Partnership Manager and Academic Engagement Lead FutureLearn
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Digital learning: how L&D can make the most of technology

18th Mar 2019
Partnership Manager and Academic Engagement Lead FutureLearn
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digital learning
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Digital technology offers many advantages for L&D professionals, enabling them to deliver training more efficiently, to the right people at the best possible time. Here’s how to maximise your success using the tools available.  

What does it take to develop a successful L&D strategy during digital transformation? To start with, L&D professionals are ahead of the game in many ways. 

L&D as a profession recognises that lifelong learning is a necessary part of a career, and that a diploma is simply not enough to sustain the skills that every worker will need to develop to succeed in the workplace. 

For workers and employers, this trend is only accelerating. AlphaBeta’s Future Skills Report, commissioned by Google, predicts that the percentage of learning that takes place after age 21 will increase from 20% to 41% by 2040. 

The challenge has always been how to support learners by delivering this training at the right time, and in the right format, for a workforce that is constantly shifting and that may be completely decentralised, working from a home office.

All of this makes online learning a natural ‘fit’ for L&D departments — especially those working with a large number of employees or across multiple locations. 

One of the key advantages of learning online is the ability to access material on demand any time of day anywhere around the world.

Responding to workforce expectations

Increasingly, employees share the value of lifelong learning. They know they will need to learn new skills and capabilities, and they expect to develop these where they do much of their learning already: online.

This attitude is particularly stark in younger cohorts. A recent study by Pearson found that the majority of Generation Z prefers learning from YouTube and videos rather than printed books, and 55% say that YouTube has contributed to their education. 

The most recent report from the US Department of Education confirmed that online learning continues to grow as a portion of all higher education, with roughly one third of all students enrolled either exclusively on to an online course (15%) or on to some online courses (18%).

Ultimately, it is about matching the needs of an organisation to the advantages of digital learning. 

Outside of formal higher education, the demand for online learning is even clearer. 

By 2018, more than 100 million learners had enrolled on a massive open online course (MOOC) with platforms like FutureLearn, Coursera, and edX. 

The top subjects by number of courses were business and technology, and the most popular courses consistently included career-focused areas like English language skills for the workplace, machine learning, coding languages, and data analysis. 

While many learners are seeking these out independently, providers are increasingly working directly with employers to provide the right courses at the right time.

Finding the digital tool to suit your needs

For most L&D departments, delivering learning online isn’t new. 

According to a recent LinkedIn Learning report, more than two thirds of employees prefer to learn at work and 58% prefer to learn at their own pace. 

Not surprisingly, 90% of companies now offer some form of digital learning, and there is a rapidly expanding pool of digital tools and resources. 

For some companies it may make sense for online learning to be a supplement to traditional materials like books and face-to-face training or collaboration. Some teams might choose to schedule discussion sessions for online courses, effectively creating a blended learning experience. 

At its best, online learning can allow collaboration across teams that otherwise would not have the chance to interact. 

Organisations can choose to develop their own courses, license or adapt existing content, or give employees a range of options that have been approved to meet a wider set of priorities.

Ultimately, it is about matching the needs of an organisation to the advantages of digital learning. 

For example, introducing a new company-wide strategy to a global workforce is probably best suited to a customised online course, where workers can learn asynchronously but within a specific timeframe, and the organisation can track engagement and assessment outcomes. 

What social learning means for L&D

Most organisations readily accept the benefits of online learning for scale and cost-effectiveness, but what about training that requires collaboration and conversation? What about the benefits of networking across an organisation? 

One of the key differentiators in digital tools is the capacity for social learning. In other words, whether or not they consider the benefits of networked interaction and learning from others in their design.

For example, consider the benefits of an online course that introduces an upcoming new regulation and allows for conversation and collaboration across a company. 

Learners can help each other develop their understanding of the regulation and its impact, and can raise areas of vulnerability or opportunity for the company that might not surface in either decentralised face-to-face groups or digital training that only acts as a deliverer of content. 

At its best, online learning can allow collaboration across teams that otherwise would not have the chance to interact. 

It can also facilitate networking in a way that opens up connections beyond those formed in the physical workplace. 

In the process, it can enhance the learning experience, foster a sense of belonging, and uncover hidden value that already sits within the organisation.

Interested in this topic? You may also want to read Four ways to avoid disappointment in your digital learning programme
 

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