However, you may have decided to learn something for yourself and it’s a fair bet you were far more engaged and retained more of the content. It could be anything from woodwork to accounting, the key is that you decided what you wanted to learn, and you pulled it to you.

Cue ‘push learning’ exit stage left, ‘pull learning’ I invite you to the stage…

So what is pull learning? Just another buzz phrase used by learning and development professionals to bamboozle everyone, or in fact is it actually something with some substance?

By definition, it’s something that you choose to do when you want to do it. And, no, it’s not just another buzz phrase. The benefits are vast, you are more likely to connect with it as often there is a personal reason for doing it.

Generally most people who engage with pull learning choosing informal and social-based learning, often delivered via a mobile device. I bet when you’ve wanted to know something in the moment you’ve looked for a YouTube video as a way of learning something instantly.

Push learning tends to be focused on the needs of the business. By contrast, pull learning is focused on learners’ needs, motivation and preferences on how they learn best – it is learner led. Most businesses adopt a learning path for individuals to follow in certain time frames but often without considering the individuals, nor giving due consideration to the cost model either if the learning doesn’t stick.

There are a few companies out there which are building on this concept, but as a whole there still isn’t a massive offering from the learning and development community. Most feel like they are pushing the concept uphill and face road blocks from stakeholders. It takes a pioneer to challenge the norm but I am sure the results could be amazing if people were given the choice of how, when and what they wanted to learn.

In my personal life I have had a bash at growing vegetables. I have no experience of doing this and it is like a minefield. I am constantly having to use pull methods to find out what to do and – a lot of the time what – I shouldn’t have done! And in this modern day the internet provides me with most of the answers I need in that moment. In my professional life I am also a massive fan of podcasts, they fit in with my day travelling to appointments, inspiring and filling my head with ideas and I find then easy to listen to and to repeat whenever I want.

So is this curtains down for traditional learning? Not yet as about 70 per cent of training activity is still meeting the demands of compliance and regulatory training which will always be needed. But maybe those supporting the learning of staff need to look at things in a new way. Becoming curators of learning materials by REALLY responding to a person’s personal development plan and providing a way for a solution that meets their needs in THAT moment.

What does this mean for you as employers? Well I challenge you to challenge convention; ask yourself, if a particular employee needs help with conflict management, do they really need to wait three months to attend a course? And if they do, what will happen to their confidence and to the people that they are trying to interact with, who are likely to be your customers?

You can encourage pull learning by talking about it with your staff and empowering them to adopt a pull learning culture. As well as being a powerful tool, it also sends a message that you trust your staff to identify learning gaps and resolve them. I would also suggest that you find out how they like to learn and when they like to learn. Give them access to the tools and technology and to help themselves.

Create a diverse pool of learning by curating assets like:

  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Free instant on-line courses
  • Social networking
  • Webinars
  • Apps
  • Conferences
  • Meetings
  • Forums
  • Hints and tips
  • Challenge those who look after your learning and development needs, to find other solutions outside of formal courses. In short, look for ways that offer the sort of personalised, self-directed approach that we have come to expect in 2016.


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