If You Offer It, They Will (Not?) Pull

Recently, I was talking to some corporate L&D people about microlearning and performance support, and the conversation turned to pushing such content to employees versus having them pull it themselves. The L&D folks said that they were returning to a push approach because employees weren’t pulling content without being nudged, prodded, and reminded to do so. “We’re pushing it to them anyway,” they said, “so we might as well just drop the pull expectation.”

That point of view concerns me as a learning consultant. After all, for the most part, I buy Daniel Pink’s thesis that the strongest motivation for modern workers is their desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose in their work — more so than incentives such as salary or benefits. Why wouldn’t they pull content that could help them do better at their jobs?

What Might Keep Them Away?

That question raised another: what makes workers want, on their own, to go get the information they need when they need it? Is it something about the need or the information itself? Or, how the information is stored and retrieved? Or, is it dependent on the individual worker’s personality or attitude?

At the same time, I’ve been considering a related issue: how do workers determine what information to use amidst the (potentially) huge volume available on both their corporate intranet and the Internet? Are they finding what they need, or are they simply overwhelmed? Does too much information actually suppress the willingness to find and pull it?

Some Anecdotal Evidence

At ILG, we pretty much use a pull model. Employees have full autonomy to find and use any internal or external resources to obtain whatever level of mastery we can (and hopefully we all believe we’re doing so for a meaningful purpose).

To find out how the pull approach was working, I asked my fellow employees to take an anonymous online survey on their use of information and learning content. Some responses stood out:

Question: What most often triggers you to consume information or learning content related to your job?
Most Common Answer: When I need it to do a particular job task. (50% of respondents)

Q: How do you choose what content to consume?
MCA: I search for specific content when I need or want it. (94%)

Q: Agree or disagree: The amount of content available to me is often overwhelming.
MCA: Strongly agree / agree (75%)

Q: Agree or disagree: I typically don’t have enough time in the workday to check out content that looks good.
MCA: Strongly agree / agree (81%)

Q: Agree or disagree: I wish someone else would decide what content I need and give it to me.
MCA: Strongly disagree / disagree (63%)

Aspiring to a Pull Environment

I drew some conclusions from this admittedly unscientific data. First, workers will look for and pull information that’s necessary to get their work done. Second, disorganized and uncurated content can be overwhelming to find and time consuming to assess. Third, workers don’t necessarily want content pushed to them.

So, how does that reconcile with what the corporate L&D folks told me? Workers want to pull, but we have to do more than simply put links on the company intranet or documents in the LMS. When considering how to best deliver information and learning in our organizations, we should look closely at two aspects:

  • The human side. What motivates, interests, and engages workers in the search for information and knowledge?
  • The content side. When should content be curated to assess its value and relevancy to the workplace and workers? How should information/learning assets be organized, chunked, and labeled to ensure quick and easy accessibility at the point of need?

Both aspects must be addressed together. One without the other is only part of the picture!

I’d love to hear your perspective on the issue. Please take the poll below and leave a comment if you have more to say!


How do you get the information and learning content you need to do your job?

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