Engaging learners in a digital world

Sophie Doust /

Throughout my 25+ years in the digital learning industry, it’s fair to say the last few years have been the most fast-paced and technologically progressive. The constant struggle for L&D professionals to harness the latest technological advances and implement them in relevant and easily applicable ways is a very real one, and no mean feat I think you’d agree.

As a learning technology developer and platform provider, it is easy for us to become focussed on the needs of the L&D professional and the administrators, who have to meet the demands of an ever-changing world of lifelong learning. After all, they are our clients and we always want to keep them happy.

But at the heart of everything, we cannot become disconnected from the learner.  Ultimately, delivering a simple, clear and engaging learning experience, that raises the level of competence or compliance to meet business and personal needs through the digital channel, is what we all strive for.   

I believe the biggest challenge L&D professionals face, is keeping their corporate LMS technology up to speed with the technology we use in our personal and social everyday lives. Most large companies are tied to a specific HR solution or Group LMS, or have recently paid the cost of implementing a system, or to an extent, are tied by their current IT platform provider, so adopting a newer solution is not a simple option.

Looking to make this leap into embracing new learning technology can feel overwhelming and frustrating at times. Even when looking for the answers to simple questions, you can fall into the trap of implementing something unsuitable and costly.

Technology is simply the enabler and as L&D professionals, we need to understand how and when to adopt new developments to deliver formal learning, whether as a replacement of an LMS, or an add on to an existing system to meet a specific delivery requirement, such as Induction or a Leadership programme. These are the worries I hear clients ask advice on daily.

So, I’d like to offer what I believe are “essentials of implementing an engaging digital programme” and help people short-cut what we have learned over time as we’ve grown our business and adapted our learning platform, glo™ to meet the demands for delivering formal learning in a digital world.

A pivotal publishing for me was Clive Shepherd’s ‘More than Blended Learning’.  This confirmed for me that a simple visual interface to present the learning content would provide a much more engaging way of delivering the Induction process and we set out to develop our Visual Learning Journey tool for this initial task.

Most recently last week, Laura Overton & Dr Genny Dixon (Towards Maturity) released their “Transforming Formal Learning” In-Focus report.

From beginning to end, I was nodding in agreement.  This insightful report reaffirms to me that (you’ll be pleased to hear) the most frequent of problems and pains felt aren’t that difficult to solve. We absolutely can catapult our learning to that of the “Top Deck” by following simple design and content rules. (“Top Deck” they refer to, pertains to L&D top achievers – which includes SME’s, charities, and corporates, it’s not all about large budgets).

In this report only 17% of L&D teams surveyed actually achieve their L&D goals*.  A pretty staggering statistic, which dare I say no one would want to shout about. On a positive note however over 96% of L&D leaders want to speed up the application of formal learning in the workplace via technology-enabled learning*.

It’s here I’d like to kick off with some reassurance that this need not be as daunting a task as it sounds. Below are some of the key issues (described in the Towards Maturity survey) and how they can be solved:

The learner journey

Clear outcomes, clear support, clear personal benefits, clear pathways, connection with co-workers are the clear themes that deliver for the “Top Deck”.

The learners experience or learning journey is critical – how we engage and have powerful, memorable interactions with them, through different technologies and approaches.  Every journey needs a destination, as well as pit-stops to re-fuel … to digest and reflect. Lay out a clear pathway, make it personal, relevant and meaningful.  Provide reminders and supportive links with other resources, their colleagues and environments – reaffirming their success is as important to you as it is to them.

  • From a learner’s perspective, a technology solution should provide a simple, visually engaging interface that guides them through self-paced, blended learning interventions.
  • Allowing the learner to see the phases and outcomes along the journey from the start will motivate and encourage completion.
  • Customisable and personalised features make it a more engaging, realistic, memorable and ultimately intuitive experience. From the start the learner must feel that ‘this means something to me’.
  • The ability to share knowledge with colleagues and peers is also an invaluable tool – an attached social network feature helps builds a sense of community, helping retain and develop employees for long term growth.
  • Connectivity and signposting to other support information to help learners in their role, goes a long way to helping them understand how they are linked to organisational performance.
  • Earning points, badges and certificates for completing tasks, as well as earning a ranking on a leader board with colleagues, via gamification features, makes fun and challenging interactions. Functionality that allows evaluation, reviews and feedback simple, also encourages use and allows you to improve experiences.

Training processes

Some of the key facts from the report state:

“90% of top performing teams say that they are integrating technology to improve the classroom experience*”

“88% find it helpful that the media for online programmes are drawn from actual situations”

“92% want relevant and challenging opportunities to interact with online materials”

“Only 26% of formal learning is presently e-enabled”*

It is fair to summarise – blended is what learners want and blended works! However, it’s how it is delivered and how easily accessible it is. Not only blend and mix-up your delivery, but also provide access to it – all catalogued traditional resources and classroom training should be easily available during and after the actual training event and complemented by real world activities, simulations and external resources, such as YouTube videos. It’s about content not production quality, so using real life images, videos for case studies and experiences are meaningful and authentic. Giving mobile access from a range of devices and from home, as well as at work also encourages a collaborative learning culture. Learners want to learn, to do their jobs faster, slicker – technology enables them do this – at their own convenience and pace.

Transferring learning

Speeding up the transfer of learned skills into the workplace is often the biggest reason for adoption of technology in learning in the first place. The use of authentic scenarios, relevant real-life assessments, giving the learner time to think and reflect as well as giving recognition are all traits we can adopt from “Top Deck” achievers in this area.

  • Using real life images, videos for case studies and experiences give context and meaning to learning, allowing it to become not only more intuitive, but easy to embed in the existing training organisation.
  • A consistent approach to performance development plans gives a clear path to performance goals and prompts reflection and recognition activities as goals are met.  Also corporate LMS’s which allows compliance training as part of their LMS promotes traceability and gives peace of mind to the employer for auditing and re-training scheduling.
  • Location specific information about the learner’s office/store location allows it to be more personally relevant which helps specifically when onboarding or familiarising new employees for the first time.
  • Dashboards and real time reports make instant and incisive decision making possible – to capture when managers’ intervention is needed, giving instant reaction to support learners.

Ultimately, as a platform provider, my view is bound to be slightly biased towards a technology solution, as we provide learning experiences which are a “one system does all” interface, with social media and gamification features which develops collaboration and encourages communication between employers and employees, for better results and more empowered, loyal learners. That said (self-promotion piece over), I would thoroughly recommend reading ‘More than Blended Learning’ by Clive Shepherd and following the wealth of information and reports from Towards Maturity, specifically the recent ‘Transforming Formal Learning’ report.

About the author

Colin Bull, Managing Director.

Digits has, for over 23 years strived to innovate and find ingenious technical solutions to client requirements within the eLearning industry, whilst ensuring the simplicity of the user experience is not compromised. We are determined to deliver the best value quality solutions to meet our clients’ needs. Our integrity in our work and our wealth of experience and talent in our field, gives us the conviction to stand by what we do. Based on these values, our reliability and our customers’ trust in us, we have forged long lasting relationships, which has been vital to our success and growth. We always aim for our solutions to be ‘Brilliantly Simple’!

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