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How to engage learners and meet their content needs?

At Go1, we strive to put our learner's needs first, so we’ve set out to answer the question: what do your learners need? We’ll start by analysing what learners need in 2021, before moving on to 5 essentials to engage your learners and meet their content needs. 
Dom Murray, Content Writer

What do your learners need? It’s easy to get lost among a mountain of fresh innovations, just-released content, and shiny new toys and lose sight of the forest for the trees. This is especially true in the fast-paced world of L&D, where it can often feel like you don’t even have time to think, let alone stay up to date with every new development. 

However, when you step back and view your L&D strategy as a whole, this simple question should permeate everything you are trying to achieve. What do your learners need? These five words can act as building blocks from which the rest of your L&D strategy can thrive. 

If you’re not continually asking ‘what do my learners need and how can I engage them?’, then your L&D strategy is probably missing something. After all, your learners should be at the centre of your L&D strategy. Their needs come first, making it vital to revisit this question frequently. 

At Go1, we strive to put our learner's needs first, so we’ve set out to answer this question. We’ll start by analysing what learners need in 2021, before moving on to 5 essentials to engage your learners and meet their content needs. 

What do learners need in 2021? 

To help you take a learner-centric approach to your L&D strategy, we’ve highlighted three critical points to put learners front and centre. Whether you’re evaluating an existing learning strategy or taking a fresh approach, be sure to keep these points in mind. 

Time and alignment 

Two of the most common barriers to learning in 2021 are lack of time and lack of alignment. Without dedicated time to learn and alignment across different business functions, it is nearly impossible to engage learners and fully meet their content needs. 

According to the CIPD’s 2021 Learning and Skills at Work report, lack of learner or management time is L&D’s second-biggest roadblock in 2021, with 38% of teams saying they experience this issue. Coming in at number one is ‘the pressure of other business priorities’, with 39% of teams saying they encounter this roadblock. Other notable responses include ‘systems do not talk to each other’ (24%), and ‘pressure of other L&D priorities’ (25%). Only 12% of teams said they did not experience any roadblocks to learning. 

Emerald Works’ 2020 Back to the Future report corroborates these figures, finding that only 49% of L&D teams say their activity is fully aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation. What’s more, 45% of L&D teams say their managers are reluctant to make time for learning. 

Additionally, LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report finds that learners of all ages would like to learn a new skill but feel like they don't have time. 63% of Millennials and 58% of Gen Z feel like they don’t have time to learn a new skill, to go with 50% of Gen X and 37% of Baby Boomers. 


Cumulatively, these findings paint a picture of learners that don’t have any time to learn, which should be concerning to L&D professionals. L&D teams must be aware of these common roadblocks and ensure they allocate enough time to learning to engage learners and help them meet their full potential. 

Empower learners via self-directed learning 

Empowering learners to self-manage their learning is another key to meeting content needs in 2021. 

According to Emerald Works’ 2020 Back to the Future report, 26% of organisations are concerned about a lack of skills among employees to manage their own learning — up from 17% in 2019. A further 26% are worried about a lack of analytical skills to use learning data effectively, with 29% bemoaning the pace of technological change and their organisation’s inability to keep up. 

Despite these findings, research consistently shows that learners want to be empowered to self-direct their learning. Doing so is one of the best ways to engage learners and meet their content needs. 

For example, LinkedIn’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report found that 74% of learners would like to access learning during their spare time at work. Similarly, self-directed learning is popular among every generation, with 43% of Gen Z and Millennials, and 33% of Gen X and Baby Boomers, saying they want to be empowered with fully self-directed and independent learning. With the advent of remote working since these figures were first published, there is a good chance these percentages have increased. 

One case study from Cornerstone showed what self-directed learning can achieve, noting a 198% increase in self-directed online training hours completed when their L&D team offered more relevant and timely content. 

As LinkedIn’s report advises, “Give learners space for self-directed learning and access to a breadth of content to help them find what inspires them. Also help them find their purpose — when people can tie their learning to a bigger purpose, they’ll be more engaged in the experience and more motivated to keep their learning journey going.” 

Stay future-ready with upskilling and reskilling 

We have analysed upskilling and reskilling at length in our articles on Skills for the future and What the modern learner needs. However, it bears repeating: upskilling and reskilling should be among your top priorities to remain future-ready, engage learners, and meet their content needs. 

According to Emerald Works’ 2020 Back to the Future report, 35% of L&D teams are concerned about a lack of investment to future-proof L&D approaches, while 28% are worried about the reluctance of senior management to encourage new ways of learning. 

To overcome these challenges, upskilling and reskilling will be essential. Skillsoft’s Mind the Gap report finds that 48% of L&D professionals think their team is underskilled to deliver what is needed for their business. 

As a result, 51% of L&D professionals intend to launch upskilling programs, while 43% intend to launch reskilling programs. Further, Deloitte found that 84% of L&D professionals are planning to increase their investment in reskilling programs.  

LinkedIn’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report found that upskilling and reskilling is the number one priority for L&D professionals this year, with 59% rating this as their top area of focus —up by 15% from June 2020. 

From a learner’s perspective, this is essential. Estimates show that 54% of employees will require extensive upskilling or reskilling by 2022. The positive news is that ongoing reskilling efforts have had positive results, with 80% of employees saying that upskilling/reskilling has boosted their confidence.


Perhaps most importantly, learners recognise the importance of upskilling and reskilling to their professional development. A majority of learners from all generations say they see continuous learning as key to success in their careers in 2021, ranging from 76% of Gen Z to 55% of Baby Boomers. 

Finally, TalentLMS finds that 78% of learners are either satisfied or very satisfied with the upskilling/reskilling training that they have received, with a massive 74% saying they would prefer to work for a company that offers upskilling/reskilling opportunities. 

66% of learners say that “the joy of learning new things and developing new skills” is their top reason for upskilling or reskilling, while learners reported that productivity, confidence, and a better relationship with management were the key benefits of upskilling/reskilling. 

Ultimately, these findings demonstrate that upskilling and reskilling are non-negotiable to engage learners and meet their content needs in 2021. Nearly three-quarters of learners would prefer to work for a company that offers these opportunities. If your organisation doesn't provide these opportunities, then it’s likely that you aren’t meeting your learner's content needs.

5 essentials to engage your learners and meet their content needs 

  1. Dedicate enough time to learning within your organisation, as 38% of learners say that they don’t have enough time to learn
  2. Ensure that different teams and business functions are aligned to minimise roadblocks and give everyone access to learning opportunities 
  3. Empower your learners by offering self-directed learning 
  4. Future-proof your L&D strategy by implementing high-quality upskilling and reskilling programs 
  5. Don’t lose sight of your top priority — your learners. Make sure you’re constantly asking ‘what do my learners need?’ 

For further insights on meeting your learners' content needs, check out our articles on what the modern learner needs and driving higher learner engagement

Go1 helps millions of people in thousands of organizations engage in learning that is relevant, effective and inspiring.
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