The corporate landscape for learning and development is changing rapidly. It’s more important than ever, of course. There’s an unprecedented level of change in the world around us as technologies evolve ever more rapidly, and a corresponding acceleration in the need to update skills. For companies to compete, it’s imperative that their employees keep up.

In addition to those changes on the demand side, the way training is delivered to employees is changing as well.

The Traditional Learning Model is Obsolete

For years, of course, forward-thinking companies have had a well-defined structure in place for employee development. They’ve worked to understand their current skill base, then thought strategically about aligning development plans with the organization’s objectives. These development plans have then been executed – in some highly structured cases through a learning management system, but in almost all cases directed and driven by the employer rather than the employee. The training, as good as it has been, has been cookie-cutter. The same content, delivered the same way, to all the employees receiving it.

That model has been the progressive model. It’s swiftly becoming obsolete.

Generational Influences are Largely Responsible

This model is outmoded largely due to the same generational influences that have affected nearly all other aspects of workplace culture.

With the first members of Gen Z having arrived, and projected to make up 30% of the total US workforce by 2030, there are now two generations in the workplace who are true digital natives. This generation, and their immediate Gen Y predecessors, have grown up with information at their fingertips. For them, there’s never been a need to not know the answer to a question.

YouTube has provided them with the largest library of how-to tutorials in the history of the world, with virtually no barrier to entry. They’ve always had an expert close at hand who can teach them to do just about anything (and they’ve also become relatively adept at differentiating experts from non-experts).

For those looking for more rigor than YouTube, online learning platforms like Khan Academy, StudySoup and Coursera have offered skill improvement on demand. All of these influences also intersect with a generation that knows the value of knowledge in the knowledge economy. 

In short, younger generations know that continuous learning is essential for their career success; they embrace it, and they know how to seek it out.

Here’s What to Do Now

First, throw out the cookie cutter. There is no longer one size that fits all (assuming there ever was). 

Reorient your focus and effort away from designing structured learning plans. Instead, invest that focus to design a structure in which employees can be as fully engaged as they want to be in the learning process, including the direction that learning takes, and even the resources that will be used. That structure should be as easy to navigate as possible, with a very minimal – or nonexistent – barrier to entry.

Think on-demand and crowdsourced. No organization can create a YouTube for learning and development, and there’s no need to do so. However, there is inspiration here to be had. Creating a menu of training options that can be accessed on-demand will do more to encourage takers than a structured plan directing the what, where, why and how.

The other lesson to be taken here is the value of crowdsourced information. Every organization has a wealth of expertise carried by its employees. Whether in the form of video tutorials, downloadable papers or cross-generational workshops and mentorships, there’s tremendous value in peer-to-peer learning.

Don’t restrict these ideas to skill-based training, either. Younger generations are not confident that they have the soft skills – communication, teamwork, leadership – they need to succeed, and they want on-the-job training and mentoring opportunities that will help develop them.

Above all else, demonstrate that learning is a priority for your organization. While it’s true that lifelong learning is of particular value to the younger generations in your workforce, employees of all generations need to evolve and grow with the changes happening in every industry. Show that your company is ready to support the learning and development of all employees by investing in it, making sure the opportunities are available and speaking about it often.

One final note, lest you think that these changes are about pandering to just one or two generations. Not so. The same generational influences that have created Gen Y and Gen Z have also molded and shaped every other generation along the way.

Previous generations may not be digital natives, but they are digital migrants who generally have adapted to and embraced the on-demand world. Successful companies will be those who respond by providing development opportunities to all of their employees in a way that reflects these changes.

Undercover Recruiter

For over 25 years, Undercover Recruiter has been hiring people, and helping people get hired - working with candidates and clients as an agency recruiter, coaching MBA students in career services, supporting practice leads as a VP in a technology firm, building and leading a team as a CEO, and informally helping dozens of people along the way get jobs they wanted. Recently, he’s focusing more time and attention on writing about recruiting, talent acquisition, and leadership.