04 May 2018

Is Digital Learning as “Good” as The “Real Thing”?

Digital Transformation / HR Technology
digital learning


Sylvia Johnson

The first phone call was made 142 years ago. Nowadays we Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime our colleagues, friends and family across the globe at the click of a button without a second thought. Technology now forms part of our everyday life at work and at home. These technological advances have also impacted how we learn. Learning is no longer restricted to classrooms or lecture theatres. Digital learning is now more common and more cost-effective. But is digital learning as effective as what many perceive to be “good old-fashioned” face-to-face training?

Digital learning: a democratic solution

According to the Digital Learning Realities Research 2017 from Fosway Group, investment in digital learning services has seen a 37% increase.

New technologies are being seamlessly woven into the fabric of training programs. The smartphone has become a ubiquitous learning tool that is harnessed by learning vendors, corporate organizations, universities and learners around the globe.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

In the corporate world, the modern learner’s dependence on their phone as the “go-to-place” for information and learning is well-documented. The popularity and accessibility of digital learning is growing exponentially as a democratic solution for learning everything from foreign languages to soft skills.

Challenges of digital learning programs

The challenge facing HR and Learning departments rolling out a digital learning program on a global scale is the level of interaction and engagement that employees demonstrate tends to be underwhelming.

It’s no myth that learning can only take place when someone wants to learn, and they are given the means to connect.

So why is this challenged with digital-only training methodology?

3 critical questions must be asked to ensure the success of any digital learning program:

  • Why does engagement with digital programs tend to be far lower than blended programs or traditional face-to-face learning?
  • What makes a learner engage with their training program?
  • How do you drive engagement and how do you track it?

The evolution of learning

As learners, we are conditioned from an early age to expect a human element to drive the learning process.

Think back to the teacher who transfers knowledge through sharing information. Remember the rapport between you, how they motivated you to work harder, to dedicate more time to studying, the sense of achievement when they praised you.

The way your teacher made the learning experience relevant to you, how they made the words from the textbook come alive through storytelling. Remember how that teacher then consolidated the learning by setting a task for homework, and ultimately you were asked to regurgitate that information in coursework or through an exam.

Now let’s fast forward and transfer the classroom to the workplace.

In many ways our managers have taken the place of the teacher, they set our learning objectives in the shape of professional development plans and rate our performance based upon the achievement of goals.

Now let’s imagine that that human element was removed, a digital learning plan implemented and the ramifications on the learning experience.

It’s true that many digital learning programs are often missing the much sought after optimal pedagogical user experience.

Some products have a fantastic user experience, they are intuitive, attractive and enjoyable to use, but…and this is quite a big but- pedagogically they are weak and do not provide a productive and effective learning experience. This ultimately leads to a demotivated and unengaged learner.

So, how can we ensure that our digital learning program promotes learning and engages learners?

Digital learning checklist

 1. Does it build learner autonomy?

Building learner autonomy is key to learners becoming confident and independent users.

The low-risk digital environment empowers the learner by building their confidence and developing core professional skills. Add in the human element which increases motivation, keeps the learner on track and you’ve got the magic recipe for success.

Digital learning allows more flexibility as it will enable the learners to work through the content at their own pace when it’s convenient for them.

Learner autonomy and accountability is the end goal of many HR and training departments, letting employees work around their professional and personal schedules puts them in charge of their own learning plan. Simply, blended learning combines the best of both digital learning and instructor facilitated training.

2. Is it microlearning?

Bite-sized learning, “learning tapas”, short lessons with higher impact mean that learners who thrive off instant gratification with minimal effort are guaranteed consumers of digital content.

Further reading

3. Does it link learning to experience?

Learner engagement is most successfully achieved when the learners themselves are actively engaged in creating, understanding, and connecting to knowledge.

Learners must be encouraged throughout their digital learning program to relate the tasks and topics to their own professional lives and are asked to share their opinions and experiences with other learners through polls.

Learners will be motivated by topics and content which are directly relevant to their professional lives, needs and interests. Discovery units encourage the learner to search for and engage with authentic online content.

4. Does it have a video-based element?

It’s been shown that learners process new information and skills more effectively when watching someone else demonstrate the information or perform the skill. Audio-video content must be designed to engage learners both professionally and emotionally.

5. Can it be personalized?

Learners must have the flexibility to personalize their learning experience by exploring the content of their digital program and be able to search for relevant content according to professional skills and topics.

6. Does it provide instant feedback?

Learners are placed at the center of their personal learning experience by providing them with critical assessment tools. Learners are provided with instant feedback on their responses and can choose to improve their activity scores by repeating questions to which they give the incorrect response.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

7. Can you track engagement levels?

You’ll want to easily be able to track what each employee is doing, see how engaged they are with the training program, monitor their learning habits and harness their enthusiasm.

8. Can it be made blended for increased efficacy?

We all know that learning doesn’t happen just because you’ve signed up to a training program. Adding a human element, a facilitator enhances the “learning through doing” approach, ensuring that the skill or competence is transferred into the workplace.

Learning takes place in a space that doesn’t exist in the physical sense. It occurs in the spaces where people fail, then want to find out why, or where people are motivated to progress.

A modern approach for modern learners

Learning can only take place when someone wants to learn, and they are given the means to connect with new ideas.

Digital learning favors the modern learner who is hungry for information and insights. It empowers them to take responsibility for their own learning, it is appealing to those learners wishing to study at their own rhythm and provides an ideal platform for knowledge transferral which can then be enhanced by adding in the human element.

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