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A Digital Learning Makeover

Feature Article | June 20, 2017 by Enzo Silva

The world around us is going through a rapid digital transformation. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, learning technology is also changing rapidly.

Traditional learning management systems are being complemented with and replaced by a wide range of new technologies for content creation, delivery, video distribution, and mobile use. This has become a catalyst for change, with 45 percent of surveyed executives citing the issue of improving employee careers and transforming corporate learning as urgent or very important.


“Don’t try to think outside the box – get outside the box, then think!”

― Adam Hartung


Often, the learning function remains slow to adapt and catch up with changes in the consumer and entertainment markets, which in many aspects tend to set the pace for how people interact with content and technology. As learning professionals, we cannot afford to do the same things in the same way and hope our audiences learn and positively change their behavior and outcomes. It is imperative that not only training departments but also individual learning professionals adapt, and quickly, to this digital era.

What follows is a brief list of trends for learning professionals to look out for as we define the future of learning.

Learning Marketplace and Central Learning Experience

We are in the post-TV era, which has seen a separation between the content viewing experience and the television set. Viewers don’t wait a week until the next episode comes on TV; instead, new viewing habits have emerged, turning “binge-watch” into 2015’s word of the year. A simple universal search on smart TV players shows viewers what they want, when they want it, across several content provider apps on one single screen.

The learning management system (LMS) as we know it is morphing, albeit slowly, into a learning marketplace where learners can find both internal and external content to fulfill their needs. As Brandon Carson, director of learning at The Home Depot, pointed out in a recent conversation: “A true multichannel learning strategy moves training away from being a transactional event and enables learning across multiple devices/feeds/content sources based on the learner’s context.”

Technology allows learners to create playlists and aggregate achievements from several sources of learning content into one single profile. That includes informal content providers like YouTube and on-the-job learning such as speaking engagements. We’re seeing the rise of learning “hubs,” such as Degreed, because many in our industry see the gap between tracking and aggregating formal and informal, self-directed, learning experiences.

“What is evolving is the LMS’s role as the central starting point for all training,” said Carson.

Innovation at the Core of the Learning Experience

Learning professionals MUST explore new frontiers for digital interactive learning and have the courage to set the resources aside to pilot new initiatives based on trends: virtual reality, augmented reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, to name a few constants in discussions at industry events. Our learners aren’t content with the status quo. If there are tools and trends out there that help us create more impactful learning experiences that cater to how people learn best, it is imperative that we investigate and integrate some of these innovations into the learning experience.

Take collaboration and blended learning, for instance. Nearly all (94 percent) of companies surveyed for Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report say collaboration is critical to their organization’s success. Informal and collaborative learning enable employees to share knowledge and equip themselves with skills they might not otherwise acquire via formal learning channels. This creates a culture of continuous learning, where employees feel inspired and encouraged to share information. Our employees are already using innovative technology to collaborate outside of the workplace. If we want to stay relevant, we must also seek constant innovation in how we empower our workforce to make use of the latest technology and processes to share knowledge.

Reinventing Learning Professionals

By this I mean reinventing not only what we create and how we do it, but reinventing ourselves daily as well. Curators, enablers, facilitators, and innovators are just a few of the hats we need to wear every day if we are to optimize learning. Our role isn’t solely to create content, or even to “create learning.” Learning is undeniably already happening every second of the day through formal, informal, and peer-to-peer experiences. Our main role is to be catalysts and champions of learning for our audiences. To achieve that, we need to be better learners ourselves.Learning professionals need to adapt our skills to produce only the relevant content to the story we’re trying to tell our learners, not more, not less. In the Information Age and beyond, content is likely already there. Context is where learning organizations should focus most of their efforts, helping learners make sense of things for their role, for their specific time in their careers. We need to develop meaningful learning experiences and faster than before. The old processes won’t cut it anymore. Knowing a specific authoring tool is not a valuable skill in itself any longer. In order to adapt to this fast-paced changing world, we need to practice what we preach when designing learning experiences for our audiences, become better learners ourselves, nurture a sense of wonder, and invest in our own careers.

Lean, Agile Learning Development

Learning professionals have a growing need to master processes and tools that facilitate rapid design and development of learning experiences that are more akin to known Agile application development-oriented methodologies such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean, that provide more user-centric design and a quicker go-to-market time for learning experiences, on time and on budget. There have been a few Agile processes adapted to learning content creation, such as SAM and RCD. Learning organizations need to have mastery of different Agile methodologies that work for them and that can be applied to any given type of project at the moment of need.

Learning experiences can no longer afford to take months of development before they’re ready for prime time.

According to Ajay Pangarkar, employee performance specialist and three-time author at CentralKnowledge.com: “Lean or agile learning isn’t about the learning method or tool. It’s leveraging and applying available resources to derive maximum learning value. Lean learning creates seamless learning processes, and being agile provides adaptability and innovative learning applications, contributing to reducing costs within existing business systems.”

Kelly Rider, vice president of L&D content strategy and experience at SAP, states that as professionals in the learning industry, “We must acquire new skills and mind-set to better meet the expectations of our learners who increasingly need access to information faster than we can produce.” And we must develop acute strategic thinking skills to ensure that the content we do create is carefully tied to business objectives and learner needs. As Rider adds: “What’s the point of creating content if it goes unused? Content is a business asset; it requires an investment and should be held accountable as such.”

The digital “makeover” of the learning industry isn’t so much about technology, but about adapting to innovative processes that support the learning continuum experience by our learners. We must place the learner back in the center of the learning experience, making context first priority.

An important piece of this digital learning transformation is effective application of innovation processes in the design and development of learning experiences.

To learn more about Deloitte’s 2017 HCM Trends, please see here.

Enzo Silva is a learning strategist at SAP, where he is a member of a team responsible for the strategic development of content development standards and application of innovations in learning experiences.

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