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The Journey to Unlock Digital Learning

In the past few years, early adopters of Digital or Modern Learning have made great strides. They have applied new strategies, implemented new ideas, added new technology and upskilled their organizations. Of course, some have had more success than others. What is the key to that success? How can we unlock the power of all that modern learning brings and cross the chasm? This article will look at the critical components of that strategy and will be the start of a series of articles on unlocking digital learning.

First of all, despite saying digital leaning, it is not all about technology. All of Modern Learning is more than the features and functions of the tech that supports it. While tech can and should play a part, it is a tool, not a solution. In order to take full advantage of modern learning, get some tools into your ecosystem. Make that upgrade with the right tools to help your organization. There are plenty of them out there and we will talk more about them later.

But step one is coming up with the right strategy for your organization. That means making it easy for employees, managers and leaders to find, share and create information. It means working with the businesses so they can curate and create resources, find champions and target topics. It also means upskilling L&D to address today’s tools, needs and capabilities. Lastly, it means looking at how to provide solutions for the moments of need in a blend that also has practice and feedback.

Upskilling Learning and Development

Modern learning uses a number of new and not so new techniques and tools. We see the growth of microlearning, curation, video, audio, AR/VR, sims and games. While ILT, VILT and eLearning are still quite active, they are used less and less and more a part of a real blend. The new focus is on moment of need, experiences and interaction. And do not forget the critical role of actionable data.

The bottom line for L&D? Learning practitioners need to learn a variety of new capabilities. We really need a whole new mindset. I hear lots of practitioners asking what is the goal, what are the real skills and how do I build them. Not to hedge here, but it really depends on your organization and their goals.

At a high level, we should be experience designers, trained in design thinking, able to curate from a variety of sources and able to coach leaders and SMEs to create effective pathways. We need to know the right modality. Marketing now plays a role – both in communicating new content and ideas and in driving usage. And then there is technology; L&D needs to go beyond partnering with IT to understanding the role of tech, some programming and data analysis. That is one hefty job description!

While there are new rapid development tools available, some creation tools need sophisticated knowledge. Using xAPI means understanding more tech. Pulling data from divergent solutions can mean diving into Business Intelligence tools. And what about video, audio and animation? It can be overwhelming. Oh, and remember performance consulting? That too… So let’s slow down and break it down.

From a L&D leadership point of view, setting your digital strategy goals and timelines will help identify the capabilities your team needs now and in the near future. This is where consultants and vendors can also partner with you to design a management of change plan that will work best. I and many others have been through this with several companies, large and small. Look for real practitioners who have guided the change, know the vendors, understand your business and are aware of the tools. We can help simplify the clutter quickly and establish priorities.

Capabilities vs. skills

In the plethora of research to start out 2020, I have seen many lists of top skills. While they all differ somewhat, the emphasis is on what we used to call soft skills, or the hot new term, power skills. These are personal and professional abilities for people to communicate, grow, change and adapt to those around us and to the fast pace of life today. I prefer to talk about our capability to work together or perform a job. These broad-based human skills are critical in any area. They also require practice and experiences with feedback. And now, a whole new user experience is expected.

Organizations need employees with a change mindset. People who can adapt to change, be flexible and bounce back with all of the rapid change are the new leaders. Line managers need to foster this mindset and should, therefore, be provided with resources to communicate and coach the mindset.

L&D can focus on these capabilities by providing resources for a real transformation. User generated content from Champions can help produce the right content. Some content libraries, used effectively and curated, can lighten the load. Managing those two is part of the 2020 L&D mindset. I have seen and led effective workshops and coaching to first, set up L&D and then, set up Champions for success.


We cannot underestimate the importance of leadership in learning. They can make or break the culture, the message, the engagement. L&D needs to involve leaders at all levels in developing digital learning. Leaders can be at all levels. Using a top down approach is effective in many companies and can help by providing motivation, examples and permission to learn. Subject Matter Experts (SME) come in from all levels and areas. Studies have shown that employees like to gain knowledge from experts and co-workers in a collaborative and social way. Influencers can be either a leader, a SME or a regional lead.

All of these together make up Champions (C capitalized on purpose), a new and critical role in knowledge and learning. Champions can also set the example and provide success stories. When you are rolling out Digital Transformation, recruit, encourage and mentor Champions. Give them easy tools to provide content and social collaboration.

Champions can address moment of need better than we can. Work with them to learn the value of the tools and the flow. Building that infrastructure is a key part of your strategy development.

Your Ecosystem

There is no shortage of tools out there to “help” build an ecosystem. Red Thread Research did a great job outlining some of the possibilities and providing a structure in their October1 report. They described six activities that L&D functions can enable. And they build a cool model with some examples of vendors fitting into the model for a couple of sample companies.

Another research report that I found helpful was done by Donald Taylor: the 2020 L&D Global Sentiment Survey2 of what is hot in learning. Donald Clark wrote that the top 5 are related. Number 1 is Learning Analytics and it is fuels the next 4: Personalized/Adaptive learning, Collaborative/Social Learning, LXP and AI. AND, he notes that the LXP is the delivery engine for the others3.

While most of you who know me would be aware that I believe in adding a learning platform to your current ecosystem, I do not limit it to just and LXP. While the name is not the relevant part, I believe that it is critical to have a platform that provides a great, consumer grade UX with the ability to provide curated resources and UGC content with good analytics.

What other tools? There are so many that need to be evaluated for a place in your ecosystem. Christopher Lind has done a remarkable job in his LinkedIn Live broadcasts talking to different vendors. There are also consultants (self-promotion here) who can help navigate the libraries and tools as well as the management of change and marketing needed to adopt them.

L&D Transformation

To truly transform, we need to change our mindset. To transform to digital learning, L&D needs a new mindset made up of new capabilities with great tools. Mindsets are beliefs, attitude and a way of thinking. Tools include tech, modalities, methods and communications. Let me know if you need help to navigate the choices.




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