L&D must embrace digital learning

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Written by Lynsey Whitmarsh on 21 May 2015 in Features

Silo thinking and uncertainty about how to proceed with digital learning present a real threat to the perceived relevance of L&D

The fact that almost every employee in every organisation has a smartphone or a tablet - and is accustomed to gaining instant access to information - has created a huge opportunity to provide digital learning and just-in-time performance support. In many organisations, there’s a tremendous appetite to access learning on-demand, anytime and anywhere. But according to recent research from the CIPD, 64 per cent of L&D professionals don’t have the capabilities to support learners online. If you can’t provide the right content in the format that people want to receive, you risk alienating your learners. Worse, you risk making your entire L&D department irrelevant.

L&D exists to ensure that individual employees have the skills and knowledge they need to be productive. Inherent in this is a constant need to think differently about the possibilities of delivering learning. Here are four steps that can help you to achieve this and enhance your digital learning capability:

1. Break out of your silo. Talk to your marketing and communications colleagues about how they’ve incorporated digital assets and how they utilise digital media. No doubt they’ll already have responded to the digital challenge they’ve faced, as they’ll have created an online presence for your organisation and they’ll be active in social media. As a result, they may be able to share best practice and give you some insights into how you can integrate digital resources and data to add value to your learning offering.

Also, rather than restricting your recruitment to L&D specialists, you should consider bringing people with digital skills into your department, to broaden your collective expertise. The L&D departments of the future are likely to include specialists in L&D, communications, marketing, digital media and graphic design. This mix of different skills will enable these departments to innovate and deliver to meet the changing needs of their organisations.

2. Get inspired. The CIPD’s research found that only 53 per cent of L&D professionals think that there are more diverse options for learning than running a training course. Many practitioners are simply too busy with their day jobs to think creatively about learning. And yet around us are examples of how technology interacts with our daily lives. The same trainers who can’t see beyond the possibilities of a training course will check an app on their way home to see if their train is on time! Why can’t L&D offer information and learning assets for people to access and use at the point of need?

Take your inspiration from the companies that are leading the market in digital learning. For example, at Hemsley Fraser, we’ve created a microsite, called The Vault, which showcases all of our best-in-class learning interventions, including our digital work. Looking at how other organisations have maximised the value from digital learning can help you to replicate their successes.

Of course, there’ll still be a place for face-to-face training, particularly if it is experiential or based around skills practice. But L&D teams must recognise that there are now many other ways to impart learning and to excite people and stimulate their interest and curiosity.

3. Make your learning assets accessible. A wide range of digital learning options are now available, including online courses, virtual instructor-led training, webinars, digital books, learning apps, infographics, TED talks, YouTube videos, animations and ‘telestrations’. Each of these can be used as a standalone resource or they can be combined in many different ways to support and enhance your learning and development interventions.

The problem with having so much choice is that L&D teams can be caught like a rabbit in headlights, unsure of how to proceed. Help may be required to determine exactly which digital learning options will meet your specific needs. It’s not as a simple as shoehorning your classroom content into an online course. The ‘right approach’ will depend on the learning requirements and on your openness to the possibilities.

Try to give people flexibility in how they learn. Start by getting as many of your materials as you can online, even if they’re only pdf or Word documents. Make them searchable and easily accessible. Then you can start to curate digital content such as relevant infographics, TED talks and YouTube videos.

The great advantage of digital resources is that they can be developed and updated rapidly. In time, you’ll be able to offer your own ‘pick and mix’ menu of learner-centric options that employees can utilise before, during, after or even instead of classroom training, depending on the need. In the same way that you choose what apps, music or other content you want to put onto your smartphone or tablet, learners should be able to choose which digital options and assets will suit them and the way they want to learn. Remember, you can easily monitor which options have been used by which learners. That’s useful for evaluation purposes and it can also help you to further understand individual learning preferences.

4. Create a buzz. L&D teams are sometimes guilty of being overly-prescriptive. Today’s learners are accustomed to self-directed learning, as they’re used to finding whatever they need online. Ask them what learning resources would be useful to them. Create a discussion forum on your intranet, run focus groups and get people talking about what they expect from learning. Also, get feedback on the digital assets you’re providing. This should help you to set priorities, review your content and it will also show that you’re taking proactive steps to meet the needs of your learners.

Silo thinking and uncertainty about how to proceed with digital learning present a real threat to the perceived relevance of L&D. However, with an open mindset, a belief in the potential of digital assets and the courage and vision to try something new, L&D teams can fight back and meet the different needs and expectations of learners. Embracing digital learning is key to becoming fit for the future.


About the author

Lynsey Whitmarsh is head of digital and innovation at learning and development specialist Hemsley Fraser. She can be contacted via lynsey.whitmarsh@hemsleyfraser.co.uk. Hemsley Fraser has published a white paper to help L&D teams support learners online. Digitally Minded: Are you Fit for the Future? is freely available here.  


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