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David Perring

Fosway Group

Chief Insights Officer

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What’s the reality of digital learning transformation today?


Digital transformation is coming to learning, whether you’re ready or not. A massive 71% of organisations are currently in progress with their transformation journey. Based on new research conducted in partnership with Learning Technologies, director of research at Fosway Group, David Perring, explores the reality of what that means for L&D in the first of a new three-part series.  

With over 70% of organisations already transforming learning, L&D are slightly behind where they see the progress of their wider organisation, but ahead of HR. However, with only 5% saying they have completed digital transformation of learning, it does beg a few questions:

  • What is driving this transformation?

  • What makes the digital transformation of learning different from simply adopting learning technology and delivering more e-learning?

  • And are those on their transformational journey even heading in the right direction?

What is driving digital learning transformation?

Investment in digital learning continues to grow across the board. In 2018 we are seeing increases in budget for external or digital outsourcing, digital learning services, internal teams, content and platforms (although the levels of spend are still relatively small compared to wider HR and business investment in digital).

But what is driving this investment and the associated transformation? The following words are typical of what the 1500+ survey respondents say in the 2018 Digital Learning Realities research. They seem to capture the current drivers perfectly:

…The aspiration is to be "more digital" as a business, together with budget pressures and the opportunities for increased flexibility in delivery...

…Reduced headcount / agility/ speed of change / personalisation / contextualisation of our content offering / learning on the go...

These comments get straight to the core of why many are looking to digitally revolutionise their learning operations. And they fall neatly into the consistent business drivers that have underpinned the evolution of L&D over the past 10 years in particular – which is about so much more than reducing cost.

They are part of the business mindset of what makes HR and L&D fit for the future. Agile thinking that energises your workforce, with a real relationship focus with learners that is intelligent and data driven, creates an UBER-esque experience.

It revolutionises the experience so that it is completely geared around serving the customer (learner), while providing radical cost efficiency and, most importantly, delivering exceptional value.


But what makes digital learning transformation different from adopting more learning technology and delivering more e-learning?

Just because you are going through ‘digital transformation’ doesn’t mean you are really going to be transformative to your business. Not unless you have a radical agenda and are fully aligned to your organisation’s goals.

But sadly, the reality is that too few are re-evaluating their learning strategy and learning technology landscape beyond the superficial. And front and centre for most transformations is the consolidation of a fragmented learning technology from across their organisation.

The harsh truth is that the learning that most individuals experience in organisations today is not modern, and it’s not personalised.

Only 15% of organisations have very standardised approaches to learning technology. So consolidating platforms around an established e-learning model feels like great progress for many. This means that for 85% the returns on consolidating learning technology platforms drives significant cost cutting, but rarely delivers across the important business drivers of personalisation, effectiveness and agility.

This is borne out by the relatively weak adoption of some of the most compelling and modern learning approaches. Whether it’s bite-sized learning, real-time feedback, peer-to-peer action learning, content streams, adaptive personal learning, agile delivery, gamified learning, or personalised learning. Less than 40% of organisations often use these approaches.

Most learning is not modern, and it is not personal

The harsh truth is that the learning that most individuals experience in organisations today is not modern, and it’s not personalised. And the risk is that if we do not look at learning strategy and put pressure on learning solution providers, we are unlikely to see the genuine transformation of learning that we should be aspiring to deliver.

Source: Fosway Group Digital Learning Realities Research in partnership with Learning Technologies 2018 

If we want to achieve something that is more than the extension of e-learning, we need to adopt a new mindset. One that is not about the false boundaries of formal vs informal, or micro-learning vs long form learning, or resources vs courses – which have all emerged at the L&D ‘celebrity’ debating post.

In reality, most of the options that are being debated just extend the adoption of digital solutions, they do not deliver true transformation. To do that we need to look to solutions that don’t just automate today’s processes, but support new ways of enabling organisational learning.

So is the digital transformation of learning taking us in the right direction?

My fear is that it is not. The most transformative thinking in the learning space is not the length of content or the adoption of resources not courses. In my view, some of the most transformative thinking comes from looking at how we use machine intelligence and AI to support the learning process and how we encourage organisational learning in the flow of work.  

If we are to truly think of the learning experience as a learning cycle, we need to consider how we can radically improve each stage of the journey – not just the content delivery frequently associated with learning.

Using learning cycles as a lens, we can see the entire journey and see how and where (as L&D professionals) to add value.

One of the most significant myths, which is created by the debate about content formats and content delivery, is around building personal mastery and how we become truly proficient.

Because proficiency comes not from content, but from purposeful practice and feedback. It is the diagnostic measure phase – not the learn phase – of the cycle which enables us to understand our next steps in building mastery.

The journey, you might say, is as valuable as the destination – if we choose the right learning paths.

Equally importantly, we have to recognise that the action of learning is about doing and collaborating in the workflow – the apply and sustain phases.

But whilst so much focus is put on content as the medium for learning, it is easy to forget the wider programmes we could use that help us with continuous improvement and defining what greatness looks like from our teams.

This is really where the most important learning happens.

The journey, you might say, is as valuable as the destination – if we choose the right learning paths.

You can download the latest results from the 2018 Digital Learning Realities Research here


Author Profile Picture
David Perring

Chief Insights Officer

Read more from David Perring

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