Three Misconceptions about Modern Professional Learning

This article was written by the Canadian Management Centre (CMC). We’ve partnered with CMC to provide clients with learning solutions that align with our Leadership DNA ™ approach to talent development. For the last 5 decades, CMC has helped thousands of organizations build leadership capability at all levels. Together, with the integrated power of data analytics, we are redefining what it means to offer highly targeted development that accelerates learning effectiveness while maximizing a return on development. 


Chances are, you’ve read and heard a lot about the dramatic changes underway in our workplaces, and may be wondering if, one morning, you’re going to wake up and find yourself in a whole new world. Maybe you anticipate a workplace filled with lifelike androids for co-workers and learning modules packed into pills you can consume with your morning smoothie. You may also wonder how much of the speculation around modern employees and the digital revolution to swallow whole, and how much to take with a grain of salt. Here are three common ideas about professional learning that we believe miss the mark.


When a quick scan of Google’s search results turns up a list of titles like 5 Reasons why Digital Learning is the Future of Education, it’s understandable that many learning professionals are rushing to convert their content to eLearning modules. The arguments in favour of eLearning generally focus on its convenience and scalability, sometimes pointing out its potential for interactivity through discussion forums and participant engagement through visuals, videos and gamification. While valid, such arguments miss two important points.

First, an obvious but often-overlooked reality is that not all learning objectives are equal: acquiring declarative, or factual, knowledge is very different from changing ingrained behaviours. For example, topics like programming languages or financial management lend themselves to self-paced digital training, while skills like empowering employees and managing teams require a more interactive approach.

Leadership, communication and collaboration are the skills cited as most important by executives surveyed by LinkedIn in 2018. Essential to professionals across all industries and most job roles, 92% of these executives see “soft skills” as more important than technical competencies, while 89% say it’s hard to find qualified people. As these are the very capabilities that most depend on practice, feedback and interaction to acquire, face-to-face methodologies such as one-on-one coaching and classroom sessions will continue to play a vital role.

Second, modern learners themselves consistently affirm the value of face-to-face training, despite being sophisticated consumers of online educational content. According to a 2016 survey of over 1000 workers across various industries in the UK, classroom training is preferred by 52.7%, over either eLearning (18%) or self-study (29.3%). In a separate study, 64% of learners cite classroom courses as essential or highly useful for learning what they need for their job.

However, research also shows that 88% of staff like to learn at their own pace, 43% feel that accessing learning content from their mobile devices is essential or very useful, and 59% of learners want online learning to be blended with other modalities such as face-to-face training or individual coaching. The natural conclusion is that the future of professional learning will be a blend, the mix determined by the method best suited for a particular learning outcome, as well as by the organization’s pragmatic considerations.

Reality: Face-to-face training will remain essential to the professional learning experience; it adds value that digital methods will enhance, but not replace, as learners themselves recognize.


Generational differences in the workforce is a still a hot topic these days; the drivers, values and abilities of older and younger workers scrutinized, compared and fiercely debated. Learning professionals may justifiably worry about whether younger folks will resist learning in the classroom, and whether older employees will shy away from cutting-edge technology.

However, a growing body of evidence suggests that intergenerational disparities may be exaggerated. Workers of different ages are similarly motivated to do meaningful work and enjoy a high quality of life while achieving expertise in their fields.

Similarly, the empirical evidence suggests that learning preferences do not vary significantly by generation. According to one survey of 5,700 professional learners, 55.9% of Millennials find classroom learning of more value than either independent study or eLearning, and older people are just as likely to use digital methods as their younger peers to learn what they need for their jobs.

In fact, while 35% of 21 to 30-year-olds learn on their commute, 62% of those over 50 like to study on the go—perhaps through reading books, but also via podcasts, videos and smartphone apps.

While the similarity of preferences across generations is good news for those designing and implementing modern learning solutions, it is noteworthy that most learners are looking for innovative, blended approaches—not just the newer members of our workforces.

Reality: Professional learners across the generations have similar motivations, preferences and technological skills; observable differences are mainly due to life stage and external factors.


The citation about people today having a shorter attention span than a goldfish has been shared widely and used to suggest that modern employees struggle to take in anything longer or more complex than a viral meme or a YouTube cat video. At first glance, it seems to justify cutting back on training; after all, why develop instructional content that no one is going to use?

The problem is, this data point has been widely misinterpreted! The meaning of the “shorter-than-a-goldfish” statistic is that content has only about 8 seconds to capture our interest before we move on; once we engage, we are perfectly capable of taking as deep a dive as our need and interest in the topic inspire us to.

In fact, the wealth of content found online exists to satisfy our nearly insatiable appetite for learning, both on the job and off. Personal and professional development have never been more in demand by employees: 94% would stay at a company longer if it offered opportunities for learning and development.

However, it is true that the flood of information competing for our attention has raised the bar for the quality of the learning experiences we offer. As business leaders and L&D professionals, there are high expectations for us to provide an array of options, including individual coaching and classroom time, along with innovative solutions such as games, videos, social media-based learning and more. Now, the question is, how are you offering engaging, accessible, multi-modal learning opportunities which impact the success of your organization?

Reality: Learners focus successfully when engaged by relevant, high-quality content; in fact, employees have never been more driven to learn and enhance their professional skills than they are today.


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