Published 10. Dec. 2018

Are you ready for the Digital (Learning) Age ?

This article offers insights and views on Digital Learning Readiness (DLR) and provides guidelines on how to implement it in your corporate learning environment. Digital Learning Readiness: are your employees, learners and L&D team successfully leveraging digital learning to build tomorrow’s business capabilities?

Digital Learning Readiness – Is there an issue?

Digitization is transforming today’s business world and the way we live, work and relate to one another. The pace of technological change is accelerating and disrupts our current business models (although creating new inspiring ones). Many companies and their workforce are challenged in terms of location, roles and capabilities. Will we indeed have 50 percent less business process workers and 500% more digital business jobs by 2020 as Gartner (2015) predicted? Is corporate learning & development (L&D) doing what it can and should be doing to build the future workforce? How ready are our organizations for digital disruption?

Business professionals recognize that digital technology is reshaping the way people work. Donnelly advises employers to consider hiring talent for behavior and attitude—not qualifications—and then provide the training needed to acquire the skills (2016).  Employees need to get the necessary digital skills to survive and to remain effective.

A research 2016 study conducted by Accenture finds that employees are fully aware that digitalization would improve their jobs and job prospects. On the positive side is that these employees are already actively seeking out the skills they would need to suit the demands of a digital business. L&D has to seize the opportunity to act as an enabler for the business, to overcome challenges of the digital transformation. The digital business will entail a new role for L&D that starts with redefining digital learning strategy, which incorporates leadership, learners, learning offer & technology – and a re-engineered L&D operation with a digital mindset and -skills.

Benefits & barriers for digital learning readiness

The Embracing Change report (Towards Maturity, 2016) states that a modernized learning strategy, underpinned by digital transformation, is delivering tangible business impact in top learning organizations. The listed benefits are: 12% improvement in productivity; 15% improvement in customer satisfaction; 19% improvement in time-to-competence; and 16% L&D cost reduction.

On the other side of the same DLR ‘coin’, there are numerous obstacles to be removed before achieving major results. Recent research from McKinsey (2015) shows that executives list a number of strategic hurdles to achieving their digital objectives:

  • A lack of internal leadership or talent for digital projects
  • A lack of understanding of the impact of digital trends
  • Inability to keep pace with the faster speed of business
  • Inability to adopt an experimentation mindset

In parallel their organizations face practical obstacles such as lack of employee skills to manage own learning; lack of resources, support & time; line manager reluctance (to digital change); unreliable IT infrastructure; and a misfit between performance management and learning.

Furthermore, the McKinsey report illustrates that despite the high stakes for L&D, many learning professionals are still conservative in their digital approach. The conservatives feel more comfortable sticking to the tried and tested methods for learning content, social and collaborative learning and tools supporting learning management and administration. On the other hand, pioneering L&D leaders from our network understand that modern day learners across the business need to be supported in their ‘consumer journey’ if they are to deliver top performance. Staff at all levels are learning through experience, social networks and formal learning. L&D professional needs to redefine their strategy, role and necessary skills in supporting learning beyond programs. Following the annual 2015 CIPD L&D survey, L&D professionals are urged to look beyond learner satisfaction and measure initiatives in terms of how they add value to the organization as a whole, and society in general. Technology can play a critical role in helping to establish a learning culture by facilitating knowledge sharing and social learning. Digital thinking is also transforming access to learning and building the flexible, agile approach to staff development that underpins business success (Towards Maturity, 2016).

How to assess your Digital Learning Readiness?

Every learning leader we have met over the last months, at conferences and in individual meetings, states that digitization is impacting their business and L&D. After identifying Digital Learning Readiness (DLR) as a research topic, we reached out to clients and interviewed corporate learning experts to find out their key DLR-challenges. We ‘collected’ lessons learned and best practices in order to scope and design a DLR-scan concept,  that organizations can use to self-assess their digital learning readiness. We used international workshops, roundtables and conferences to gather expert input on this DLR-scan concept and adapted it based on the feedback. The next step was to test the scan in 3 corporate L&D environments and finalize the design. The results of these efforts is a very pragmatic Digital Learning Readiness ‘scan’ with 4 clusters, each containing 5 guidelines that organizations can review and implement to improve DLR in their organization(fig 1)

The 4 digital learning readiness clusters are:

  • Learning offer & technology. A cluster that relates to the learning design, tools, resources and their integration with existing infrastructure and processes in your organization.
  • The Learner. This cluster has a clear focus on your learners: access, opportunities, motivation, confidence and WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
  • The L&D organization & capabilities. A cluster that relates to learning strategy, governance, measurement and whether L&D staff is thinking-acting digitally themselves?
  • The organization & leadership. This cluster relates to the extent to which the organization facilitates learning and embraces continuous learning as a lifeline and if leaders have a digital mindset and coaching capabilities.

In order to meet tomorrow’s digitization business challenges, successful companies must develop the right leadership capabilities, workforce skills, and corporate cultures to support digital transformation. Can L&D keep up with the speed and demands of the business? Digital Learning Readiness is a challenge for most corporate L&D organizations and in not being ready they run the risk of losing credibility, senior leadership support, resources and this potentially could result in extinction. Based on our research we have identified DLR best practices that can shape and boost digital learning readiness and position corporate L&D as a strategic change ‘powerhouse’.

The Crossknowledge Learning Institute is an independent entity that enables organizations to tackle strategic learning & development challenges by providing expertise, partnership, insights and solutions. CrossKnowledge will be attending the 600Minutes Leadership & HR in The Netherlands at the 9th of June 2019.
Jan Rijken

Director of the Learning Institute