A bag of thoughts about Digital Transformation of learning

My thoughts are turning to Learning Live next week . (I am not alone). They are particularly gathering around one of the sessions I am chairing Digital Transformation: How to Make it Work for you.

I was talking earlier in the week with another attendee and gathered some notes on a Google Doc on that monster theme of Digital Transformation. Not wishing to blow my own trumpet, but I am quite fond of the notes and I am sharing them here. They are not new or unique by any means (this bolg includes posts on most of the points) but there was something helpful to me in seeing them all in one place. So here they are, in no particular order:

A definition of “Digital” is handy (this is the most useful I know of): “Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.” https://definitionofdigital.com/ 

  • So technology is only one of the four facets of the definition
  • Digital reaches far beyond technology
  • It reaches even further beyond Information Technology (and most departments of that title)
  • So, a real transformation changes everything
  • Furthermore, a real transformation is going to take a (VERY) long time
  • It won’t stop until people’s expectations are static (which never happens)
  • Business models are transforming – this is the unspoken revolution that L&D needs to embrace. The value we offer is not what it was.

A fundamental element of digital transformation for L&D is putting the user/learner/audience at the centre and making their needs and concerns primary.

  • This is a real revolution in the profession and will take a long time to play out
  • We are dangerously preoccupied with subject matter experts
  • We need to focus early on the areas and partners in the business who are most likely to understand and see value early = go where the energy is

There are two essential building blocks of the digital world: connection and data. Digital products and services are built on these two requisites. For L&D, traditional techology approaches (the LMS and the eLearning module) are undermined on both counts. They are neither digital nor transformational.

It is unwise to attempt a digital transformation of learning if there is no agenda for digital change in the organisation (or at least from some form of leadership):

  • Transformation requires time and effort (and probably funding)
  • But, our local teams can show evidence of the value and benefits of digital change
  • These experiences can be used to make the case for transformation

Digital transformation changes the expectations of value for the organisation and the user = we have to do both. Technology can deliver efficiency and cost savings for the organisation but wil not transform much if these are the boundaries set.

Digital transformation needs to be evidence based and data focused:

  • Data informs small steps continuously taken through testing and experimenting
  • Data has to be about learners/users/audience and describe real needs
  • Data is not only quantitative (a conversation with a user generates data)

UX expectations are set outside of the workplace context and are always rising. In the L&D context, digital benchmarks will come from outside the sector and will almost always manifest themselves on a smartphone.

It is enormously helpful to bring in thinking and practice from outside of our organisations:

  • Work with digital agencies not just L&D vendors
  • Bring in the skills and experience of digital practitioners to work with and guide teams in transition – habits and practices can rub off
  • Hire/engage non-L&D people in key capability areas where the standards are set far beyond our industry boundaries:
    • UX
    • Product management
    • Data analytics

Digital transformation needs a new set of capabilities in the L&D team , few of which are the traditional skills upon which the profession is built:

  • Consulting and problem solving
  • Experience design
  • Product and service management (not learning tech management)
  • Marketing and distribution
  • Editorial sensibility and content production
  • Data and analytics
  • Social, community and collaboration

Digital transformation may need a new L&D team to fulfill thise capabilities effectively. Or, more radically, an entirely other team addressing the goals of learning and development in a digitally native manner.

The product manager is the missing link in the ongoing evolution of digital L&D (bad metaphor I know but you get the idea). Every game changing digital business is built on product management approaches and practice. Uber, Deliveroo, Spotify, Netflix, Revolut, Amazon, Google, YouTube and so on and on and on….Why should L&D be any different?

Agile (with the capital A) is an important feature of successful digital development – possibly of all of them. It is more than flexibility and the ability to ‘change your mind’. Agile, handled well, focuses a multi-disciplinary team on the most important problems to solve for a user. It guides that team through quick delivery of tangible experiences for those users and the evidence needed to improve. Again, the most successful digital product orgnaisations use some form of Agile or its relatives. Why should L&D be any different?

Doing digital really effectively means abandoning what L&D know and love to do: courses and training systems. These are no longer enough and the latter are actively unhelpful. (Yes. The LMS is a training system: a training control system, in fact). It also means reining in the impulse to continually make stuff.

For L&D to thrive and grow in the digital world, we need to find spaces and places for experimentation and testing – sandboxes, test cells and beta environments are useful tools. These environments should also allow users to experience things ‘as live’ to gather useful responses. (Piloting does not count = refining what we are already committed to doing).

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