Digital Learning: Look Up

I am often asked to help organizations introduce digital learning. The reason they choose digital learning usually has to do with modernizing the output and creating a more flexible, user-friendly, and user-centered approach.

I always worry when I hear about big learning transformations that appear to be completely disconnected from the wider organizational strategy. Modernizing your learning is not nearly as impactful as adapting your learning to better meet the strategic needs of the organization.

Most workplaces are undergoing rapid digital transformation to become closer to their customers and more responsive and alert to changes in the market as well as generate more analytics to help clarify where they are succeeding and where they are not. For some organizations, this endeavor involves anticipating changes in the market, but for many others it includes playing catchup and attempting to head off a looming catastrophe as the competition pulls ahead and gets closer to its customers, offering them much more of what they need than the organization in hand. There is no purist effort involved in digital transformation; there are no correct models or optimal ways to update your provision. One thing is for certain: The whole organization has to pull together to achieve this goal, and that, most certainly, includes the learning operation.

The best reason for implementing a new digital learning program is because the whole organization is going through root-and-branch reassessment of its approach, and learning should be no exception. The learning operation should be marching hand in hand with that transformation process. Far from being a way of making learning more efficient, it is actually one of the critical means to sustain any kind of transformation and give the workforce both the skills and confidence to move forward. The idea that the organization moves in one direction and learning moves in a totally different direction is absurd and not sustainable.

You can’t opt out from digital transformation, nor can you do it in your own time and at your own pace. If the organization has to change every aspect of its operation, then every aspect has to change. Learning is absolutely critical, as it prepares participants for the change and provides learners with the chance to feel comfortable with new models and new ways of working. Indeed, the way the organization is changing should be replicated in the learning offered, ensuring that the organization moves forward in step and is not misaligned with different departments sitting ahead or behind the mainstream.

Here are five considerations to keep top of mind when implementing a digital learning program:

  • As you increase your engagement with your external customers and suppliers, and meet their needs faster, increase your internal collaboration and integration. Your digital learning strategy will begin to model that association and create a safe space that will accelerate the necessary changes.
  • Most organizations are becoming more complex. In addition to our full-time employees, we now rely on contractors, gig workers, freelancers, and even source views from the crowd outside. Only a digitally transformed learning operation can reach the entire workforce and create a sense of belonging. It can build one coherent operation from such disparate groups that have contrasting reasons for being part of the organization, but need the same or similar skillsets and mindsets.
  • Timberland once ran an ad campaign that was splashed across all its shops. The ad read, “If you’re not fast, you’re food,” which could also be a useful slogan for digital organizations and their digital learning. Building digital skills together with (and this is crucial) opportunities to practice those skills inside a digital environment increases the velocity of change. Practices learned at the corporate university can be honed in a safe place. This is so much more desirable than failing in front of the customer.
  • If the learning team can mirror the organization in the process of transformation, you have built something powerful that completely aligns with the business strategy.
  • A digitally smart organization works differently from a more conventional one. It emphasizes working across the organization and building new products or services cooperatively and in conjunction with customers, and it creates temporary teams where people join, work on an initiative, and then move on to a new team. It is about building new skills by doing and creating an environment of continuous development. The tight bond with the learning strategy is immediately self-evident.

I want those in corporate learning to digitally transform in order to support their organization, not simply to change the mode of learning for some spurious reason or another. No company that has gone through digital transformation successfully can afford to let any element of the organization, especially the learning organization fall behind.

This unique opportunity shows just how important learning is and builds a modern, market-capable, and agile organization. Please don’t throw that opportunity away.

About the Authors

Nigel Paine
Nigel Paine joined the GP Strategies Advisory Board in 2018 and has been involved in corporate learning for over twenty-five years. In April 2002, he was appointed as head of the BBC’s learning and development operation. Under his leadership, the team transformed the learning function and put it on the corporate map. He left the BBC in September 2006 to start a company focused on building great workplaces by promoting creativity, innovation, values-based leadership, and learning and exploring the link between them. Nigel teaches in the CLO Doctoral Program at the University of Pennsylvania and has written two books, “The Learning Challenge: Dealing with Technology, Innovation and Change in Learning and Development” and “Building Leadership Development Programmes That Work.” He is currently working on a new book on building and developing a learning culture. Nigel also presents a monthly TV series (Learning Now TV) and hosts a weekly podcast with Martin Couzins called “From Scratch.” He regularly speaks at conferences and writes articles for magazines and journals about development, technology, and leadership.

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