What can digital learning do for your business? Stephanie Morgan gives TJ some ideas.
Reading time: 5 minutes.
L&D has come a long way in a short space of time. As industry guru Josh Bersin neatly puts it, evolution in L&D has been ‘blindingly fast’. Within 15 years, we’ve moved away from a reliance on a one-size-fits-all approach driven by instructor-led training, to more personalised learning that happens in the flow of work, accessible 24/7.
For many, video, mobile apps and microlearning are now well-trodden paths in the digital learning landscape, while AI, AR and VR are beginning to emerge over the horizon.
With so many tantalising ‘shiny new things’ to get our hands on, it can be tempting to dive right in. But digital learning is about far more than just tech. In reality, it’s more a way of learning than any single type of learning, requiring an organisation-wide mindset shift to be truly successful.
This is what organisations that have reached Stage 4 in Towards Maturity’s Transformation Curve – the top 10% or ‘Top Deck’ – have achieved, encouraging a digitally-enabled sharing culture to become a ‘new learning organisation’.
So why is it that only a handful of organisations are fully embracing digital learning?
Over recent weeks, I’ve noticed two trends emerging: firstly, a gap in understanding among L&D professionals of what digital learning can achieve and, secondly, continuing difficulty in getting stakeholder support.
Digital learning is about far more than just tech. In reality, it’s more a way of learning than any single type of learning, requiring an organisation-wide mindset shift to be truly successful.
And the truth is, the two are closely related. If L&D professionals aren’t completely sold themselves on digital learning, how can they hope to win over senior leadership?
To convert digital sceptics, and help you make a compelling case for digital learning to stakeholders, I wanted to look in more detail at some of the benefits digital learning can bring – to your learners, your company culture, and ultimately to your business performance.
Make no mistake, engagement is as high as ever on L&D leaders’ list of priorities – so much so that 93% want to increase learner engagement.
Why? It’s about far more than wanting to increase course completion rates; higher morale and productivity are the natural results of a more engaged workforce. In turn, this can influence broader business imperatives like profit margin and staff retention rates, as engaged employees are more likely to maintain strong work performance.
And the opportunity is there for L&D to be the catalyst for engagement, as today’s employees are hungrier to learn than many think, ready to embrace technology that allows them to learn in new ways.
So you need to think like a marketer to properly understand the needs and behaviours of your learners, before developing a solution that matches/aligns. What devices do learners use to access content inside and outside of work? Where and when are they most likely to engage with learning? What will your learners want to get out of the content?
For example, virtual or augmented reality can undoubtedly create immersive experiences, but if most of your workforce travels regularly and has only limited time, it may not be the most practical option.
To gather these insights, you could run focus groups and surveys to uncover what motivates your employees to learn, and identify the right solution. The key here is personalisation – not just another industry ‘buzzword’, but a vital opportunity for L&D to create customised learning paths that give learners access to relevant content at the point of need.
Closely related is the idea of self-directed learning, an essential part of L&D in the digital era. Research shows that millennials and Generation Z want independent learning opportunities, taking control of their own learning to access what they want, when they need it.
As younger generations are used to finding instant answers to everyday problems outside of work – think a YouTube video or ‘how do I’ Google search – they now expect similar responsiveness at work.
To put it simply, self-directed learning is the essence of a successful company culture. Giving employees ownership of their learning is empowering, allowing them to choose the most relevant content for their own career path. In this environment, learning becomes continuous; a second-nature part of everyday work.
By using the right tools and technology, making content easily accessible, and encouraging a learning culture that combines freedom with responsibility, learning professionals can encourage this ‘pull’ learning culture.
In practice, this could be by breaking down lengthy learning content into smaller microlearning modules or apps that can be accessed 24/7 via mobile – perfect for today’s flexible, agile workforce. Once these pillars are in place, learners will be empowered to make their own decisions about their learning paths.
In the modern workplace there is a strong demand for social learning experiences; over half of each generation values opportunities to collaborate with other learners. And this is a very positive sign! There’s a close link between collaboration and innovation, as shared spaces allow peers to bounce ideas off each other and come up with creative solutions to everyday problems.
And for organisations with a large, globally dispersed workforce, online communities allow learners across the world to connect, sharing local insights that may never have been discovered otherwise.
It’s imperative, therefore, that L&D offer virtual places that are open to all.
Forums or social platforms like Slack or Yammer can be used to build and cultivate online communities based on learning themes. These environments are perfect places for employees at all levels to share knowledge and ideas in a safe space.
Moderation is often identified as a barrier to effective social elearning, but it’s important that these communities are seen as open spaces without top-down interference. Once the conversation has been scaffolded with an initial post or question, it can be left to grow organically, with only occasional steering.
There are so many benefits that digital learning can bring to your organisation – I’ve really only touched the surface here! But even with the three I have focused on here, hopefully you can see why it’s so important to consider how it can work for you – and why it’s key to getting stakeholder buy-in in this era of transformation.
About the author
Stephanie Morgan is director of learning solutions at Bray Leino Learning