What is Modern Learning?


In 1964 the Supreme Court had before it an obscenity case in which the outcome of the case hinged on the definition of obscenity. In his ruling Justice Potter Stewart issued an opinion that has become one of the most quoted Supreme Court opinions of all time. He wrote:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…

Not to equate modern learning with obscenity, but I think we have a similar problem: Most of us have a general understanding of what we mean by modern learning but would be hard pressed to define it.

If asked, I think many of us would be comfortable defining what it is not:

  • It’s not hour- or day-long or multi-day learning events
  • It’s not instructor-led training
  • It’s not learning from print materials
  • If it is online, it is not tethered to a computer
  • It’s not lock-step, one size fits all, training

So, what is it? Again, there probably is no single definition but it is best defined by a series of attributes:

  • It is usually consumed on mobile devices (phones or tablets)
  • It is often point-of-need
  • It is available on demand
  • It can be personalized
  • It is short, often five minutes or less
  • It frequently uses video and audio rather than text
  • It may incorporate elements of games and gamification
  • It often occurs outside standard working hours
  • There may be a social/informal component

Or, in other words: We know it when we see it.

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