November 26, 2018

Transforming learning through a learner-centric approach

Whether you’re learning to develop yourself or encouraging learning for the people in your organisation, learning is a personal journey and each person takes that journey in their own way.

The most powerful thing about learning is that even if the journey is personal to you, you can’t do it alone. You learn from others and others learn from you, magnifying the impact of that learning when it is applied in daily life.

Learning itself shouldn’t be confused with studying. As studying is about gaining knowledge, learning is also about using that knowledge in everyday applications, whether it is in your daily life or at work, which then allows you to learn even more.

People are able to learn best when they’re highly interested and engaged with the topic. The only way to develop your people is to understand and learn about your learners. Whether you are seeking to understand yourself, your team or even your organisation, understand that each learner has his or her own effective ways of learning.

Learning should thus be centred on the learner, rather than the learning itself. Whether it is the way the learning takes place or the topics themselves, each learner has their own effective ways to absorb the material and their own set of interests and objectives.

Of course, if you’re working in a particular field, certain topics will be of higher interest to you than others. However, allowing some stretch in the learning topics allows people to delve into unfamiliar areas that they might have wanted to learn about but otherwise did not have the time or accessibility.

That said, learner-centrism does strengthen motivation and engagement. When the learning is designed around the interest and learning styles of your people, they’ll connect to it a lot better. Furthermore, this motivation and engagement will extend out into their daily lives, whether it is at work or personal.

As learner-centrism takes on more importance, here are simple steps to consider when making learning less about “what the course will cover” and more about “what you’ll be able to do afterwards”.

First, understand the learners and their learning styles. Learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. When taking into account the type of learning you want for your organisation, it shouldn’t be one single approach for all.

Understanding the learning styles in an organisation can be difficult, especially in a large organisation. But, this why it is even more crucial — imagine all the learning potential you can unlock in your organisation and the impact it will have.

Second, define and redefine learning objectives. This is a great next step when figuring out what kind of learning works best for you and your organisation. Once you’ve understood your learning styles and those of your organisation, define the goals you want to achieve.

Whether you’re doing this as an individual or as the leader of a team, think of it as a type of KPI you would usually try to aim for. Encouraging everyone to achieve those learning objectives can be made more appealing by framing the challenge as a game with a reward system or even a point system.

Additionally, as learning should be continuous, once you’ve achieved certain learning objectives, it is good to go back and redefine new learning objectives to aim for. Always having a goal in mind allows you and your people to have something tangible to reach for.

Third, design and experiment with the learning system and consistently evaluate it. Whether you’re going to design a system on your own or find many platforms that are available in the market, always experiment. Keep in mind that there is a possibility of failure, but that is only way to truly push learning.

Additionally, consistently evaluate the learning and obtain feedback. Providing your people with a way to learn and then simply hoping for the best and for something to happen, isn’t going to work. You must be able to measure the learning against its real-life application.

Whether you’re using an online approach, in-classroom settings, networking events, content such as books for reading or a mix of everything, learning should be centred on the learner. That is the only way for it to be effective and valuable, not only on an individual level, but also on an organisational — and possibly even societal — level.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading Executive, Leadership and Innovation Capability Development Center. She can be reached by email at or