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Maddie Brooks

Ashridge Executive Education

Marketing Manager

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The role and effectiveness of digital learning in L&D strategy


In October 2015, Ashridge Executive Education surveyed 122 people in the HR and L&D community to explore what their current thoughts are on the role of e-learning in L&D strategy and their thoughts on the effectiveness of learning within their respective organisation.

70% of the respondents were from the private sector, while 21% were from the public sector and the remaining 9% were from not-for-profit organisations. Additionally, 68% of the respondents had over 1000 employees within their organisation.  

The role of e-learning in L&D strategy

The survey looked to explore how e-learning fits into an organisation’s L&D strategy and to identify significant trends shaping the future of the sector.

It did so by looking at what the main drivers for the use of e-learning were within a respondent’s respective organisation.

The two main drivers were found to be:

  • ‘reducing face-to-face delivery costs and expenses’
  • ‘self-managed personal development’

The significance of e-learning over the next five years

82% of respondents believe that the significance of e-learning within their L&D strategy over the next five years will increase and the reasons given for this included:

  • the need for a more flexible learning approach that reduces the time and cost pressure
  • the learning initiative is responsive to the changing multigenerational workforce

Additionally, many respondents acknowledge that ongoing globalisation has triggered organisations to attempt leveraging technology where ever possible to increase scalability and international coverage of learning and development opportunities, whilst also enhancing the way in which learners are able to collaborate with one another. 

Another key trend highlighted by the respondents is that learning increasingly needs to be delivered in a modern way whereby it is bite-sized and on-demand resulting in learners using the little time they have dedicated to learning in a constructive way.

This in turn will lead to the highest impact.

E-learning investment

Learner feedback is critical to better developing a learning solution.

HR and L&D professionals are looking to invest up to 60% of their L&D budget in e-learning over the next five years with 46% of respondents allocating up to 20% of their L&D budget to e-learning.

Learning professional’s budget allocation is drawn from knowing and predicting the upcoming trends within the industry.

As such learning professionals noted that the global trends which will impact their respective L&D strategy over the next five years include:

  • Technological advances
  • Gen Y and Z, diverse workforces
  • Mobile use
  • Global mandates
  • Bite-sized learning interventions
  • Demand for personalisation so that learners can experience learning in a way in which they want to learn
  • Aligning L&D even tighter to strategic priorities
  • Skills shortage
  • Peer-to-peer, on-the-job, social, bespoke and just-in-time learning
  • Financial stability and the need to be cost efficient
  • Increase in the pace of change, cultural change and behavioural change

As these findings show, there are ongoing changes in the workforce which look to continue over the next five years and span from technological advances and learning priorities to the diversity in generations within the workforce.

Accordingly, one of the respondents asks:

  • “So how do we build skills and critical experience for our employees in order to help them perform?”

The survey revealed that 93% of learning professionals will increase their e-learning investment over the next five years either moderately or substantially.

This reflects the impact of the global trends and the acknowledgement from HR/L&D that technological advancements, an increase in just-in-time learning and mobile use need to be reflected within their L&D budget allocation by increasing the financial investment towards all forms of e-learning.

Measuring the effectiveness of learning

Measuring the effectiveness of learning is paramount in helping senior management within organisations understand the impact of key learning initiatives.

More and more it forms the basis of budgetary decisions for the following financial year and illustrates the link, or lack of link of learning initiatives back to the respective organisation’s vision and objectives.

Despite the obvious importance of the learning effectiveness metric, respondents of the survey declared that they plan to measure the ROI of e-learning initiatives and then link those initiatives back to business results.

This is in comparison to the current two most measured metrics by L&D professionals, which are: learner feedback and usage statistics. 

Learner feedback is critical to better developing a learning solution which incorporates elements to combat the current and emerging global trends such as the diverse workforce.

In this case, learner feedback can aid learning professionals in providing learning in formats to suit the needs of those more technologically advanced - who enjoy virtual collaborative learning – and those who prefer a more simple and intuitive learning method.

Respondents acknowledged that the three major drivers which would influence their decision to pay for content are:

  1. Quality of paid content
  2. Ability to customise paid content
  3. Trust in the sources of paid content

Quality of content was the main driver which is to be expected as a result of the extensive quantity of freely available content with a wide range of quality.

Interestingly, the second main driver was the ability to customise paid content. The survey did not ask questions as to how learning professionals would customise content, but we at Ashridge have seen organisations take our content and align it to their values and competencies to increase the relevancy of learning.

93% of learning professionals will increase their e-learning investment over the next five years either moderately or substantially

Additionally, organisations have used Ashridge content to stimulate the discussion within a particular learning area and then allow others (subject matter experts) within the organisation to contribute more specific content that is more relevant to the organisations best practices and processes.

For example, within project management, third party paid-for content brings an element of credibility and lays the foundation for an organisation.

However, there can be a need in areas such as project management to develop particular organisation processes.

Additional comments from learning professionals in regards to the drivers that influence the use of paid content include:

  • Security concerns
  • Not enough available industry-specific free on-line content 
  • Content needs to be credible and directly relevant
  • Alignment with organisation’s culture, values and models
  • Specialised functional knowledge

In summary, the survey has shown that L&D professionals are aware of current and future global trends that will impact their strategies over the next five years, and as a direct result both investment into e-learning and the significance of e-learning is likely to increase.

It is therefore paramount that L&D and HR professionals measure the effectiveness of learning initiatives carried out to ensure investment from the organisation continues the following financial year and the impact of learning initiatives is high.

The survey also explored what the leading drivers for purchasing content would be and the findings presented that the quality of content, the trust in content and the ability to customise content were the three main drivers. 

2 Responses

  1. It is an interesting article.
    It is an interesting article. E Learning content generally is no longer good enough, pure slides, voice and video no longer engages well. Interactive learning games are far better, but the issue we find is available languages. If you are US then great, but Italian? Spanish? Global businesses require language and culture options and where they are available the price is often prohibitive. The situation is improving but the rate of improvement is slow.

  2. Some interesting findings
    Some interesting findings shared in this article – thank you! I’m interested in hearing how others achieve optimal participation rates in eLearning? I have found in many instances that unless it’s mandatory, (or the learning is provided face-to-face) some employees prioritise other work activities. Take-up of eLearning can be a problem. Thoughts?

Author Profile Picture
Maddie Brooks

Marketing Manager

Read more from Maddie Brooks

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