Existing in a world of TikTok, Google, and YouTube means immediate access to any topic, at any time—prompting digital organizational development to evolve at pace, in order to keep up with the “constantly on” world it attempts to grow within. Budget holders around the globe have known for years that digital learning means educating staff at scale—with little expense and without pesky time and travel restrictions. But with our extensive smorgasbords of content also comes the acknowledgement of learners feeling overwhelmed by an excess of offerings, with little time to truly embrace their digital upskilling experience.
Digital learning should be built on the same educational constructs as traditional learning development. It’s about a learning journey—a multistaged pathway that connects together to provide a full scheme of work. Digital development’s modular nature lends itself perfectly to mapped learning pathways and complementary curated content—and yet, too often organizations will present a purely linear digital learning experience, with little consideration given to learner diversity and accessibility; or they will provide a host of offerings, with brief guidance or instruction, causing choice paralysis across the business.
So what does a progressive digital learning pathway really look like, and how do you structure it?
Learn, Reflect, Embed, Change
Begin with Learn. Content in the Learn stage is presented in broad strokes: the definitions, how the topic presents, and why it’s important. These are the flexible and agile foundational modules that cover the basics and set the stage for the upcoming pathway. Don’t blindly select a 45-minute click-and-read eLearning experience and expect behaviors to change; instead, curate this stage of your digital catalogue to inspire and entice your learners into the subject. Use gamification, microlearning modules, and branched experiential opportunities to support individual needs and appeal to your organization’s diverse learning needs.
With the foundations built from generic understanding, it’s time to layer learners’ insights by spotlighting personal application. Still housed within your virtual learning environment (VLS) or learning management system (LMS), Reflect is about taking that basic knowledge from the learn phase and enhancing that understanding by connecting the content to role activity and practical application. For example, if a learner discovered the concept of unconscious bias during their Learn explorations, in Reflect, that bias awareness would be showcased by application, (for example, the frequent four biases in performance management, recruitment, or project delegation). Reflect is about taking the time to ingest a topic and translate it to our own experience and relevance.
Now that learners understand both the broad concepts of a topic and the specialized elements aligned to their personal development requirements, it’s time to socialize the learning and break it out of its technological confines. The Embed phase is less about learning onscreen and more about live human conversation—face-to-face or otherwise. Your digital resources in this phase serve more as a toolkit or conversational resource. For example, a conversation guide, while presented in a digital format, provides activities, presentations, and discussion cards for team leaders to facilitate team events in the live environment. SCORM-wrapped challenges and workbooks with tasks set outside of the digital learning sphere capture the findings of real-life conversations—the learning in Embed happens connectively, surrounded by others, and through challenged perspectives and lived experiences.
By the time learners move into the Change phase, your digital resources aren’t there to teach, but to prompt. At this stage, your digital assets should break out from your LMSs and be aligned to natural practices or processes. Digital nudges, for example, serve as great reminders of best practices and schooling moments, without distracting learners from their working focus. Having quiz prompts built into daily logins is a great way to keep mandatory topics front of mind; having 30-second videos on inclusive recruitment accessible from your recruiter hub means learners can think bigger than just their file retrieval. Digital nudge learning isn’t there to teach your staff—that has happened in the previous stages of this journey. Change is the synthesis of the journey to date, and it’s the starting point for organizational evolution. For individual contributors this means forging new behaviors, for managers it’s about adapting new strategies, and for policymakers it’s breaking the mold to develop new working norms.
The beauty of Learn-Reflect-Embed-Change is that learners can go it alone at their own pace as the result of their own motivation, or they can work through it collaboratively with peers and colleagues as the result of a dedicated course or facilitated experience. The buildable stages mean you can join at the point most relevant, and as the levels progress, the learning experience adjusts to the saturation of need. When learners have gained extensive experience in a topic, it’s no longer about presenting information in the form of a knowledge download—it’s about mastering a skill set within its natural application.