they expect the same behaviors from their work environment as they do from their personal ones. So, take a moment or two, to ask yourself the following 6 questions about your company's training and development offerings:

  • Can your learners easily access answers to their JIT learning questions, problems, and challenges?
  • Can your learners consume the information they need in short learning fragments if they wanted to?
  • Would your learners say your learning looks good? Does it perform well?
  • Is it easy for learners to access specific competencies and training modules or do they have to sift through or sit through other content?
  • Do your learners have opportunities to practice what they are learning and apply those principles to their unique situation?
  • How entertaining would your learners say your learning offerings are?


In closing, let me be clear. I am not saying we should, or that we are even able yet, to completely mimic consumer behavior in our training and development. What I am saying is that we must be more aware of consumer behavior and start finding innovative ways to bridge the gap. According to Deloitte, if companies wish to survive the future they should "consider transforming how they operate day to day to become faster, more granular and more connected within a digital-first world…and integrate and coordinate across their functional silos to align with a converged world where consumers can shop at any given moment and where the lines blur between digital and physical marketing, consumer and shopper, and online and offline purchase" [20]. And keep in mind that the consumer, not the content, is king. This trend will continue. In a recent Customers 2020 report, it looks like by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator [21]. So, take a good, long look at how you are doing today, and start finding ways to meet the needs of your king, as soon as possible.


1. Strategy Analytics

2. Deloitte - Global mobile consumer survey: US edition

3. Bank of America - Trends in Consumer Mobility Report -2015

4. Google Micro Moments

5. Forrester - “Why Good Apps Are Not Good Enough

6. The Ideal Length of Everything Online, Backed by Research

7.  About TEDx

8. The Best Video Length for Different Videos on YouTube

9. Comscore – Online Video Rankings

10. Does Video Length Matter?

11. Google Data, Aggregated, anonymized Google Analytics data from a sample of mWeb sites opted into sharing benchmark data, n=3.7K, Global, March 2016.

12. AppDynamics and University of London. The App Attention Span study

13. Google/Purchased, How Brand Experiences Inspire Consumer Action, U.S. smartphone owners 18+=2,010, brand experiences=17,726, April 2017.

14. Comscore - The 2016 U.S. Mobile App Report

15. 30 UX Statistics You Should Not Ignore!

16. QuickSprout - Why Every Business Should Blog

17. Deloitte Report - Global mobile consumer survey: US edition

18. MediaPost - Netflix Ups Marketing Budget To $1 Billion

19. Pandora - Definitive Guide to Audio 2017

20. Deloitte Report - “The Grocery Digital Divide: How Consumer Products Companies Can Deliver on the New Digital Imperative”

21. Customers 2020. The Future of B2B Customer Experience