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How L&D can embrace digital to solve fundamental training problems

The L&D landscape is being transformed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Internet of Things, cloud networks or cyber physical systems are taking over the workplace, as the knowledge economy continues to expand. Technology is here to stay and its use will play a defining role in the success of many companies. Each department and a great number of tasks will eventually be affected by technology if they aren’t already, and L&D makes no exception.

L&D departments can embrace the new and constantly developing digital technologies to solve — or at least better respond to — fundamental problems of training. Meeting today’s learners’ needs, keeping them engaged with the courses and measuring training results have always been L&D challenges. Embracing digital and properly harnessing its power paves the way to training efficiency and success.

Meeting learners’ needs through L&D tech

Before jumping right into how digital technologies can solve this fundamental training challenge, let’s focus a bit on what “meeting today’s learners’ needs” means exactly. What does a modern learner need from an L&D program in 2018?

There could be endless discussions on this topic, but most of the answers will eventually point towards one direction: owning learning.

Today’s learners need to own their learning. They need to be in charge of their personal and professional development. They need to be able to control what they learn, when they do it, how and how much they focus on a learning module at a time or what device they use for learning. They need to be in the driver’s seat of their own learning process.

What’s more, they need to feel that a learning program is tailored specifically for them. Personalized learning comes in many shapes and sizes, so it’s not easy for training designers to create personalized learning experiences for each employee; but the success of any program is based on it. The best training is that which offers the right learning materials at the right time to the right trainee. One-size-fits-all training can’t possibly do that.

So, how do digital technologies address this L&D challenge of meeting today’s learners’ needs?

Well, a top-notch LMS is a big part of the solution puzzle, but not the only one. Different software, websites and apps can contribute as well. But using such a system for company training is still the best option, thanks to its usually comprehensive set of features.

Employees nowadays are pretty good at determining whatever learning gaps they may have and also flagging the need for specific content. Instructional designers can therefore create training courses on any subject considered necessary by the company or of interest for trainees. That would solve the “what I learn” issue.

Then, online training courses are right there, as their name suggests: online. This means that they can be accessed by learners at any time they want. Since every learning material and course is available online, this takes care of the “when I learn” need.

What’s more, instructional designers have plenty of options when creating courses; they can make the learning modules as fun and interactive or as traditional as they want. Visual graphics, relevant pictures, video materials and other types of multimedia files can be added easily in an online course. YouTube tutorials, blogs of industry thought leaders or even already made courses on websites like Udemy or Skillshare can also be made available. This diversity of learning content — through or outside of the company LMS — meets the needs of the trainees from the learning style lens, or “how I learn”.

Since most learning management systems and websites have a responsive design, the “which device I use for learning” is becoming less and less a problem. Many jobs are indeed related to the knowledge economy, but there still are plenty of on-the-field employees. Being able to access training on a smartphone or a tablet can be really useful for these types of employees.

As far as personalized learning is concerned, even the most performant learner-centered piece of technology still has plenty of road ahead. Currently, automation and big data play a crucial role in customising the learning experiences of employees. An LMS with an automation feature can be used to create personalized learning paths for each employee, consisting of a series of courses they have to attend and complete, based on their own needs and interests.

Getting high engagement rates with training technologies

The rationale behind why Training and Development departments exist is the following:

  • The more engaged learners are with the training content, the higher their learning retention rates;
  • The higher the learning retention rates, the higher the chances of effective application of knowledge in real life situations;
  • The more effective the application of knowledge to real life situations, the better the employee performance;
  • The better the employee performance, the more impact they have on their team and projects and eventually on company profitability.

Company profitability is therefore based on how well an employee knows how to do their job. And how knowledgeable an employee becomes is based on training. Being engaged with the learning content is crucial for its passing in the long-term memory of a learner.

In a setting that can be synonymous with interruptions, being engaged during training sessions seems almost impossible. But if employees can access online training courses any time they want, they will more likely choose those time slots they know are most convenient for them and their attention.

What’s more, learning management systems allow course designers to make each training lesson engaging, even when the subject matter is rather dry. One tried and tested strategy is to include gamification in learning materials. Of course a busy learner won’t be thrilled to get a bright star for completing a certain quiz, but getting enough stars (or badges, or certificates) will differentiate their learning results from those of others. The desire to fill the gauge of mastery works for everyone, as long as the gamification elements are aligned with the learning goals.

Getting beyond the LMS in terms of higher engagement rates, training professionals will inevitably bump into immersive technologies. Virtual Reality is still the new kid on the block in the training neighborhood, but everyone keeps an eye on it. The truth is, its potential is fabulous: a VR learning environment will make the learner 100% there — no daydreaming, no interruptions, just learning.

Measuring training results with digital solutions

Measuring training effectiveness has never been crystal clear. There are just too many things to consider, most of them not having constant numeric value. People are simply not robots and their knowledge and their ability to apply it afterwards cannot be measured easily.

Donald and James Kirkpatrick developed a very useful framework of evaluating training program that is still in use today by many training professionals. In short, they identified four levels of training results measurement, one more complex than the prior:

  • 1st Level: Participant reactions — Short forms or online surveys filled in by the participants at the end of a training session can determine their opinions on it.
  • 2nd Level: Learning — Individual testing, group assessment, or one-to one discussions with subject matter experts can show advancements in trainees’ skills, knowledge or competencies.
  • 3rd Level: Transfer — The transfer of knowledge in real life situations is harder to measure, but specific action plans can be put together to collect relevant results.
  • 4th Level: Results — An increase in production, better quality, growth in sales, decrease in costs, less work-related accidents or a significant ROI are key determinants of training success.

actually the smallest part of all the learning that happens in the workplace. Formal learning is indeed important, but most of the learning is social or experiential.

It may seem impossible to measure learning activities that are not connected to a formal type of training, but xAPI proves this wrong. Any learning activity, be it attending a formal course, having a chat with a manager or a colleague about a certain subject, or searching for online support, can be recorded as activity statement in a Learning Record Store, which can be part of an LMS or a stand-alone piece of training technology. xAPI means a whole new level to measuring training results.

Final thoughts

Digital solutions are constantly being developed to solve exigent problems of any aspect of business. L&D professionals should embrace digital if they want to be among the first to tackle fundamental training challenges like meeting the needs of the modern learner, keeping trainees engaged with all learning materials, or measuring training effectiveness.

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