Digital learning is on the march. But what's pushing it forward? As we continue our exploration of our recent Role of Digital: Customer Service report, Scriptwriter Nicola Slagter looks into the ways digital's many benefits align to smart organisational learning strategy.
You'd be easily forgiven for thinking the main reason big organisations are leaning more and more towards digital Learning and Development (L&D) solutions must be simple: cost.
Surely this is a no-brainer. It's got to be cheaper to produce one-off digital training resources to be accessed at any time than invest time and capital in endless face-to-face programs that require everyone to be in the same place at the same time, with all the associated logistical expense.
But that's not the message we got from the interviewees in our recent Role of Digital report.
In response to a question that wasn't specifically focused on digital learning but on L&D investment in general, only a handful of organisations mentioned cost-effectiveness as being a key concern. The answers that superseded it show an encouraging trend towards accessible self-led digital solutions, working towards reliably producing behaviour change at all levels.
In other words, people look to digital solutions because they give the biggest business impact.
How does that manifest to our key customer: the learners? Colleagues are at the heart of these changes in focus, with the most reported strategic driver being the need for accessible, self-led learning. This means increased investment in digital solutions where learners can access content anytime, anywhere. This comes from a simple need to speak to our colleagues in the language and formats they're familiar with.
One contributor put this in a particularly insightful way: "For us, there are two main interlinked drivers: Making sure people can access what they want, when they need it with consistency on all devices. The second is mindset. We need to market the benefits to say it’s OK to learn what you want. Be as inquisitive at work as you are when searching for a holiday or insurance."
Another said their main driver was change in learning habits: "People are demanding things at work that they get in social lives. Google is accessible to everyone. People don’t want to sit in classrooms. This is influencing what we do."
These answers show an awareness of how the way we learn is changing, and an increasing willingness in customer-focused companies to adapt and change L&D strategy to meet new demands and priorities at a colleague level.
As someone who has worked my fair share of shop-floor customer facing jobs in the past and been on the receiving end of a variety of outdated training methods, this is a refreshing change that feels long overdue. It could quickly make a real difference to both colleague engagement and customer experience standards, whether in an online or bricks-and-mortar context.
Also high on the list of priorities is culture and behaviour change, with contributors recognising the need to engage and inspire colleagues to want to learn more. Conversations about culture change frequently return to boosting digital investment to make content more accessible, and for colleagues to take ownership of their development, but there's also an increasing understanding that this investment should take new and innovative forms.
It's easy to imagine potential pitfalls here; equipping colleagues with social learning and messaging tools may not be wise without measures to incentivise a focused, productive exchange of information. Changing culture requires soft skills and interpersonal input, creating conditions and infrastructures where new behaviours can emerge, analysing the results, and taking further steps to encourage positive behaviours and more productive use of the resources.
One contributor said their main driver was leadership capability: recognising that there's a gap around digital skills in particular, that digital literacy is needed at all levels, and that to lead businesses into the future there was a need to upskill at a senior level too.
Despite the difficulties faced by large established organisations when implementing large scale changes like these, the overwhelming theme of our responses suggests the first steps are already being taken.
In the words of another interviewee:
"We need to do everything that we did before, but faster. Let’s not wait to release anything that’s perfect, that’s classic HR. Let’s go Minimum Viable Product and improve and adapt as we go.”