Workplace learning, at least in its traditional form, was one of the earliest- and hardest-hit business activities during the pandemic. In mid-March, McKinsey noted that half of all in-person learning and development programs in North America had been canceled or postponed through June 2020.
At the same time, organizations can’t afford to stop training their employees during a crisis. That’s why, alongside the rise of remote work, we’ve seen an accelerating adoption of digital learning.
Aside from the obvious risk to personal health posed by in-person learning, there are a number of reasons for this trend; the major ones are time and money. It’s expensive to send employees to corporate training programs, especially if they have to travel to another city or state. It’s also time-consuming: travel time, time spent preparing, and time spent participating all mean time spent away from work.
Digitalizing learning addresses these chief concerns, but effective digital learning requires more than just taking the same old analog content and sticking it in a PowerPoint. To be truly successful, digital learning requires changing habits and creating a cultural shift, which can be a challenge.
Luckily, pioneering organizations are already working to develop best practices for digital transformation in the learning arena.
Switching From Analog to Digital
As mentioned, transitioning from traditional to digital learning entails far more than just creating computer-friendly materials. You can’t just scan pages from a textbook, create a PDF, and — poof! — a new and highly effective course appears.
There are essentially two different kinds of digital learning. There’s instructor-led training (ILT), which is a lot like traditional corporate learning, except that learners are participating via video and/or chat rather than occupying the same physical setting as the instructor. Then there’s the more self-paced kind of learning, sometimes referred to as “eLearning.” In this model, learners usually have some flexibility in when and how they want to participate in the course, and they typically go at their own pace.
Each of these two types of digital learning requires a different approach to instruction. In the case of self-paced learning, you don’t have the same kind of structured instructor setup, so measuring engagement or guiding people along the right paths is more often done through things like quizzes and tests along the way.
In the case of an instructor working with remote students, the dynamic is quite different. When you’re in the same room as someone, it’s fairly easy to notice if that person is checked out or staring at their phone. When there is a screen between you, measuring engagement is not so easy. You need to build in different mechanisms to make sure you’re still engaging the learners. That could mean adding knowledge assessments or quizzes within the curriculum to measure understanding rather than time spent on a lesson. Otherwise, a participant’s “learning” time may be a waste, and their retention of the material is likely to be low. That serves neither the learning goals of the individual nor the business goals of the company.
It’s Time to Experiment
One of the most significant — and, arguably, one of the most exciting — aspects of digital learning is that there is room for experimentation. Learning leaders should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity. Because the costs are lower and digital learning requires no physical investments, you can dive right in and start trying new things to figure out what works best for your company and your employees.
You and your learners may be using new training delivery tools, so you may not immediately know what approaches will work or what the tools can do. With digital learning, you can adjust as needed, and you can experiment more with your content because you don’t need to worry about creating physical manuals and then having to reprint them at additional cost because the material wasn’t quite right. Over time, you will learn what work works, and you can keep tweaking the course’s elements until it’s the best it can possibly be.
Digital learning isn’t just a print-to-digital conversion. There’s a natural tendency toward decreased engagement when learners are alone in front of a screen rather than in a physical classroom with the trainer and other learners. It’s the learning leader’s job to find ways to keep digital learners engaged. Experimenting with the features your learning platform offers will be key: what formats lessons can be delivered in, how learners can interact and collaborate, how to gauge engagement, and so on. Take advantage of your new opportunities to experiment with content and delivery, and you can hone your courses for optimal retention and efficacy.
Flemming Goldbach is vice president of product for LMS365.
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