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How to underpin your learning strategy with technology

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4th Jun 2014
Learning analyst
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In the third part of this serialisation of the Towards Maturity New Learning Agenda, MD Laura Overton revisits the role technology plays in modernising learning strategy, the mistakes that are made and how to avoid them.

L&D professionals are being bombarded with new technology options every day. It feels like we are being fed a constant diet of elearning, mlearning or social-learning and it can often feel that we are just drowning in an alphabet soup of LMS, BYOD, MOOCs!

Yet our expectation about what technology can help us achieve is at an all-time high. In part 1 of this serialisation of the New Learning Agenda we saw that over 90% of L&D professionals are looking to technology to help them but not everyone is achieving the impact they crave. In part 2 we looked at the way top learning companies are reinventing the ways they are building skills and talent. It is clear that L&D teams are waking up to the need to measure and understand the impact of their learning initiatives, whilst at the same time reaping the rewards of technology with faster time to competency and all the business advantage that comes with that.

No organisation can be in any doubt as to the potential of technology to support and drive change. For some, the options can be overwhelming. For others, placing too much emphasis on what the technology can do provides its own problems. In both instances understanding how learning technology aligns with business strategy becomes critical.

Visit any L&D conference and you are likely to be dazzled by what the technology vendors offer. It is truly amazing what we can now do on our different devices and it is hard not to get seduced by the latest ‘new shiny’.

But we have to make sure we are not seduced. This is not about bolting a mobile learning solution on to your current learning offering. This is about understanding the fundamentals of how people work and how technology-enabled learning can support that to deliver any time, any place, anywhere learning.

Any time any place working

We know that flexible working patterns have been made possible by cloud and mobile technologies, but learning has yet to follow suit. Our data shows that fewer than the 20% of organisations that have introduced mobile learning are seeing the benefit, despite 71% of organisations now using mobile technology.

However, only 30% of L&D offer learning through the cloud, which holds the key to supporting learning anytime and anywhere. Despite the fact that technology is driving new ways of working, L&D teams are failing to respond quickly enough to the opportunities.

So how do you choose your technology wisely? How do you think about personalisation? How do you address flexible working patterns?

Our latest research shows that top learning companies take a meaningful, strategic approach to learning technology. Decisions are driven by what they need to achieve, not what they might achieve with a new shiny toy!

They start with what is possible and actively build a greater awareness of the IT systems in their organisation and better relationships with the IT department and this close working relationship delivers many benefits.

For example, compared with the average companies in our research, top learning companies are twice as likely to know what technology-enabled learning their IT systems can deliver to help them make informed decisions.

Importantly, they are also three times more likely to influence wider policies around technology use. A good relationship with IT will help influence the wider IT strategy, providing many more opportunities for them to see a far greater impact from technology-enabled learning.

Pursue simplicity

Meanwhile, L&D professionals are using 57% more technologies in their learning design than five years ago. The learning management systems continue to sit at the heart of the learning technology ecosystem. Yet learners still struggle to find what they need.

Clearly there are real challenges here for L&D teams. Technology moves on apace and organisations are desperately trying to keep up. Meanwhile, there is such a wide range of learning technologies available that L&D teams also need time to understand what could work. Simply bolting on new technologies will only seek to confuse learners unless you have crystal-clear access to all the options.

Apply technology to core strategy

Instead of bolt-on approaches, we need to seek ways of applying technologies to enhance the core of our learning strategy. For example:

  • Enhancing formal learning design: although seven out of ten organisations are using self-paced elearning courses or virtual learning environments, only 22% are blending their use of several different learning technologies in learning design (from social media for collaboration to content delivery) and only 19% are using learning technologies to simulate the work environment for assessment.

  • Support individual career aspirations and help integrate these with talent strategies: Fewer than three in five are using either skills diagnostic tools or competency management systems.

  • Supporting collaboration and learning in the workflow: Less than half of us are using communities of practice or internal social media sites.

It is incumbent on L&D teams to understand learning technologies and how they can support both business goals and new ways of working. The desire is there - our data shows many L&D professionals would like to be able to spend more time investigating innovative solutions.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Our evidence shows that top learning companies are the ones that prioritise learning technology by aligning it with business goals. So what are they doing that we can learn from?

Over the past 10 years, Towards Maturity has been gathering evidence from over 2,900 organisations to answer that question and have consolidated our findings in the Towards Maturity Benchmark. Every year, L&D leaders can use the Benchmark Study to review their current technology-enabled learning strategy, comparing their approach with peers and use the results to define their next actions.

So if you are currently struggling to make sense of how technology can underpin your strategy, why not take some time to use the benchmark study to reflect on the great practices of others to inform the development of your own.

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