Online & Digital Learning: Love or Hate it?

Part 1 of 3 article series

First experience of e-learning at work

Online and digital learning, commentators and learning practitioners seem to either love or hate it.  I was in the latter camp for years and this dislike for digital learning stemmed from the first inceptions of organisational e-learns that I experienced.  These e-learns were ugly standalone learning physical platforms like slot machines or arcade games, which were introduced in organisations to save money. 

One organisation that I knew in the early 2000s purchased one of those physical platforms for a ridiculous amount of their budget, as they thought employees would welcome the idea of accessible, anytime learning and stand in front of these platforms to learn.  But they didn’t use the platform and the organisation only purchased one machine for a thousand employees. 

Learning teams and innovation

Even with advancements in digital learning in later years, I still hated digital learning feeling as though L&D teams were short-changing their learners when they rolled these platforms out across their organisations. 

I felt like many that these learning teams were jumping on the bandwagon of the latest trend to be seen as innovative and strategic business partners with their cost-efficiencies, saving valuable money to their organisations.  

I believe that using the words “innovative” and “strategic” reveals this behaviour comes from a good place and is likely due to many of our senior stakeholders wanting and expecting us to demonstrate “value for money” and “advancement” towards the latest innovation to improve our performance at work.  Implementing digital learning can feel like one of the easiest ways to respond because it’s trending in the L&D industry. 

However, even though it’s the easiest response, it doesn’t make it the best solution.  We always need to lead by finding solutions to organisational problems that are valid and based on evidence, rather than on trends as this leads to better outcomes and generates more respect from our stakeholders in the future. 

Online and digital learning design approach

In the past, I’ve worked with stakeholders and teams to develop solutions that on first observation may be perceived as very simple and easy to implement. And I’ll hold my hands up and say that some of the solutions that I have suggested are not the most innovative or expensive response but my clients have always been pleased, it’s the right solution based on the evidence that I’ve gathered. 

I never try to use innovative solutions, if it’s unnecessary, whereas some blanket bomb all learning and try to make it innovative.  Many organisation issues are complex and they did additional resourcing and budgeting but there are some that are easy to resolve with very simple solutions. 

However, over the years, I’ve learnt to respect digital learning for all that it brings to the learning environment.   With that point in mind; I wanted to share some of the reasons why I feel digital learning in my mind goes wrong below. Then later in this article series, I want to share the 14 reasons why I feel learning teams should embrace digital and online learning methods and then lastly, I’ll share how I feel digital learning can be used effectively within organisations.

Where implementing digital and online learning solutions can go wrong!!

By definition, digital learning is using technology to deliver learning solutions and they can be in the format of simulations, interactive PDF’s, e-books, virtual group meetings and learning session tools such as webinars (live or recorded), e-learns, m-learns, learning resources platforms, videos to name a few.  Digital learning comes in a number of different formats and they don’t all appear to be typically digital on the first inspection but it’s useful if you compare them to face-to-face learning in your comparison. 

Digital learning has changed and become more effective over the past 10 years and it’s one area in L&D that continuously innovates and changes.   I don’t oppose L&D team’s rolling out digital learning.  I believe that the reason why digital learning is often criticised is due to how digital learning is implemented in organisations.     

When rolling out a new digital learning initiative, learning teams really benefit from support their digital designers.  However, many digital designers don’t have the same insight on the client’s learning needs and their organisation compared to the L&D team that supports those teams. 

So, it’s really important that learning designers are supported with the correct information, analysis, design, design stakeholders, so they can build tailored impactful learning solutions for that organisation. L&D teams need to be all over the learning design process and partner to deliver the learning outcomes. 

What’s more, all projects stakeholders / internal clients need to put the learner and their application at the heart of the design to ensure that they are solution- focused and not latching onto the latest trends.  One example from personal experience, was when a stakeholder asked me to design a podcast series on procurement techniques.  I listened to his solution but then asked if I could go back to the beginning, so I could understand the problem that he was trying to address and solve for the business.  

But he was then very dismissive and implied that I was making things more difficult than they needed to be and stated that L&D “isn’t rocket science”, then instantly blanked me for the rest of the time that I worked on the project, luckily my team were supportive as they understood the process and a narrative that I was trying to obtain.  I still challenge appropriately where I can, as I want to understand team’s and the business challenges to come up with the best solutions. 

However, since my default approach is to try to unpick and understand the issue that teams are trying to solve, you’ll appreciate that I don’t believe that digital learning should be default solution and we should not use it indiscriminately in learning teams.  It’s effectiveness comes from its application, which I cover in the final section of this article as digital learning does have its uses.  

In the next article in this series, I’ll share 14 reasons why I feel learning teams should embrace digital and online learning methods.

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