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The challenge of training in a digital world

This post was originally published on the Danish publication HR Chefen, on October 30 2017.

Our world is full of contrasts: North and South, black and white, yin and yang, rich and poor. But what amazes me the most recently is the contrast between the incredibly rapid development of technology, and human nature. While the first has transformed our world, the second one is the same as it has always been, across continents and races.

In the last few decades, we have gone from landlines, bulky PCs and floppy disks to phones that are sometimes smarter than their owners, slim and powerful iMacs and hard drives that reach almost 60 (60!) terabytes in a 3.5-inch SSD. We are living in what some call ‘The Information Revolution’.

Meanwhile, human nature stays the same. We still need food and shelter, we still seek friendship, love and understanding from others. In the workplace this means we still crave connections with others, no matter what job we perform, nor how much technology we use in order to perform it. Conflicts affect job performance in a negative way, while teamwork, manager support, job recognition or targeted professional development contribute to better work results.

So, are today’s younger employees so very different from their more experienced counterparts? From the above point of view, not really.

And, is technology and its crazy development rate affecting workplace dynamics? Definitely!

As I see it, the major challenge for anyone designing and delivering training today is to keep up with the L&D tech advancements, while maintaining a balance with the human part of the workplace.

How tech development is transforming training

I remember a time when company training meant hours-long classroom instruction and difficulties in making sense of the available and usually incomplete learning data. Back then, a company LMS (learning management system) was designed around the needs of trainers and basically did two things: offer employees access to learning materials and assess their learning results.

Over time I witnessed — and contributed to — the shift towards a blended learning approach that addresses the needs of the trainee through learner-centered L&D technology.

Online training came with asynchronous learning so employees could learn at a time most convenient for them, not for the instructor. It also reduced costs, meant better security of training data and had other advantages over face-to-face instruction. However, the most important aspect of online instruction, be it on its own or blended, is the fact that the learner gains much more control over the learning process.

So LMSs expanded their feature set to include online communities, gamification, learning scenarios, bite-sized learning modules, competency-based courses and integration with third-party productivity tools, to name a few. Also, fixed frameworks and cluttered system interfaces became (or are becoming) a thing of the past. Responsive design, offline apps, and beautiful, intuitive user interfaces are now basic requirements for LMS vendors.

This evolution of one of the first L&D technologies — the LMS — is continuously affected by tech advances: social media, mobile apps, machine learning, AR, VR, xAPI, AI, you name it. The LMS has come a long way since its beginnings — and has transformed the way training is done. This journey seems to have only started.

The learner as the center of the L&D universe

Most of these new technologies promise the world if integrated in an online or blended training solution. The problem is, they are far too many and maybe far too complex to be seamlessly adopted by all training specialists. So how can one know which technology perfectly fits the needs of a specific learning organization?

The answer depends on each organization, of course, but keep in mind that each team is made of people. And while individuality matters, there are some core aspects of our human nature that are the same for everyone.

The best bet for any L&D professional who wants to predict the future training technology standards is to look into the past. I’ll give you three examples:

First, why is responsive design the norm for today’s learning management systems? Because adult learners needed it.

It’s convenient for the learner and effective for the company if employees are able to access training materials and easily find the information they need, no matter their location. People never carried heavy PCs in order to do this; mobile devices offered the best means. The information was in the LMS, therefore it had to be transformed into mobile device-friendly content.

The bigger this demand for accessing learning materials through smartphones and tablets, the faster the responsive design adoption: a new industry norm.

Likewise, why are online learning communities — groups, forums, blogs, chat rooms — another norm for business LMSs today? Again, trainees needed them.

It’s human nature for us to look for people that are similar and keen on learning the same things we are, in order to establish connections with them. We can’t help it. Yes, it’s definitely easier to do this face-to-face, in a physical setting, but employees may need to participate at the same training courses even though they work across continents and time zones.

Since it’s better to have learning data stored in one place, both LMS vendors and L&D professionals saw the benefits of including these collaboration tools as part of LMS used for training.

Lastly, why is gamification — the use of game thinking and game design in non-gaming circumstances, such as a training course — so spread out in the L&D landscape today? Yet again, because learners needed it.

People need instant feedback in their learning journey, a sense of knowing where they are and where they need to go, a little competition (with other people and with themselves), being rewarded for the effort, and recognition for their learning outcomes. All these are met in an online training course through instant notifications, progress bars, gathering points, achievement badges, featuring on leaderboards, and winning trophies or certificates.

Gamification in training works because it caters to all these psychological aspects, which are the same for entry-level employees to top management. Some LMSs go as far as gamifying their entire platform.

When we consider the learner as the center of the L&D universe we design new technology to meet their learning needs at the workplace. Learning management systems for businesses and other types of training technology will continue to improve in order to offer the best (read: the most personalized) learning experience to each trainee.


It is indeed challenging to create and deliver training programs in today’s digital world. I’m sure all L&D professionals know this first-hand. It’s not an easy task to keep up with all the technological advancements in the training industry, decide on the best new tech to include in instruction, all while maintaining the learner’s needs — both basic and job specific — at the core of the decision-making process.

However, as challenging as this may be, it’s worth the effort. Investing in people development goes well beyond professional boundaries. Knowledgeable employees move their organizations forward, no matter how you look at it.