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The Truth About Digital Learning

How does your experience of digital learning compare with others? Which technologies are really working in L&D and which are just hype or wishful thinking? In this age of ‘fake news’ David Wilson, CEO of Europe’s #1 HR and learning analyst, Fosway Group, explores the truth about digital learning in 2018.

Learning and development is quick to jump on new tools and technologies. But if 21 years as an analyst in the industry has taught me anything, it’s that actually implementing and realising the potential of the latest technology is a slow process – if it even happens at all.

We are however, teetering on the edge of digital transformation. Not just within learning, but organisations as a whole. Stakeholders across the board are demanding services that are more accessible, more online, more agile and more impactful. And just as banks, retailers and other business functions such as marketing have become digitally led, so must L&D fully embrace the digital revolution.

And so, we have the term ‘digital learning’. This follows in the footsteps of CBT, e-learning, blended learning etc. But is it more of the same dressed up as something different? Or is digital learning genuinely offering something different? There is no doubt that the opportunities and challenges offered by next generation learning technologies are very real. But how well L&D grasps the implications that new tools, channels and platforms can have on learners and their ability to impact organisational goals, remains to be seen.

What does it mean?

One of the fundamental challenges is that digital learning and the concept of ‘being digital’ means different things to different people. At Fosway, we know from our ongoing research that many find it too ambiguous as a label. But if we step back and examine how it is different to what’s been done before, it’s clearly a far bigger and more complex shift for L&D. Being digital isn’t just about taking face-to-face training content and turning it into e-learning. We know that this has created poor expectations from users of e-learning content that can be one-dimensional and unengaging. Meanwhile, learning platforms geared towards administrators and which don’t focus on user experience are being consigned to the backwaters. It’s time for a change in mindset.

Drivers for digital learning

And this change is coming in the form of more consumer-led, engaging learning experiences. The 2017 Digital Learning Realities research, conducted with over 1,100 learning professionals in partnership with Learning Technologies, showed increasing demand for video content (77%), mobile (76%) and user generated content (68%). And the need for access remains strong, with 96% of organisations increasing or maintaining their use of the LMS. But not all LMS’s are created equal, which is seeing Next Gen Learning Environments (NGLEs) increasing in popularity, harnessing features including mobile (74%), focus on learner engagement (74%) and enabling social and collaborative learning (71%).  Meanwhile, despite the hype surrounding virtual reality, gamification and MOOCs, these solutions have yet to go mainstream and are still only really being explored by a few corporate organisations.

But next generation technologies are no good without the right strategy. L&D needs to stop thinking about the learner journey from beginning to end. It is better to think of it as a non-linear, ongoing cycle. Small chunks of change rather than a neat ‘start to finish’ process. And this is born out by the top five key drivers around digital learning focus on increasing availability (87%), the agility and speed of learning (84%), learner engagement (83%), efficiency of delivery (81%) and increasing flexibility (80%). The pace of business has increased, as has the desire for more personalised and more ‘on demand’ learning – L&D has a pivotal role to play in helping people keep up.

The other truth about digital learning is of course, that the sky is not the limit. Just because great new technology exists and 90% of organisations expect to increase or maintain their investment into digital learning –  doesn’t mean that there are no constraints around budget. As analysts, we are often asked how much organisations should invest in digital learning. A question to which there is no easy answer of course. But spending more does not guarantee that learning will generate more impact of value than spending a little. However, with 41% of organisations citing a digital learning budget of less than £100k, it seems there is still too low a level of investment overall.

Look closely at supply options

Whether your budget is small or large, buyers need to re-think existing supply chains and how best to meet the demands of digital transformation. Many providers in the market are broadening service offerings with mobile, social, blended, gamification and portal solutions to supplement digital learning projects. Keep an eye on disruptive providers in the market. Much of the innovation in digital learning is being developed by vendors outside the traditional e-learning market. Meanwhile, the acquisition and consolidation of established suppliers continues. This is not a market that is standing still.

Discover the truth about digital learning for yourself in the results of this year’s Digital Learning Realities research.

This article, written by Fosway’s CEO, David Wilson, first appeared in Checkpoint e-Learning.

Discover the results of this year’s Digital Learning Realities research