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David James


Chief Learning Officer

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Getting started with digital learning


In the first of a series of new columns to arrive on the new TrainingZone platform David James, former head of learning and OD for Disney EMEA, gives us practical advice for embedding a digital learning strategy at work.

It’s hard to believe that Apple launched the first iPhone just eight years ago.  Mass-adoption of this - and subsequent competitors - has significantly changed both the habits and expectations of today’s learners and of business in general.

But we already know this from the way we interact with other businesses ourselves. In a recent report, it was revealed that 98% of Target's customers shop digitally, and three-quarters of them start their experience on a mobile device. Accenture have even claimed recently that “every business is now a digital business”

But what’s this got to do with digital learning? 

A trend is now emerging that suppliers of learning services (trainers, coaches, and other people development specialists) are seeking a digital element to compliment their offline solutions and, increasingly so, because it forms part of a client brief.

“Being constantly connected has trained us to expect immediacy and relevance in moments of intent - the I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-do moments.” Think with Google, May 2015

This is the world we live in. Google recently claimed: We no longer 'go online', we live online; always on, always connected. There has been a sea change in our lives, in business and in learning - and there is an appetite now for the right digital learning solutions.

Blended learning grew in prominence as a way to extend the reach and applicability of learning, beyond the classroom. The right digital approach will now compliment your core proposition, extend the influence of your interventions, and should be focused on delivering the intended results and not just extending the interest in a topic.

From a business perspective too, the right digital solutions can help you to remain in the minds (and hands) of your clients, provide you with additional revenue opportunities, and a logical next step in terms of a product. So how do you use digital to compliment rather than cannibalise your existing business?

A digital solution can be used to extend the reach of a programme and to influence application back in the workplace - some weeks, months and even years after a formal learning event has taken place. It might go something like this:

  • Preparation for an immersive learning event by engaging learners with information; pre-work; a taster of what’s coming up; or assessment (digital solution)
  • Going deep on a subject, engineering a-ha moments and initiating momentum for sustained skills development / behavioural change, alongside the tools and techniques to practice and assess (formal learning events)
  • Reinforcement of learning for further motivation and sustained change (digital solution)
  • Bringing people together to further explore the content and application (formal learning events or digital solution)
  • Influencing the application by being easily accessible again at moments of need (digital solution)

This could look like a significant commitment beyond your core proposition but access to intuitive online tools that enable rapid creation of a modern digital offering for your business needn’t be the 50 hours it takes to create elearning

Modern tools allow you to: cut and paste your existing text; drag and drop images from your slides; upload your own videos or YouTube clips; and add quizzes or tests to help engage learners and assess understanding. They can provide you with simple yet sophisticated reporting of learner behaviour too. All as quick to create as it is to say it - and then you’ve got a digital product arm to your business.

The opportunity with digital is to sell more than just your expertise and your time but to sell your IP in a scalable format - perhaps in a licensing model? At the moment, your proposal may include design, delivery, materials and follow-up - but what if it included access to digital content - to a defined number of users, for a defined period of time - with the option to increase both? Your digital offering could also be made available to others in the organisation who’ve not yet been involved in your face-to-face events but can offer just-in-time support, seeding your expertise and reputation throughout your client organisation.

And what about the effectiveness your of solution? A digital offering can increase the effectiveness of your interventions by providing your expertise and guidance at the moment of need and then influence the moment of application. In the same way as Jamie Oliver is there for me when I need to know how to make cauliflower cheese. You know how it goes: when I’m preparing - so when I’m at the shops -  I’ll grab the ingredients and then I’ll watch him do it on YouTube as I follow the instructions. And whilst that doesn’t make me a chef, it provides me with the confidence and the know-how enough to practice, reflect and gain feedback. How powerful would that opportunity be with your clients?

When so many suppliers are now looking for additional income for those quieter periods, you could have smart passive income via a low-cost, high value digital proposition.

So how do you create a complimentary digital solution?

In terms of the right digital solution for you, look for one that will guarantee you high engagement. This rules out traditional elearning, that struggles to hold the attention and motivation of learners. Instead, look at solutions that replicate how you learn online - and that’s a clue to how others do too. If the vast majority of employees will go to Google and YouTube when they want to know - or know-how to do - something, then learn from this and provide a comparable solution that protects your IP whilst providing a secure environment for your client and their learners.

In terms of your content, this is about taking the action points from your content, the questions people will be asking when they're back in the workplace - within their workflow. Look at what Google teaches marketers about capturing the attention of consumers. Identify the I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-do moments. These are the micro-moments that everybody who creates content online is seeking the attention of - and you’re no different. There is a reason why two-thirds of millennials believe they can find a YouTube video on anything they want to learn - and whether you agree or not - they have enough trust and experience to believe this. 

So, look at your content and materials and highlight the questions that people will be asking themselves when it comes to applying your content. Think: How can I be there to influence application at their moments of need?

So what’s the first step?

Getting started with digital learning can be daunting but a tip before you take that first step is to pay attention to how you want to learn online today and ask you friends and colleagues too. Think about how you can use digital solutions that provide you with both an extended footprint within a client business but that also provides learners with just-in-time support when they need to perform. This will extend your offering from 'learning' to 'performance improvement' - and what client doesn’t want the result to be about influencing performance?


  • Simple enhancement of a programme with pre-course engagement and post-course reinforcement
  • Creating libraries of content that compliment existing programmes: rich in video and designed to help people when they need a reminder of the content - IP licensing (per month / per user)
  • The additional revenue stream of digitising an organisation’s in-house training - hours and hosting
  • Incredible customer-centric experiences - the boundaries of your business will never be the same: Shaping experiences and outcomes in unprecedented ways, making a difference and a profit…
  • The Internet of Me where the end-user has moved to the centre of every digital experience
  • Business models are moving from selling things to selling results
  • Businesses are working together to create products and services 
  • Intelligence helping you make smarter decisions - learn and discover new insights
  • Technologies acting as team members sat side-by-side with employees

5 Responses

  1. What a great topic. My team
    What a great topic. My team have been discussing exactly how to start in this area when our budget is particularly lean. Pre-course and post-course engagement were our first thoughts. I would welcome any tips on first steps and low-cost video production.

  2. Really helpful article and
    Really helpful article and overview of the application of eLearning in the modern mobile world, thanks David

  3. Great article, couldn’t agree
    Great article, couldn’t agree more! We’ve tried to take this direction in the past and ran into issues with legal and compliance signing off on it. Any suggestions on how to work through that? Thanks!

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David James

Chief Learning Officer

Read more from David James

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