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Digital learning can add value in organisations but only if L&D teams choose their platform and resources with care, says Lynsey Whitmarsh.
Director of Strategy and Experience
6 Minute read
18 June 2020
The impact of digital learning - survey
Digital learning 2.0
In a bid to respond quicker and more effectively to customer needs - and remove costs and waste from their business - today’s employers are embracing the digital age. Digital priorities - including e-commerce, mobile access, big data, connectivity and cybersecurity - dominate Boardroom agendas in almost every organisation. Individuals are expected to connect, collaborate, network, source information, share resources and persuade others through new channels, in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) circumstances. Speed and agility have become the characteristics needed to respond effectively to the changing challenges and opportunities in the market.
In reality, a ‘spectrum of digital readiness’ exists in organisations. At one extreme, employees will be ‘highly-dependent’ on their managers and they’ll have set goals and tasks to fulfil. At the other, they’ll be collaborative knowledge workers benefiting from digital efficiencies and intelligent analytics. Most companies will lie somewhere in between.
To support their businesses, many L&D teams have invested in a learning management system, a training portal and online content. But there’s a difference between clunky, reactive online support resources and engaging, individually-focused and job-relevant content. If your digital assets suffer from low utilisation and engagement, you’ll struggle to provide the support your employees need and this can impede your organisation’s ability to progress along the spectrum of digital readiness.
The first priority is to ensure you have an engaging platform. Employees need to be able to easily find and use resources that meet their needs, whether that’s videos, infographics and animations or e-learning, virtual and expert-led delivery options. But even if your resources are magnificent, people will switch off if your platform doesn’t feel fresh and engaging. Home entertainment provides a model that’s worth following. Netflix and Amazon Video all offer an easy and familiar on/demand interface. If we can choose our entertainment options in a way that’s visually appealing, why can’t we choose our learning like that too?
The best learning platforms will be flexible enough to allow user-generated content and resources from different third-party providers. Once you have the right platform, you need to populate it with digital assets that are:
Business-aligned. Each resource should be aligned to the imperatives of your business. The challenge is to identify what people need to learn, given the organisational requirements, and to source appropriate on/demand options in a choice of formats that will suit different learning styles.
Engaging. The learner experience is key, so pay attention to the style, tone and appeal of your resources. Watch out for new content options, such as interactive resources that combine activities that learners can watch, read or try - and micro-topic videos, which focus on specific business issues, offering key points, practical summaries and suggested activities to help with the transfer of learning. The best platforms allow user reviews of content, so employees will be able to make more informed decisions about which resource will best meet their needs. Smart systems can ‘get to know’ your learning preferences, craft a learning pathway and recommend new and different assets that fit your preferred mode.
Curated. Some providers claim to offer curated content but there’s a question about how often their catalogues are refreshed and whether they focus on the core learning challenges that individuals are facing. Key topics to look for will inevitably include communication skills, digital skills, sales, people management, customer service, performance management, continuous improvement and wellbeing. You’ll also want the flexibility to integrate your own content.
Individually-focused. Anyone who uses iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music will be familiar with the concept of playlists (cherry-picking individual tracks from their music library). L&D teams can now apply this concept to learning by enabling individuals to create and share playlists of their favorite learning resources. A playlist is effectively someone’s own personal choice of learning resources that they can dip into, which directly relate to their needs. Managers can share playlists of different assets with their teams, to address specific business challenges. Pushing out content in this way is a more strategic approach than simply saying ‘here’s a digital library, use it when you need to’. L&D teams can also create specific playlists to support transitional stages in an employee’s development. For example, if someone is moving from an individual contributor to become a manager, you could offer them a set of resources that will support that change.
Accessible at the point of need. Today’s business challenges create a sense of urgency in organisations. Employees can’t wait six weeks before they go on a course. Your digital assets should be instantly searchable and they should play on all devices and screen formats.
Supported. After launching their online resources with great fanfare, many companies are guilty of not following up with ongoing marketing or communication. You can’t simply introduce a digital platform and expect employees to ‘go learn’, particularly if you’re offering a mountain of content. You need to help people to understand what digital learning is and how it can benefit them. The right partner should be able to help and advise you on how to sustain ongoing interest.
The principal benefit of using engaging and effective digital resources in the learning mix is, of course, that employees will get the learning they need when they need it. But there are two further advantages, namely:
1. Speed of response. Your digital assets can be accessed as standalone resources but they can also be quickly and easily incorporated into face-to-face and/or virtual instructor-led sessions. This means that L&D teams can rapidly prototype and roll-out meaningful and relevant programmes as new business challenges emerge.
2. Ease of blend. Effective blended learning programmes can also be created by ‘mixing and matching’ your digital assets and utilising them before, during or after face-to-face/virtual expert-led sessions. This enables L&D teams to strategically-target cohorts of users with blended programmes which will excite and engage them and help them to embed their learning.
3. Analytics. Metrics have primarily been used to track L&D activity and report on learner engagement. However, today’s analytics offer much more. Yes, they’ll help you assess the return on your investment but they’ll also prompt you with insights that can steer further action. Knowing what, when and how people learn not only enables you to better understand your learning culture, it helps you in your role as it gives you a greater understanding of how learning can support critical aspects such as leadership, talent management, performance appraisal and change.
Digital learning is not a replacement for traditional training, it’s simply another option - and part of the blend. Self-directed resources have a role to play but individuals will still need to gather in a safe environment to practice their skills. Traditional follow-up options, such as action-learning sets or face-to-face coaching are now being supplemented with virtual seminars, hosted web calls, coaching via Skype and interactions on internal social networks, all of which have made it easier to build ‘communities of practice’ where people can get together to discuss and share their experiences, even if they’re in different locations.
By moving yourself further the spectrum of digital capability, L&D teams can help to improve productivity, enhance employee engagement, foster a more conducive work environment, boost the employer brand and prompt stronger retention.
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