Digital learning has grown massively over the last decade, with many companies taking a blended approach to training their staff in both hard and soft skills. Tools such as webinars, podcasts, microblogging, eBooks, online lectures and tutorials are being leveraged to provide a consistent, easy to access and cost efficient way to deliver an organisation’s L&D initiatives.
These are the thoughts and takeaways from a Talent Think Tank held on Tuesday 20th March, hosted by Dr Satnam Sagoo (Director of Learning at the British Red Cross). This Think Tank explored the topic of “Adopting a Digital Mindset for Learning and Development”, whilst addressing the points below:
- What is most important to ensure successful adoption of a digital learning programme?
- What are the most common mistakes made when integrating digital learning, and how can they be avoided?
- How can sensitive material be portrayed in the right way on digital platforms to invoke an emotional response from multiple learners?
- What metrics can be used to measure the successful adoption and effectiveness of a digital learning initiative?
Getting the green light
With the average individual now spending much of their life hooked up to a smartphone, tablet device or computer, today’s workforce has a much higher level of technological literacy than past generations. There is a greater appreciation of the benefits of e-learning, when not so long ago it was seen by many as a fad and an inferior substitute for classroom learning.
There is still some resistance, but it is more likely to come from the business side in the form of budgetary considerations and a not unreasonable need to identify the key drivers first rather than roll out an initiative in a hurry. A focus on functionality and balancing digital learning with more traditional initiatives is essential for ensuring employee adoption and utilisation.
An understanding of the resources and tools available within digital L&D and e-learning remains central to securing business and employee buy-in.
Which digital learning platform?
Digital learning platforms come in many shapes and forms (including Cornerstone, Totara, My Learning Hub, Page Tiger, and Video Scribe), with Fuse currently having a lot of buzz about it and consequently the most discussed by this Think Tank. The points arising, both positive and negative, may apply to the other platforms in greater or lesser measure and are certainly worth considering when it comes to platform choice.
On the plus side, the curatorial approach is seen as less demanding, with no requirement for an instructional designer. Furthermore, practical simulations can be added or integrated. However, there is a point to be made about confidence in using this approach, whilst security and privacy are also potential issues.
Fuse can take about six months to move from signature of the contract to implementation. It is recommended that this time is used effectively to plan ahead for successful integration into general operations. This includes identifying priorities, as it is no use having a content library that is too large at the outset. Time should also be factored in for incremental testing, piloting and bug correction.
A key consideration with software purchasing is getting the balance right between longer-term and shorter-term packages. This may be informed by how much training needs to be performed regularly, e.g. to refresh skills like first aid. For businesses with staff based overseas, some training provision may be located overseas as part of development work.
Another factor a business may wish to consider in its choice of platform is whether it sees training as essential only to avoid risk, or if the pursuit of excellence is equally important and worth investing in. The former may yield cost savings but the latter may boost a business’s reputation within the industry and amongst its employees. Digital badges can be motivating, but only if employees see value in the training they are completing.
Avoiding common pitfalls
Although e-learning is viewed more favourably now than it once was, it can still come in for criticism. Employees are often suspicious of the “e-learning” tag, with reasons varying depending on prior experience. It may be seen as a cynical cost saving exercise, or felt that the content of such courses is excessive or not relevant to their needs; whilst others may feel that e-learning only scrapes the surface, and could be better expanded on in a classroom setting.
Improving the user experience of e-learning is vital to dispel such criticisms. Changing the digital culture has to be delivered in person, from high up in an organisation (i.e. change ambassadors), to promote interest and show why the training is necessary and beneficial. Open communication to staff about change, with separate engagements for each sub-community, is one way of achieving this.
Nonetheless, thought needs to be given as to whether a “one size fits all” system embraces diversity effectively and pitches itself at the right level of computer literacy for its audience. A well-constructed ‘needs analysis’ should identify clear learning pathways and the areas which require most support.
Clearly training records must be kept for compliance reasons, but employee feedback should not be seen only as a box ticking exercise. Careful use of analytics can determine whether the training achieved what it set out to do, and ensure future e-learning initiatives do not repeat otherwise avoidable mistakes. Key decision makers can be risk averse when it comes to approving changes to existing programmes, but may be swayed by analytics that illustrate a clear point.
First though there must be some consensus on expectations and meaningful measurements, i.e. alternative behaviours that are anticipated as a result of the training; and distinguishing between mandatory and learner-chosen learning goals. Next it is necessary to establish timeframes for the evaluation and when the anticipated change should have happened by.
Testing facilities within LMS/CMS may be useful for gathering feedback, though these tend to be binary/multiple choice. A survey can reveal an employee’s feelings about the training, but it might take a peer review with their line manager and/or colleagues to confirm whether the core learning has been taken on board in a demonstrable manner.
Ultimately, the success of a digital learning initiative can be measured over time against wider organisational factors. These may range from tracking people as they move into leadership roles, to seeing improved levels of staff retention. Creating a digital mindset for L&D won’t just happen overnight, but the return on investment is worth it for any business that takes the time and effort to see it done right.