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First steps for building a coherent digital training strategy

We are in the twenty-first century, a time which is defined by an unprecedented surge in technology. Everybody in the modern world is somehow connected and most jobs do require more than average computer and internet skills. As for businesses, they have to pretty much be already in the twenty-second century if they want to stay ahead of the competition and be profitable.

For corporate learning and development this means a lot of pressure to ensure that employees do not only possess the knowledge they need to do their jobs but also the skills to think on their feet and adapt to new market and business conditions. It’s obviously clear that the direction learning needs to go is digital yet it’s not enough to simply purchase a LMS, upload some modules and start emailing invitations to enroll. It takes a solid and coherent strategy.

What strategy is

The term “strategy” actually comes from ancient Greek and it means “the art of a general”. Back then and even up to the 19th century it mainly applied to planning encounters on the battlefield. Today the term is more widely used (I personally consider I have a well-designed though not yet bullet proof strategy to get my toddler to nap at noon).

L&D specialists who are in charge with drawing up and implementing the digital learning strategy for an organization have a lot more in common with army generals than tired moms. The plans they make and deploy involve large numbers of employees from various departments.

They have to keep in mind the structure, the values and the goals of the business while also foreseeing future demands and challenges. And since all things digital are constantly upgraded and altered, they have to make sure that the necessary adjustments can be made along the way, sometimes in the midst of very stormy circumstances.

The enemies, in their turn, are numerous: resource waste, inefficiency, uncontrollable turnover rates and poor results to name just a few.

First steps for building a coherent digital training strategy

Considering all this, and that every journey starts with a single step, where can one actually start? What follows is the first steps I consider any L&D professional should take when they want to build a coherent digital training strategy.

Start with the end

When building the digital learning strategy for an organization, it is best if the first things considered are the desired end results. Keeping in mind that although nobody will ever argue against its usefulness, corporate learning is mainly seen as a resource consumer, it should be thought of in terms of what it can do to have a positive impact on company results.

Return on investment is as important when it comes to e-learning as it is with everything else that requires company resources, so sitting down with the board members and finding out first hand how they see the future of the organization is step one.

The key strategic priorities that arise from these discussions ought to be the core of any learning and development plan because we are not yet in the age where results can be obtained without people. The human resource is still the most valuable and investing in it can bring nothing but benefits.

One of the best perks of digital learning is that it can accommodate different people from various cultures with diverse levels of skill and learning styles while still staying true to the same general objectives. It’s like engaging the infantry, the cavalry and the artillery in their unique ways in order to gain victory.

Establish clear learning goals

With the company objectives clear in mind, L&D specialists should figure out how they translate into learning goals. A solid goal is formulated with “at the end of the course/module/ learning path, the user will be able to …”.

Since it is impossible to do this for every single individual, groups of employees, teams or departments are to be taken into consideration. For example, if the company’s goals is to increase revenues and customer satisfaction, a Collection team should have excellent negotiation skills as well as some solid customer care aces up their sleeves.

At one point, a company I was working for decided it wanted to achieve customer delight. As you would think, that is a very tough one to turn into a learning objective and design courses to support it. However, a few out of the box modules on emotional responses, positive communication and proactive problem solving worked wonders and in under a year customers who had interacted with company employees were declaring themselves delighted in the online questionnaire.

The key is to make these goals SMART ones – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time limited.

Categorize the learners

We all know it’s not ok to label people. This is true but since the army metaphor has been constantly present throughout this article, with employees is very much like in the military where there are soldiers, lieutenants, colonels and the few generals and majors. In a company, some are hard workers, some are very skilled in some department and some are slightly slacking. The possibility of advancing based on merit is equally present in both worlds and so is the means of attaining that – training.

When putting together a digital learning strategy is equally important to target those with the biggest competency gaps as well as the best employees – the top talent, those who make the biggest contribution to moving the company forward. Talented people always seek to better themselves and if they feel they aren’t offered the opportunity to grow they will leave. On the other hand, if all the focus is on them and not much is done for the rest of the team members, they will end up doing a lot of the work themselves, get overwhelmed and ultimately be inefficient.

A strategy based on proper learner segmentation brings balance and facilitates better team work.

What else?

Considered one of the best strategists of all time, Lord Nelson managed to win the Trafalgar battle without losing any of his ships and with minimal casualties. That’s because he knew his strengths well, anticipated the moves of his adversary and most importantly, thought outside of the box and placed his ships in a formation that was not customary.

Ultimately, digitalization is all about innovation so beyond good objectives and personalized learning paths, success lies in the developers’ ability to adapt and do things differently.

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