Digital in L&D – friend or foe?

L&D teams need to audit learner requirements and monitor ROI if they are to get the best from technology

We are all acutely aware of how evolving technology influences the way in which we communicate and learn in the workplace. Instant access to information and the increase in flexible working practices, particularly when it comes to millennials, has meant there’s now a greater demand for digital learning and development than ever before.

Of course, e-learning has been around for some time – but there is still an overwhelming number of organisations that have failed to implement digital in a way that caters to the learning styles of today’s employees while also delivering a return on investment.

A 2016 CIPD report, Preparing for the Future of Learning, found that only 23 per cent of L&D leaders believe their L&D teams have the right skills to exploit technology for business advantage, and 50 per cent said L&D staff lack knowledge about the potential use and implementation of technology. It’s often this lack of awareness that leads to initiatives falling far short of an organisation’s goals and expectations, prompting them to hastily return to tried-and-tested in-person training. Companies also become disillusioned when e-learning programmes are implemented purely as a cost-cutting exercise as opposed to a well thought out and targeted solution.

Organisations that are failing to provide the right content, in the right format, are at risk of alienating employees. The key is finding out where digital works best so that it complements face-to-face learning rather than replaces it completely. This involves being brutally honest about whether subjects are worth the investment of classroom-based learning. From a purely financial standpoint, should an L&D professional be spending time teaching frequently occurring CPD topics such as health and safety, or meeting other legislative compliance requirements? Or would this type of learning be better delivered on an e-platform that’s accessible and easy to use when employees have the time to complete it?

From an employee perspective, an L&D initiative that allows them to take control of their own development is essential. So much so, that an increasing number of organisations are now allocating a training allowance to employees to spend on an area of development of their choosing. My experience has shown that millennial-dominated industries such as creative arts, media, recruitment and technology have a real need for L&D solutions that are flexible and complement work/life balance – and it’s not just the young ones making such demands.

More and more senior leaders and CEOs are electing to undertake training in areas such as compliance during working hours, but would prefer to focus on personal development in their own time. And while iterative learning for leaders – where they are invited to reflect, revise and respond to understand the connection between theory and practical application – can only be done face-to-face, there is clearly a need for organisations to introduce digital learning platforms to cater for these demands.

By auditing L&D requirements from both a learner and ROI perspective, organisations will be in a strong position to identify the areas where investment in e-learning is absolutely key and where face-to-face solutions must remain. Digital in L&D is not about picking a side; organisations must embrace it to accommodate modern learning styles, simplify operations and avoid wasting time and money.

Fiona McKay is the founder of and managing director of Lightbulb Leadership Solutions