Getting to digital learning: The puzzle is coming together

Getting to digital learning: The puzzle is coming together
Posted by Josh Haims on February 1, 2017.

As the digital (r)evolution continues to turn corporate learning on its ear, we find many organizations and their learning leaders seeking guidance about what’s next. They’re asking questions about everything from their legacy learning infrastructure to the skills of their team to content curation to engaging learners. What strikes me as I listen to these questions is that it’s not so much that we have a new puzzle to solve, it’s that the puzzle pieces we’ve had for a while are finally clicking into place.

A new vision of corporate learning has emerged over the past 2-3 years: learning that is learner centric and learner driven, informed by content pulled from many internal and external sources, and enhanced by collaborative knowledge sharing while still focusing on building key knowledge and skills. Until recently, this concept was very challenging to execute and highly manual. Now this vision can be executed; new technologies, built mobile first, with social and collaboration capabilities as learning methods, speak directly to learner preferences and behaviors shaped by commercial technologies.

That’s not to say moving from your analog organization to a true digital organization will be easy. It requires new ways of thinking, new processes, new protocols, obviously new technologies, and new methods of engaging learners. This is shaping up to be a substantial organizational change exercise, helping the business and your learners understand why this is better and then adapting these new tools in ways that make the best use of the investments you’re making.

Just starting out? It helps to begin by first thinking holistically about digital learning transformation and what you want to achieve, rather than more tactical questions like what the right infrastructure is, how learning team skills should be adjusted, how to execute content curation, and how to engage learners. Begin by asking two questions. First, what organizational benefits do you expect to see by digitally enabling your workforce? Second, what are the tendencies of your workforce—what personas exist and what are their preferences for development? Once you understand the answers to these questions, you should have a good sense of what may work in terms of your digital ecosystem. From there you can work toward an infrastructure strategy and the learning team needed to support it.

If you are stuck, these steps can help you think through how to approach the opportunity.

  • Understand where you are on the digital journey and what the destination is.

The leap from doing things digitally to becoming a digital organization is a significant one, as the following progression shows. Where are you starting?

  • Map the journey the learner will take.

Learning experience mapping is highly recommended, and don’t constrain yourself. Ask: If I had no constraints, what would the learning journey look like for specific segments of employees based on their current roles, career path, and preferences—from searching for the information to finding learning supports to sharing articles, contributing to community forums, and applying what they have learned? What would it look like when the learner is at work, at home, and on the move? Here’s a tip—this is about creating capability in the organization, and content alone will not solve that puzzle. Think holistically about the end-to-end experience, the jobs people need to do now, as well as their career aspirations.

  • Enable the learner’s journey.

Use the journey you’ve envisioned to map the future learning ecosystem that would enable that journey. Then, identify and select the technologies that may support your future vision. The market is robust and growing; I encourage leaders to try to adopt an agile mind-set. Be comfortable with a larger core investment and stay sharp on the bolt-on technologies that can help you achieve your goals. Feedback from learners will guide your next steps.

  • Build the learning organization to achieve the vision.

Ask yourself if your current administrative and core learning processes require retooling to achieve the desired vision. Traditional instructional designers may need retraining, and you will likely find yourself seeking new skills for your organization. The influx of open source and community-generated content will turn designers into curators and curriculum managers into performance consultants. The move to a digital learning strategy is also driving demand for data scientists, social/marketing professionals, customer experience architects, application developers, and data analysts.

  • Work with the business to make the shift and sustain it.

Finally, think about how to prepare the business for the proposed changes. It can be helpful to think like a product manager. You are essentially introducing a new product, in this case, a new learning ecosystem. How will you position and market it? Will you need to teach people to use it—and get them to use it—or will it be so intuitive that it just sticks? How will you continue to update and improve your offerings? What systems need to be changed around it to support it? What metrics will you use to measure its use and effectiveness?

The puzzle border is clicking into place
The metaphor of a puzzle is not something I often use, but it seems “fitting” for this piece. The border is clicking into place: the LMS does not appear to be at imminent risk of disappearing, and emerging learning experience platforms are finding their way quickly. Additionally a number of emerging technologies to deliver courses in a more “chunked” manner, measurement tools, and gaming platforms are starting to fill in the middle. A more holistic picture of digital learning is forming.

I don’t have all the answers, but the steps laid out in this blog will hopefully help you find clarity when answering the questions, “Where do I start on a digital learning transformation?” and “What do I need to think about that lies around the corner once I take the leap?”


Josh Haims is a principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a senior leader in Deloitte’s Learning Solutions practice, co-founder of Deloitte’s Chief Learning Officer Forum, and sponsor of the Wall Street Learning & Development Executive Roundtable.

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