Where do you sit on the digital learning debate? – Do you think it’s a fantastic opportunity for exciting, experiential learning or a dull, ‘looking at a screen’ experience?

Having been in the learning & development industry for longer than I’d wish to admit, I’ve experienced a huge range of ‘remote’ learning. My first ever training project was to write a massive, paper-based distance learning manual – great to use as a doorstop once the learning had been completed. When technology kicked in, I then moved on to designing programmes that were engaging enough to avoid the ‘spacebar-itis’ of early computer-based training. Now, thank goodness, with the explosion of digital communication tools, the world of ‘remote’ learning is a different place.

In recent years, my focus has been on developing experiential learning that immerses people in the environmental & human rights challenges that their business is facing. My aim is always to move participants from awareness through to action – for them to focus on ‘real world’ situations and to understand them more fully; to engage with these situations on both a rational and emotional level; to be creative & collaborative in generating action that makes a positive change in the world. I have often integrated digital learning into the programmes – the challenge and opportunity now is to do it all digitally!

Through trial, error and experience I’ve learnt some key lessons on how to make digital learning great:

  1. Blend it – use different tools and methodologies for the specific needs. Although blended learning is not new, the explosion of new digital tools means that there are ever increasing options to choose from to develop inspiring blended learning programmes. It’s now easy to include multimedia and new technologies like virtual reality (e.g. ProReal) to create immediacy and emotional connection with the content. Create learning that mixes asynchronous with synchronous learning. Give people a choice of learning tools and options to suit their own learning styles and personal circumstances.
  2. Keep it interactive – integrate online collaboration and group problem-solving methodologies (e.g. Conceptboard, Mural, Miro). Even if it is knowledge-based e-learning that is completed individually, encourage interaction by getting learners to talk to colleagues about what they’re learning or to carry out their own learning enquiry in the place that they work.
  3. Use webinars wisely – webinars don’t have to replicate a 2-day in-person programme. Be creative and think about the value of webinars over other types of digital learning. Use them as a launchpad to introduce new ideas or concepts and to generate interaction between participants. Keep them short. Use breakout rooms for small group discussion & interaction. Encourage participants to take responsibility for elements of peer learning. The facilitator doesn’t need to be ‘in control’ all of the time – this might feel scary for some! Mix webinars with the opportunities for personal reflection, off-line group collaboration and non-screen activities e.g. pair people up for a walk & talk on their phones.
  4. Make it personal – where possible, allow for people to design their own learning pathways. Support them to define their key learning focus, to complete elements of the learning in an order that suits them, and identify learning projects that are important to them. The world of learning no longer needs to be linear – experiment with different learning structures, create parallel units of learning or inter-linked resources that can be explored in any order.
  5. Don’t rush – unless there’s a business imperative for learning to be completed and applied by a certain time, spread out the learning. Unlike in-person programmes, we don’t have to fit everything into a number of consecutive days. We can allow for time in between webinars/group work for personal reflection and application of learning.
  6. Share it widely – without the additional travel & venue costs of in-person programmes, digital learning can be offered far more widely at a lower cost than in-person programmes. Make your top class learning accessible to people in all parts of your organization, including those who might previously been excluded on the basis of cost or geographical location.

This is a pivotal time for the learning & development industry. Although I miss some aspects of in-person programmes, for me, the environmental benefits of ‘no-travel’ programmes and the creative challenge of designing digital learning makes up for these. I can see such great potential for digital learning and am excited to create immersive, experiential learning that focuses on the environmental & human rights issues that business is currently facing. To chat or find out more about what I can do for you, email me at sian@leadershipforsustainability.co.uk