If, like many of your L&D peers, employees in your organisation tell you they prefer classroom training, it’s important to understand their preference in relation to the perceived alternatives. I say this because I don’t know anybody who hasn’t had their perception of online learning tarnished by some dreadfully tedious and wholly ineffective e-learning at some point or another. But before you go searching for better e-learning, it’s important to also recognise employee preferences, not only in relation to ‘learning’ but to the work itself. This is because very few people will tell you they don’t like web-search or they don’t use it when they need help, both inside and outside of the office.
There is a critical distinction here between online ‘learning content’ and online ‘support’. The former requires time dedicated to an immersive learning experience and presupposes that work will be halted until said ‘training’ has been completed. The latter requires a temporary halt in the activity of work in the search for additional insight, expertise or know-how that can be immediately applied to the work itself. In this regard, it’s not ‘learning’ at all – not until it’s put into practice, at least.
So, the first step in making the transition from an over-reliance on face-to-face training is to reframe how technology is used to support employees in their work not in their learning.
Supporting employees with their work rather than their learning introduces the first of 4 principles of Digital L&D that underpin the transition to self-directed ‘learning’.
Digital Principle #1: Engaging
In digital L&D, without engagement you have nothing.
Engaging your employees means them choosing to access your digital content and remaining interested enough for it to resonate with them.
And why do you want your content to resonate with them? Because if it doesn’t resonate then it can’t positively affect the work.
To be engaging, your digital L&D solution needs to be where your workers are physically and mentally. Physically, they are going to be at their desktop or on-the-go – so you need to be wherever they are – which means it must be accessible on mobile. Mentally, you need to be addressing challenges they are facing in their working – and the best way to understand this is to explore this with them. Talk to them. Understand and address their priorities. Find out what questions they have about the work they are doing; the things they’re trying to get done; and gaps in their capability to do so. Help them to do what they want to do but better. Have them articulate what they want to be doing better so that you can know what you’ve provided for them has worked and delivered results.
When a solution is sought from elsewhere other than the workers themselves, a clear articulation of the business performance goal that is to be achieved, by the workers (with support from L&D), is critical. Without engaging those workers in the goal, access to capability is unlikely to result in better working. So, articulate the goal and link the goal to the day-to-day responsibilities of the workers.
The majority of workers today are motivated to do their jobs better and faster as well as improve their professional prospects. Addressing these motivations will lead to engagement in your Digital L&D.
Digital Principle #2: Agile By Design
Agile is at risk of being dismissed as just another buzzword in L&D but it is an approach that is permeating business and – supported by the right technology – fundamentally improving the way that teams deliver results.
In respect of L&D, Agile means building with and for the client, exploring their work challenges and what it means to overcome them. This takes the first step (Engaging) to the next level in knowing the context in which support is designed and drawing on relevant expertise to help improve the performance of your client. Today, context trumps content in every organisation. Google has solved the content problem but how to successfully operate and get things done at your organisation is one that still requires the attention of L&D.
Agile Design means you can operate at speed, lowering the risk of wasting time, money and energy, and increasing the chances of improving every day performance without delay.
Digital Principle #3: Digital Resources Before Courses
Moving at speed to address performance and capability gaps does not mean the design and delivery of any kind of course in a hurry. In a similar way to how the very best web-search results can supply us with more competence and confidence to do what we want (from having a difficult conversation to laying a garden patio), Agile Design focuses on providing digital resources. These can best be described as internal expertise packaged up as articles, checklists, video instruction or interviews, that address specific work challenges. When focusing on what already engages hundreds of millions of people to undertake billions of web-searches every day, we know that packaged expertise in usable formats help us to lean on others’ expertise for the benefit of our own activities – both inside work and outside of work.
Google and YouTube require no external motivators (mandated completion, gamification, leaderboards, etc.) to engage users. Just intuitive user-interfaces, smart search functionality and relevant content.
Your digital resources could simply be short text-based articles, checklists, video insights produced on smartphones, flowcharts or desktop screen-recordings. But regardless of the format, they take what your internal ‘experts’ know and do to address the real work challenges of your clients.
Digital Principle #4: Use Data & Analytics To Measure What Matters
Rather than being an afterthought (or last on this list of Digital Principles), data and analytics overlay this whole approach. Client data should be used to test any assumptions L&D have about employee performance priorities that need addressing, as well as the focus of the individual resources to be built. This can be done by engaging your target audience before you build your solution. Mock-up what it might cover and collect data on potential take-up; what needs to be included; and whether it’s anticipated that it will lead to better working.
Once you have your green light to progress (because you know that it is needed and will likely lead to better working), then you will put your resources into the hands of an expectant and welcoming audience. Analyse their engagement to see what your audience actually does when they land in your resources.
Across Looop clients, the average number of resources hit in one visit is 5 (every time) and we’re able to see the user journey to understand what’s working and what needs more attention.
You should be analysing data on how useful a resource is, in relation to the work, and then (finally but most importantly) collecting data on the impact of your efforts on the work itself:
Have your resources resulted in better working?
Find this information out from the employees themselves, their teams, clients, customers and stakeholders.
In short, ‘better’ e-learning is unlikely to result in workers’ preferences shifting from face-to-face training to online learning. Thinking beyond the provision of ‘learning content’ and more towards supporting employees with overcoming their work challenges will lead to greater engagement and the potential refocus of L&D from course providers to integral business performance enablers.
When it’s acknowledged that ‘learning’ rarely occurs in classes it takes its rightful place in the workflow and then support can be designed to affect better working and facilitate real moments of learning and development for the benefit of both employees and the organisation.
David James is Digital Learning Strategist with Looop and a seasoned Talent Management, Learning & OD leader with nearly 20 years of experience in the field. Most notably, David was Director of Talent, Learning & OD for The Walt Disney Company’s EMEA region.
Looop help their clients all over the world to digitally transform their L&D and capitalise on how people really want to learn today with a platform that is renowned for its extraordinary levels of learner engagement.