Digital thinking for L&D 101: Enabling flexibility - part 2
Digital technologies offer a powerful way to enable flexible learning experiences for learners and organisations. Digital technologies mean that learning is accessible from anywhere, at any time. As consumers we now almost expected this type of flexibility. I recently realised that the only reason I visit a bank is when their process doesn’t allow me to do something online or on the phone. In our workplaces, employees are expecting this same flexibility of their learning too. Personal technologies such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops can be used anywhere, at any time, providing them with more choices.
Ubiquitous mobile and media-rich communication technologies mean that many employees can work from anywhere. Not having to commute saves time and can reduce business expenses, for example through office accommodation. This flexibility is also giving rise to virtual organisations, which literal don’t have a central office. Employees can be recruited from anywhere. The talent pool becomes global.
Personalisation systems such as Amazon's recommendation engine are a perfect example of the flexibility that digital technologies provide. The content and options that are provided to a user are adapted from what they have viewed in the past. Personalisation involves thinking in algorithms and rules, often utilising the machine learning approaches that I wrote about in the first part of this series of blog posts.
In the world of Netflix and Spotify the viewer is in control of what they watch and when they watch media. In the past, viewers wouldn’t pay for broadcast media but now we prefer to subscribe to flexible services in order to have more control over our viewing and listening experiences.
The world of advertising has changed. Broadcast television and radio sends out the same advertising messages to the whole audience. This same mass distribution approach was how banner advertising on the web started, but advertisers quickly realised that on the web they know more about the audience and therefore the advertising experience could be adapted or personalised to their audience's interests.
Mon Purse is an example of a new type of personalised product. Their consumers are able to use a 3-D bag designer to choose the style, shape, color and accessories for a bag that is then custom made for the buyer at a fraction of the cost of traditional bespoke products. Personalised products are often not completely personalised but assembled from parts, a bit like assembling a model from pieces of Lego.
Automated self-service systems at supermarket checkouts are another example of both automation and flexibility. They are saving the business money and at the same time giving the customer choice and often reducing wait times.
Digital learning and flexibility
Digital learning has made learning more flexible. There are subtle things like the learner being able to control their learning experience; in face-to-face training everyone has to move at the same speed, while digital learners can move at the speed that is right for them. In most elearning, everyone is on one pathway and they really don’t have much choice about how they learn. This is made worse when the learner is not able to freely move around a module. These types of practices subtly destroy the flexibility that digital approaches afford. There are still a lot of opportunities to provide employees with more choices about how they learn and what they learn.
Learning anytime for anywhere
There is now an expectation from learners that learning programs will work on all their devices. The newer cloud-based digital authoring systems have been designed to work with responsive web design approaches, where the learning experience is displayed differently on desktops, tablets and mobiles. Sometimes mobile learning is seen as needing a more complex, sophisticated approach, but it can now easily be designed from the start.
Digital learning is often used to train a large number of employees quickly. It’s scalability is one of the reasons it is so powerful – thousands of people might be doing exactly the same learning experience at the same time, even though their jobs are radically different. There is lots of potential for learning experiences that are more personalised. This doesn't have to mean the whole experience needs to be different – the differences can be subtle. The ‘Lego’ approach of using pre-existing elements to personalise products can be applied to learning experiences as well.
The idea of adaptive learning is where a learner might get a question wrong and then the next learning experiences focus on that aspect. Once again, this means thinking about rules and algorithms instead of about content. Adaptive learning doesn’t need to be complex – it could be as simple as showing or hiding different content-based choices to past questions. More complex approaches involve tagging parts of the learning resources and showing or hiding content depending on which tag the learner is focused.
Questions and ideas to explore around flexibility
How much of your learning is still face to face? What could be moved to being an online blended experience? Could the face-to-face sections be replaced with virtual classrooms?
Are your digital learning experiences flexible? Sometimes small changes can make a large difference, e.g. are employees able to freely navigate around modules?
Want can be made to be self-service for employees, giving the learner more control? What can be made to be on-demand?
Can your employees access learning anytime or anywhere? Are your learning experiences optimised for tablets and mobiles? Can they access learning from home?
How can your employees gain more control of their learning?
- Could you make your learning systems experiences adaptive and personalised?