How to improve digital learning post-COVID

Leaders can’t just throw content that was historically delivered face-to-face onto a web portal or video conference webinar, writes Tony Maguire of D2L

How to improve digital learning post-COVID

In a year full of challenges, the greatest issue facing the Learning and Development (L&D) industry was the need to move training online. This was the key finding from the Australian Institute of Training and Development’s (AITD) 2020 Learning & Development Survey which found 65% of the 1,957 respondents identified the shift to remote learning as the biggest obstacle they were seeking to overcome.

If we dig slightly deeper, AITD identifies that 52% of those who have started undertaking professional development are motivated by a need to keep up with the changing environment that COVID-19 has created, while 32% want to upskill generally.

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As the economy emerges bleary-eyed from the nightmare of COVID-19, L&D teams will become increasingly pivotal in supporting business leaders and employees in gaining the skills needed to thrive as industries and the economy continue to be shaped by new challenges.

How employees function, communicate and collaborate will never be the same – and it is upon the shoulders of L&D professionals that the responsibility will fall for upskilling workforces with the training they need to succeed in this brave new world.

Critically, there’s also been a seismic shift in how that training is expected to be delivered to an increasingly dispersed workforce.

Digital delivery
Gone are the days where groups of employees could be brought together for in-person training seminars. But you can’t simply throw content that was historically delivered face-to-face onto a web portal or video conference webinar.

As L&D professionals grapple with how to deliver a previously live experience digitally – and in way that engages learners, facilitates collaboration and enables the instructor to assess learning outcomes – it is important to consider the key benefits of in-person training and how to deliver them through a digital platform.

Those key features of a live course are gamification, collaboration, and feedback. Not only can these three elements be delivered digitally, but they can also be delivered in such a way that they’re enhanced. 

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In a classroom setting, one of the most powerful tools at the instructor’s disposal is a gamified experience. Traditionally, this most often manifests as ‘role plays’ or other games in which learners can apply their knowledge in a simulated real-world scenario.

By breaking up the learning program with strategically placed games, learners are motivated, engaged, and driven through the course.

In a modern digital learning experience, gamification can also be applied to encourage learners to progress through the content. Particularly with millennial learners, the idea of passing through ‘levels’ is well-ingrained. Therefore, building digital courses that include badges, unlocked achievements, and awards that give recognition for engaging with different elements of the course – such as commenting on a discussion board for example – can similarly motivate learners.

Simply hosting a webinar and asking learners to complete a quiz afterwards is not an engaging experience. “Zoom Fatigue” is a relatively new addition to the office vocabulary, but it is one which I think we’ve all experienced.

So, by leveraging elements of gamification, learners will not only be more engaged with their learning, they’ll also be motivated to complete the course despite the challenges of learning while isolated from their peers.

While gamification can help with motivation, this element of isolation must still be overcome in any successful digital L&D program – particularly for asynchronous courses.

One of the biggest advantages of in-class L&D programs is the ability for learners to collaborate – both with each other, as well as the instructor. People like working together in teams, sharing ideas, and developing skills collaboratively.

Thankfully, with a robust digital learning platform, L&D practitioners can foster a collaborative environment by developing dedicated learning groups – forums and safe spaces in which learners can discuss topics, ask questions, or share videos, images, or audio snippets they’ve found useful or inspiring.

Critically, this can also give the instructor a way in which to assess collaboration similar to how they would in a live environment.

With soft-skills like collaboration so important for the workforce of tomorrow, being able to measure how leaners cooperate and work together – particularly in a digital environment – is crucial to the success of any L&D course.  

Successful learners require feedback – preferably frequently and specifically.

In classroom-based learning, coaching can be delivered almost immediately from both the trainer as well as the peer group.

When developing a digital version of a previously in-person course, L&D professionals must consider when feedback will be delivered, how it will be delivered, and who will be able to provide it.

This is most important when training for soft skills. Consider a course for leadership skills as an example. With a robust learning management system, a course can be developed in which each learner records themselves practicing the skills, then uploads it for both the trainer and the peer group to provide feedback.

The trainer might then record a video in which they deliver their feedback, while the peer group can simultaneously leave comments on each other’s videos with suggestions timestamped to help the learner refine their skill.  

This rich feedback, which goes far beyond the more traditional online learning experience of completing a quiz and receiving a score out of 10, helps the learner with specific practical guidance to help them truly develop the desired skill.

Ready for tomorrow
Although the challenges facing the L&D industry are great, they are not insurmountable. With a robust learning management system, courses can be developed that not only keep remote learners engaged but enhance and elevate the entire experience.

By taking the most beneficial elements of in-person training and delivering them digitally, L&D professionals can provide training that inspires the workforce and prepares them for whatever comes next.

Tony Maguire is regional director for Australia and New Zealand of L&D software group D2L.

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