Live panel discussion: Learners are doing it for themselves!

On July 8, two of our current clients and a previous client spoke at the HR and L&D Innovation and Tech Fest virtual event in Australia as part of a panel discussion.

Published 04 August 2020
Live panel discussion: Learners are doing it for themselves!

During the 30-minute session, the three L&D professionals, each from a different sector, shared their experiences of engaging with their own consumer learners. 

The line-up 

Andrew Gerkens – Capability and Effectiveness Manager, Visy 

Kathryn Clews – Head of People Learning, St John WA 

David Wall – Learning and Development Manager, Jemena 

Andrew McGlyn – Customer Account Director, Emerald Works (Moderator) 

The rise of the consumer learner 

More and more learners are starting to embrace digital technology within learning, so it’s important that we all adapt and move with the times to offer the best support for our people. 

Our three panelists discussed ways to empower employees to become more independent and self-determined when it comes to learning, and explored why these characteristics are so valuable to organizations. 

We asked each panelist the following questions during the lively discussion. Here’s what they had to say: 

Why is it important to understand how today’s consumer learners are learning? 

Speaking of her experience within the vocational education and training (VET) and healthcare sectors, Kathryn, Head of People Learning at St John WA, outlined that L&D should always align to adult learning principles. And that it’s important to engage with staff in order to better understand their needs.  

“By getting colleagues to prioritize learning, this will ensure that they get the most out of it. When designing learning programs at St John Ambulance, I adopt three principles. I look at how to engage leaners internally, carry out a review of their preferred learning style, and then tie in the business outcome to these needs.” 

How do you ensure you gather feedback from learners, so you understand their needs? 

Andrew, Capability and Effectiveness Manager at Visy, spoke of the evolving world of L&D. 

“Organizations are evolving all the time, and the same can definitely be said at Visy. Understanding how people learn is key; we want to tap into the things that are working and enhance them.” 

For David, Learning and Development Manager at Jemena, it was all about data. 

“To really understand our learners at Jemena, we dive into the analytics. We look at feedback, survey completion rates, as well as toolkit usage and page views. This information then gives us an idea of where people are self-directing. Sometimes this has been things they have carried out in their own time, such as learning a language.” 

Kathryn spoke about the transition from the old world of classroom learning to digital. 

“For me, self-assessment is key, in order for us to identify the skills gap. L&D is changing to an online and on-demand world and we are seeing the demand for it.” 

How are you working to change the relationship between L&D and the learner? 

David identified that this continues to be an ongoing challenge. 

“We need to prove to learners that L&D are having an impact. It’s not necessarily the tool we provide learners, but the possibilities it provides.” 

Andrew is keen to shift the focus at Visy to that of consultancy. 

“We need to make it clear that learning shouldn’t be separate from work, and these learners would learn anyway. By acting as a consultative department, we can ask learners where they want to be, and help them get there.” 

Kathryn is trialing techniques to build learning into the workflow. 

“We are finding that Yammer posts and nudge emails are working well to encourage self-directed learning. Also, by utilizing relationships with senior stakeholders, we are able to push out messages from these influencers and be taken seriously.” 

Have you had to do anything different to nurture the self-directed behavior? 

Each panelist agreed that it was key to put learners in the driving seat and help them take control. 

While Kathryn recognized there is more demand of online learning, she didn’t rule out face-to-face training, preferring a more blended approach. 

“Working within the healthcare industry means that I carry out a lot of roadshows, but overall a delivery of blended and face-to-face programs. Some people still want handouts, whereas some prefer online. We must meet people where they are at.” 

Andrew had similar thoughts. 

“Working in a geographically dispersed and operational environment, there is a strong culture of on- the-job training and problem solving at Visy. The key is to facilitate good conversations.” 

Agreeing with Katherine, David outlined that it is not easy to shift the culture within an organization. 

“As Kathryn said, we must meet people where they are at, because training and learning are very different things. It all goes back to the conversation of what is learning. Some people still want a classroom model, but we need to change this mindset.” 

Kathryn agreed that conversations are key. 

“We are continuously having difficult conversations with leaders and managers, but the key is to pitch differently depending on your audience.” 

At Emerald Works, our research shows that 70% of High-Impact Learning Cultures (HILCs) focus on involving their learners in the design of their learning strategy. However, only 25% of organizations we surveyed in the ANZ region are doing this. 

What kind of questions do you need to ask the learners? 

Each panelist agreed that before finalizing your learning strategy, you should take a step back and ask them what they want to achieve as a result of their learning, and what are the outputs from a business perspective. 

Andrew said that it is always good to be curious, and that you should look at the gaps in capacity and use these as levers to build a capacity model. 

Do we need to put our marketing hats on and sell in the idea of self-directed learning? 

“Yes” was the unanimous answer. If you want your learners to fully buy into self-directed learning, your organization needs to champion this approach and demonstrate its value. 


It’s clear from this discussion that organizations are starting to empower their people to own their learning journey, and see them as consumer learners. We know from our research and data gathered that one of the six habits of High-Impact Learning Culture is to drive experiences that matter and ensure that learning experiences solve the critical business capability problems, by encouraging self-directed learning. 

By really understanding learners and the way they like to learn, organizations can identify skill gaps and discover what their employees need to develop and grow.  

By placing the learner at the center, organizations are: 

  • 11% more likely to enhance individual wellbeing 

  • 18% more likely to embed the principles of diversity and inclusion 

  • 24% more likely to improve employee retention 

  • 12% more likely to increase on-the-job productivity 

  • 28% more likely to provide a faster response to changing business conditions. 

To find out more on how to get closer to the needs of learners, download our Challenging Perceptions of Learners report here


Thank you 

I’d like to personally thank all our panelists for sharing their insightful stories with us. 


Keep in touch 

Sign up to our L&D Lowdown in the footer below to keep up with all the latest news and events from Emerald Works. 

If you’d like to find out more about our research on the consumer learner, download our Back to the Future report here

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