Whenever I am delivering workshops, whether in-house or on open courses, I get a great amount of interest and questions on digital learning. People, including L&D professionals, seem to be equally excited and petrified by the idea of delivering learning online.

Does digital learning work and what does it mean for the average organisation desperately clinging to justify its training budget? Should you invest in digital learning?

Of course, as always the answer is… it depends. Generally speaking if your plan is to get an e-learning programme and throw it at the business then it really will not work. Particularly if your business culture is solidly founded on face-to-face learning interventions. Your employees (unless co-erced to do so!) will not engage with it. Frankly speaking they will not even understand it!

During one of my first roles as a training manager for a law firm I decided to change the induction process from a completely face-to-face one to a blended approach. I signed a contract with a virtual classroom provider and created a range of bespoke webinars for our new employees. I loved it! Shame though that the rest of the organisation did not as much! 

I thought about what went wrong and obtained feedback from key stakeholders. The programme in fact was great, I just had not thought about the marketing piece. I had not planned how I would work to change the culture of the organisation. Bearing in mind this was about 10 years ago most inductees were not expecting to have to be so involved in their learning – the concept of owning one’s learning was pretty much in its infancy. 

​So I went back to the drawing board and devised a communication piece incorporating line manager support, a message straight from the CEO, using success stories and plastering the programme all over our intranet and staff rooms. I was vocal about it. I spoke about the new development programme at our general meetings. I reminded people of how great these webinars were. I made sure their computers had the necessary software to run the webinars so that they could log on to the sessions. I made it easy for them to try it out. And they did. Within months the programme was considered a success. I managed to map the induction against the probation period so that learners could have access to the information they needed when they needed it! 

​However, from discussions with other L&D professionals and clients it seems that even 10 years on we still tend to underestimate the importance of marketing a blended programme. I find that we focus so much on the design of the programme that we forget about how we are going to get the end user to engage with that piece of learning. 

So what can we do to increase engagement? 

  1. ​Remember that just because your innovative digital idea is clear in your head it does not mean that your audience understands it as yet. We need to work with our learners to make sure that they grasp the concept behind learning online. We need to explain why we are using a digital medium and sell the benefits of it.

  2. Ensure that the user has all the necessary tools to carry out the learning. There is nothing worse than having a learner stuck downloading a Java update or not being able to access learning on their own computer for example. Make it as easy as possible for the learner.

  3. Reinforce the idea that the digital learning component of a programme is equally as important as the face-to-face part. This is crucial since what happens in organisations is that we give the impression that it’s okay to miss out the digital learning aspect of a programme. If it is part of a learning programme then the learner must attend otherwise what is the point of doing it? 

  4. Don’t use a specific technology to match the learning outcome. Use the right technology. We all get excited about the latest bit of software and end up forcing our learning interventions to use the latest technology. This however is a big no no! You should choose that technology because it is the best one to aid your learner!

How do you utilise technology in your own organisation? What do you think is the future of #digitallearning? How can we market and engage with our learners more effectively in this digital age?