E-mail - claudine@blendedlearningstudio.com
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Child using an augmented reality goggles to view new technology
Image of a young girl using a virtual reality goggles as part of an article on online digital learning
Photo by Giu Vicente

Online & Digital Learning: Love or Hate it?

Part 2 of 3 article series

This is the second article in the 3 part article series on online and digital learning. In the first article, I discussed my first experiences of online and digital learning and why many organisations fail to make digital learning stick. In this article, I’ve come up with 14 reasons why learning and development professionals should embrace digital learning but I think I could find more:

  • Digitalisation, Personalisation and Customer Experience are a few of the global business trends that have arisen, as a result of globalisation and the growing population size, use of technology and changes in working environments and consumerism.  These are examples of the challenges that many global organisations are facing not only with their customers but with their employees, who in many cases are also their customers.  So as L&D professionals, the challenges that stem from the global trends mentioned will impact our work; as we need to support organisations to respond to those changes, we need to consider how we personalise learning, embrace new technology while delivering excellent customer experience.  We need to mirror, be responsive, commercially aware and position ourselves as strategic partners, so we can respond to the emerging trends and how their impact filters throughout our organisations. 
  • Digital learning helps organisations to embrace equality, diversity and inclusion of learning. Within truly global organisations, digital learning improves connectivity and addresses any bespoke or outlier learning needs in a cost-effective way.  I’ve worked for a global and truly diverse organisation spanning LaTAM to APAC; with employees working in lone satellite offices; with employees working in LATAM region who are non – English speakers and even worked in Asia-Pacific with learners main preference was for group face-to-face cohorts.  Working in these organisations, we had to use a range of learning methods to meet learners needs and preferences; and digital learning provided a diverse spectrum of learning options. Digital learning improves accessibility, flexible working, and addressed bespoke or outlier learning needs in a cost-effective way.
  • As learning professionals, we need to provide learners with a diverse range of learning methods that meet different preferences and reflect how people currently engage with content especially with the growth of people using smartphones, social media and gaming.  I appreciate that gaming isn’t learning but it can be useful for testing and meets learners where they are amongst other things. 
  • Digital learning has made great strides in innovative technology, especially with the use of AI and virtual simulations. There are some great examples produced AI virtual simulations that are being used to create safe, risk-free environments for people to practice essential work such as in industries such as aviation, medicine and construction.  Virtual Simulations have been used with amputees to help them to learn how to use their new prosthetics and in the rail industry for health and safety training to replicate dangerous work scenarios in a realistic way.  A young family member’s friend became an aircraft pilot playing on an aircraft simulation that his dad bought him when he was young.  As a young black boy from a poor area of East London, he was miles away from ever having the chance to become proficient at flying an aircraft without using a simulation!!
  • Our workforce has changed its workforce patterns even before the Covid-19 lockdown.  Many employees work completely remotely and there are organisations that have real flexible working community.  Providing a range of learning solutions and that includes digital learning ensures that all employees regardless of their working patterns, locations or personal circumstances can engage in learning.  Using a range of learning methods including digital learning ensures that everyone engages in learning. Some organisations have a dispersed workforce who work long hours and can’t engage in learning. I experienced working with employees in organisations that could be deployed to an overseas client assignment in the middle of a learning programme. Having a flexible programme that included digital learning helped these learners to stay on board, included and increased completions.
  • Management consultancies and research institutes regularly release YouTube videos on the World in 30 – 50 years and these predictions are usually surprisingly correct.  Most recent videos have shown how the world, as we know it will be influenced by emerging technology.  Most recently, 5G will have an impact on the world and we should embrace and learn about these innovations to identify how we can use them.
  • Digital learning can also break language barriers in global organisations, so we deliver consistent messages, learning and access to those who are speakers of different languages. I worked in an organisation where this was the case, English was the business language but some employees didn’t speak one of the top five spoken languages but being truly inclusion, everyone is hired on their skills and what they all to the organisation.  Some learners also had a preference and a right to learn in their mother-tongue.  Digital learning enabled the company to hire native speakers for virtual lessons, without having to fly the trainers out to remote locations, as well as enabling our team to produce various digital learning products.  
  • Over the past years, there have been so many changes in regulations especially in banking and those changes are constantly happening.  All organisations need to perform large roll-outs of GDPR changes in recent years, which would have hit organisations with high employee numbers unexpectedly.  Even in the US during 2017, organisations needed to perform large expensive roll-outs of diversity training, following the Starbucks employee scandal.  Digital learning obviously aids the roll-out of large compliance programmes and I believe it’s great to deliver information.  Especially with diversity training, I personally believe that if someone has held certain beliefs about a particular group their whole life, corporate training sessions won’t change them but the content can be used to inform the employee about the company’s belief system about those groups and what’s deemed unacceptable. 
  • Digital learning helps to scale learning but not lessen the impact.  For example, I worked at another global learning organisation with around 150,000 UK and Ireland workforce and a large 120 central L&D team but only making up 0.0008% of the workforce, not including 3rd party providers.  There was great senior management engagement in learning, we provided face-to-face learning on every programme and it was recommended that all employees participated in at least one learning programme each year.  Most employees were not based on their work location.  As a result, every learning designer in the team was tasked with providing a comprehensive learning experience and fully utilising the time spent in face-to-face learning for their allocated business areas.  However, each designer couldn’t have successfully delivered comprehensive learning programmes to a workforce of that size without exploiting digital learning.
  • Digital learning is a trend that learners are embracing in and outside of work with people learning online with companies such as Reed learning, LinkedIn learning, Udemy and most people have viewed a how-to video on YouTube but doesn’t mean the learners won’t need to attend a face-to-face programme at a later date for some topics but it gives learners a starting point to build from.
  • Great design encourages learning engagement. Some people hate classroom learning and feeling exposed.  I worked with learners who’ve experienced anxiety and disliked learning due to early experiences at school.  I agree that learning professionals should be trained in how to develop a conducive environment for all learners and our roles involve helping employees to embrace and enjoy learning.  And I feel that digital learning can facilitate changes in learner perceptions of the typical classroom learning, demonstrates that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom or even in a digital learning platform.  With the right design, it can reflect how learners learn everyday outside of work, creates learning fans and improves responsiveness to learning. 
  • Using a range of learning methods ensures that we achieve an absolute blend of methods, as we can make L&D interesting for learners and professionals with variety. 
  • Digital learning is cost-effective, as I’ve ever experienced using digital learning as a taster to allow people to engage in courses to see if it’s what they need before forking out
  • Learning is unfortunately not always a strategic priority at times, especially during times of economic change when funds are prioritised for other areas in the business.  Using a range of cost-effective learning methods ensures L&D professionals can maintain their learning provision and accessible for employees, even if budgets are cut.  Personally, I’ve experienced this even having a budget cut by 80%. 

Face to face learning is always required in every learning organisation, especially as learning is about the application in the workplace and mirroring employee’s work scenarios and for the majority of people that tends to happen face-to-face.   We need in-person learning for those challenging discussions, observation, relationship building, engagement, visibility and to observe and learn from others through their facial and bodily cues.

Learner maturity means that people can be facilitated to learn online.  Digital learning gives learning professionals more tools in our toolbox to work with, which adds to our credibility and ability to solve complex client situations.  We can certainly repurpose content into digital learning products, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel but you always need to go back to the design process and question the impact of the changes on customer experience and if it’s possible to replicate it and still be effective. If we can’t meet the learners need through digital learning, we should force it to fit, as the digital learning won’t serve it purpose and people won’t engage. The phrase “putting lipstick on a pig” comes to mind.

In the next article, I share examples of successful online and digital learning initiatives from personal experiences successfully implementing learning.

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