Industry News

On-Demand Learning – in an On-Demand World

By Ben Henderson
September 10, 2017

Developments in technology have allowed us to reshape the way we receive products and information to make life that little bit more convenient.  If we need a certain product, we want it now, or at least without too much delay, and companies like Amazon understand this modern day customer philosophy. The same can be said when it comes to entertainment and the way we consume media. No longer do we have to wait for our favorite TV show to appear at the designated time and within a particular space, we watch when it’s convenient to us and fits in with our busy lives. But what about the way we consume online learning and training content, how does this fit in within this on-demand world?

Within the e-Learning industry, we are familiar with buzz words and fancy expressions which aim to revitalize old ideas and learning concepts. Be it ‘flipping the classroom’ or ‘gamify learning’, these seemingly new notions crop up every so often, convincing L&D departments that this is the method which will finally make compliance training exciting and engaging.  So is ‘on-demand learning’ the new kid at school, or is there actually substance and value in the concept from an L&D perspective? During the last educational technology event I attended, I heard a learning platform company referring to themselves as the ‘Netflix of learning’‘This sounds great’, I initially thought. Most of us are familiar with Netflix and its personalized dashboard, customized to our own desires and available anytime, anywhere. I instantly thought that from an engagement point of view, branding a learning platform in a similar way to Netflix was a clever (but potentially deceptive) idea, but is it any more effective than a standard LMS in disseminating learning content?

The key factor which has allowed on-demand learning to rise to the top of the L&D pop charts recently is the way we have become accustomed to using our mobile devices. The amount of time the average adult spends on their mobile phones per day is around 4 hours ( and increasing year on year, however, most of that time is taken up by checking emails, social media, playing games, watching videos, taking photos of food and of course speaking to others.  The way we interact with our personalized mobile device has allowed e-Learning and L&D professionals to consider how we can make the best use of said devices from a learning perspective.  Whereas on-demand products and media work well due to the personal motivation from an individual perspective due to an interest or need, learning on-demand requires the same sort of desire and personal connection to make it an effective option. If organizations are expecting employees to access on-demand training content just because it is easily accessible then they might be a little disappointed.  If the training is formalized and required from a compliance perspective, are employees more likely to access it if it’s available on-demand, possibly. However, the effectiveness of the content and community should be more important than the way it is accessed. Sure, it’s helpful that we can access it anytime or anywhere, but do we want to, especially if it’s not as engaging as Breaking Bad or House of Cards?

The effectiveness of on-demand learning really depends on the motivation of the individual to access and learn about a specific topic. If an individual is interested in developing themselves through their mobile device (rather than playing Candy Crush or scrolling through Facebook) then doing this on-demand is very effective and convenient. Therefore, on-demand should be a given within any online learning offering, and the focus should be on developing the best materials and providing intrinsic and extrinsic incentives for employees to participate and develop, rather than the means and ways to access it.

One Comment

  1. I am a former summit learning teacher in Holyoke, MA. I can tell you, unequivocally, that the entire platform stinks. It is not even a curriculum, it is a hodgepodge resources lifted from Khan Academy, youtube, Engage NY, IXL lessons, scanned textbook pages, and other unrelated sources. These materials are often not aligned to common core standards, they are often of poor quality, they include numerous broken links. Students are expected to independently take notes as they work, but no consideration has been given to the lexile levels of readings so the material is often completely inaccessible to students. The math curriculum is devoid of any meaningful direct instruction. Many students disengage within a couple of weeks and spend most of their time browsing the internet or gaming instead of learning. As they fall behind, they see their home screen turn more and more red, causing greater frustration and discouragement. Students become so screen addicted that they rebel any time a teacher attempts to give them direct instruction. Worse yet, the necessity of teacher training in the platform’s usage necessitates the hiring of several consultants and coaches, many of whom explicitly state that their primary objective is to prove the platform viable so that it may grow to more school districts. Ultimately, school administrators are pressured to increase scores of online tests (many of which students attempt literally dozens of times over), so they pressure teachers to take tests with their students to ensure a passing grade. Essentially, schools are falsifying data to ensure Summit’s growth. Given that Summit pitches its product as a turnaround model for struggling urban schools, its practices are essentially exploitative.