Looop’s Chief Learning Officer and L&D podcast host, David James, joined forces with Myles Runham to talk about digital transformation

Myles Runham is an independent consultant who brings a wealth of knowledge to the L&D community through his previous experience and ongoing passion for innovation. His previous roles include being Head of Digital at BBC Academy and General Manager at ask.com. 

During this candid conversation, Myles and David discuss common blockers of digital capability and what crossing the digital frontier looks like. 

Listen to episode 1 of the L&D podcast now

 

Back to Basics: What Does “Digital” Mean in L&D? 

The terms “digital transformation” and “digital capability” are such overused buzzwords in the L&D community that they have almost started to lose their meaning. That’s why Myles and David think it’s vital that companies looking for modern solutions to age-old learning and development problems should get clear on what exactly “digital” means, first. 

Myles’s interpretation of digital uses this common definition as a starting point: “Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.” – definitionofdigital.com

Myles dissects this further on his blog: “technology is only one of the four facets of the definition”… “real transformation changes everything” and “is going to take a very long time.” He goes further to say, “A fundamental element of digital transformation for L&D is putting the user/learner/audience at the centre and making their needs and concerns primary.”

This shift towards user-centred development will be challenging for most businesses because this isn’t just about revamping a training course but more of an overhaul. Digital capability requires adopting a whole new mindset towards L&D

 

We’re in the “Digital Era” — Why Hasn’t L&D Joined It?

1. The Term “Digital” Is Misunderstood

The preoccupation with technology within L&D has often hindered L&D from propelling itself into the modern age.

“Digital, today, does not mean the application of technology. It means user-centricity; it means adding value to the customer journey; it means prototyping products that help address friction in the customer journey, and using the right technology to scale what works. This approach allows for ongoing iteration in service of the user – and what they are trying to do.” – David James  

Myles says, ”for too many people, digital means technology implementation and then carry[ing] on with maybe lower cost and greater efficiency than what you used to do.” Though technology enables learners to learn faster than ever before, if it’s purely used for the sake of it, it becomes a gimmick. 

 

2. The Buyers Aren’t the Users 

Users of a system — be it an LMS or otherwise — have different interests and priorities to the people who buy the system. 

A user cares, above all, about relevancy and accessibility. The buyer, on the other hand, is mostly satisfied with finding a happy place between cost and quality. Myles explains,

“The customer group, the budget holder, is probably a head of learning, chief information officer, chief learning officer, head of HR tech, something like that. The people who are making the buying decisions within organisations are not necessarily — and I think very infrequently, sadly — representing the interests of their end-users.”

It’s vital to remember these mismatched goals when defining an L&D strategy. Failure to do so will likely produce a programme that looks great on paper but doesn’t meet end-user needs. 

 

3. People Fear Change

Digital transformation at work requires, above anything else, prioritising the needs of the employee. Myles says, that “to do it properly means changing quite a lot, if not everything.” Hence, “people [in L&D] are nervous of that, quite rightly.” 

Although the reasons for the change might be logical, putting theory into practice is a whole different ball game.

According to Forbes, people tend to evaluate the world with a four-step process: First, we notice some facts (1), then we interpret those facts (2) and have an emotional reaction to them (3). Finally, we have a desired end (4). Problems arise when there is a disparity between what actually happened (the fact) and what we think happened (the interpretation). Our beliefs become warped. We become unconsciously protective of something and stuck in a self-imposed hamster wheel. 

 

4. The Expected Pace of Delivery Feels Impossible

The digital benchmark is set outside of the L&D industry and, like it or not, employees will compare their organisation’s digital capability against it. 

Myles has worked with numerous clients throughout his career who’ve admitted defeat before even commencing their L&D revamp. People say to him, “Why bother? We can’t possibly compete with that.” Unfortunately, this excuse just won’t cut it for today’s employees. “The level of ambition that we need to have is constantly aiming to offer people the best user experience you can.”

The harsh truth is: employees expect more from their employers than remuneration and 25 days’ holiday. A recent survey of over 25,000 employees by TINYPulse found that 54% of employees are “unclear about their promotion and career path.” The report goes on to say, “This disconnect is likely due to a lack of tools and resources available to help workers perform at a high level.” 

Rather than burying heads in sandpits, “managers must invest in learning opportunities and discover what additional materials employees need to achieve the maximum they are capable of.” Companies that contribute to their employees’ personal growth will increase employee retention and have a “massive advantage” against their competitors. 

Find out more in episode 1 of the L&D podcast

 

5. The Yearning for Cookie-cutter Innovation 

Most companies adopt the waterfall approach to innovation, which requires seeking permission from stakeholders sequentially. The intention behind this methodology is valid (as it seeks to reduce or eliminate unnecessary costs). But risk-free innovation is a myth.

Miles explains that making a transformational change with no new information is “impossible”. “You’ll just be constrained within your current experience”. Venturing out for new information — taking a risk — requires “trust in something that you’ve never experienced before”. For many people, especially those in senior positions, this can be very uncomfortable. 

Innovation, by its very nature, means paddling into uncharted waters. Keeping pace with the digital era will be extremely laborious if it takes one year to gain the CFO’s permission to start a project.

6. The Addiction to Measuring “Learning Data”

This goes back to placing employees at the heart of a learning and development strategy. Digital transformation capitalises on employees’ best interests to drive business performance. 

Capturing learning data like attendance rates and course completion rates won’t tell a company how effective its L&D programme is. Myles says that this will only help you to “solve some problems”. Instead, companies should focus on “helping people solve their (real) problems” by providing learning relevancy in the flow of work.

 

What Does Crossing L&D’s Digital Frontier Look Like?

transform digital in L&D by crossing the frontier

Despite the challenges of adopting a modern L&D strategy, if done right, it has the power to take a business to the next level. This is what crossing the digital threshold in an L&D strategy looks like:

  • Learning success is defined by how effective, and satisfied, the employees are: Business KPIs trump learning KPIs every single time. 
  • The company culture favours learning over perfection: “Mistakes” are opportunities for learning. Change is an opportunity for growth. The company should encourage horizontal and vertical communication so vital information can flow easily.
  • The number of UX-focused roles increases: A product manager, for example, ”is almost the orchestrator of the experience.” Myles explains, “They understand the business really well. Product managers know how the business works, what the business model is and what decisions need to be made”.
  • Innovation is encouraged by fostering a non-bureaucratic, agile approach to continuous improvement: Implementing a “beta version” of an L&D strategy will help a company move rapidly from an early stage idea so you can easily showcase what the uses and benefits are.
  • Learning content is targeted to reach employees at the right place and time: Learning at the “point of need” is what Gottfredson and Mosher called “the sweet spot of performance support”. Employees want easy-access, relevant information when they need it — not when the company thinks they need it

 

Still Curious about L&D Digital Transformation?

Start your digital transformation with a free trial of Looop or read more about what it takes for digital transformation in L&D

Find Myles Runham on LinkedIn and Twitter or read his blog.

Ask David James a question on LinkedIn or Twitter.