Within the L&D industry, digital transformation has rapidly been growing as a topic. Over time we have delved into it, discussed it with experts in the field and built up a picture about what it is and, along the way, have become fascinated by the challenges it presents and the creative solutions the industry are devising.
And, right now, it is more relevant than ever. Today, in these challenging times, companies have been forced through a digital transformation. They will no doubt have had it on their radar for a while, and maybe they were already working towards it or nervously trying to avoid it, but, now, there has been no escape from it. It has had to happen.
But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy, or that companies have miraculously found all their answers to their worries and concerns. No, due to a lack of time for planning, they have had to take a lot on faith.
But we see it as an exciting time. Let’s explore digital transformation through the lens of today’s current climate and break down the challenges, the solutions and how to address the future.
Though digital transformation has always presented challenges (what change doesn’t?), there are specific types of challenges that have come about due to the effects of Covid-19 on businesses, and have been felt across all sectors. These changes fit into the following areas: learners, engagement, quality and speed.
The learners have changed. Not only has the size of groups changed – some L&D professionals have trained groups in the 100s – but learners are now training under completely new circumstances: they are in new environments, remote from the trainer; they are juggling personal and professional responsibilities, and they are having to deal with the anxieties and uncertainties of the times. L&D professionals have had to ask: What do they need? What do they want? How can we help them?
The training methods have also changed. Face-to-face and classroom-based styles have had to be abandoned, leaving many L&D professionals asking the question: how do you recreate it without losing the benefits, such as discussions; engaging, interactive group activities, or the warm, conversational and familiar style of the face-to-face approach? In summary – how do we keep the learner engaged?
Naturally, no one wants to lose the quality of their training. They want to create content that is cost-effective but also effective at its task – to teach, to impart knowledge. But is it possible to do that quickly and to budget?
Speed has been a necessity during these times, but how do we re-create these materials quickly, whilst still meeting the quality and the learners’ needs?
They say creativity comes when you let go of your certainties, and that can be said to be true here: with no certainties, it has freed us up to look for, and see, the possibilities.
The industry has had to think short-term, and many companies have had to temporarily abandon their long-term plans, which means they have had to come up with ‘quick and dirty’ solutions. Here are some of the practical solutions that we’ve seen.
As a way of meeting the learners’ needs, L&D professionals have been putting themselves in their shoes. They are forgetting how they train and learn in their organisations, and instead thinking about how they learn in their personal lives. What do we do if we want to read up on a topic we are interested in, or quickly learn a practical skill? We turn to the wide range of resources available on the internet and choose the most useful type. And many companies have been doing the same – they are using TED Talks, YouTube videos, articles, and ready-to-go e-learning content, whichever is most suitable to the learning.
And not only has this met the learners’ needs, but it has saved time and added to the engagement factor as well.
Many companies have had to overcome any reluctance or disbelief about what can be achieved with digital technology. They have had to open their eyes and search for the technological tools which will help them meet their needs, and there are a lot out there. There is Articulate Storyline 360, for creating e-learning SCORM content, and collaboration tools, such as Linoit and Mural, which can be used in interactive activities. Video conference technology, such as Zoom, allows for online discussion groups, and social platforms such as WorkPlace, Yammer and Teams, allow the social aspect and are great places to share information across a business.
But despite the uncertainty and anxiety, there has been a lot of delight in these discoveries as they have discovered so much more is possible than they originally thought.
Our new working arrangements allow us to be flexible, and the learning has to reflect that. With no opportunity to offer full day workshops, and the understanding that no one wants to sit at home having to do training for a day, the length and duration of the training came into question.
A popular solution has been a combination of the various resources discussed above, and bite-size chunks of content. Bite-size chunks allows the learner to dip in and out with ease, as well as focus on the topic they need. It asks of a different style from the trainer though, as it forces them to think and write in a different way; it really makes them consider exactly what is important in their training and question what is the purpose and point that they are trying to get across.
Overall, we’ve had to change our mindset, especially ‘I can’t do that in a virtual way’, and embracing these new approaches is proof that we can. It may have been difficult, but for many, they haven’t had a choice. This situation is forcing all of us rethink and reassess our old ways.
This reactive approach, though necessary, has forced us to focus very much on the ‘here and now’ and abandon our long-term solution. Which brings us to the question… what does the future look like?
A few realisations have come to light during these challenging times: digital learning is going to be a big part of our future; location might not be the problem we thought; staff can be just as productive, if not more so, whilst working at home, and these new training solutions are being well-received. It looks like we are in a new norm, and L&D professionals will have to consider these new normalities when looking forward.
But this is not to say the future is completely bright – there are still many, many uncertainties, with many of us being unsure what the future holds for their L&D teams.
But if you are trying to create long-term strategic plans and decide how a digital transformation could work and what you need to consider, we have pulled together some advice for you that we hope will be helpful.
Historically, organisations have implemented technology that helps the business, whether it is an LMS to help with administration, or e-learning purely for the speed and reach. But now it must be about your audience. They are the heart of project. Their needs must be considered and drive the decisions you make. Ask yourself: what do they need? What do they want? They are most likely to want to get better and faster at their jobs and improve their prospects, so how can digital transformation support that?
What is it you are trying to do? It is important to honestly assess what you need and what you can achieve. Don’t think it is all about adopting the next shiny thing – you have to assess what is best for your needs. And don’t compare yourself to other companies whilst doing this. Companies are on different journeys and have different requirements; there is no ‘one size fits all’.
You need to be able to change and be flexible. A digital transformation is a time for experimentation, and you need to have to flexibility to be able to be acknowledge what isn’t working and be able to change. Being too rigid won’t allow for that.
Data can be a powerful tool, and analysis can help highlight needs and wants, or what is working and what isn’t. A.I. can even calculate when a user is struggling and tailor the training to their weaknesses. Don’t shy away from it – it is there to help.
The right people can make all the difference, and when it comes to a digital transformation, the team need to understand the following: what users need and want, the business, and what technology can do and the ways it can help. This understanding will make sure your training is relevant and meets the needs.
Digital and technology are not synonymous. It is important to find the best solution to your problem, but the answer may not always be technology. If you try and force a piece of technology to solve a problem and it isn’t right, it can actually have the opposite effect you want.
Overall, there needs to be an understanding about why new skills, new ways of thinking and change are valuable, and why it is worthwhile to develop and invest in these. It will be hard to get buy-in from the stakeholders if they can’t grasp these.
This advice has been collated from discussions with the following four experts, as part of our ‘Shaping the Future of L&D’ campaign.
Lori Niles-Hoffman - Senior Learning Transformation Strategist
Michelle Parry-Slater - Learning and Development Director at Kairos Modern Learning
Myles Runham - Independent Consultant at Myles Runham Digital & Learning
David James - Chief Learning Officer at Looop.co
For their full insights, check out their full, bite-sized video clips.
If you would like to discuss digital transformation further or find out how we can support you, our Learning Technology Consultants will be delighted to help. Please fill in our form, or alternatively email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll be in touch.