Has digital learning ever been more important to businesses? The pandemic has accelerated the demand for digital learning, but many businesses are still playing catch up when it comes to the right solutions.
Learning that was previously face-to-face may need to be done online and learners are increasingly demanding more engaging courses from their workplace. What might have passed for eLearning a few years ago, is probably not going to cut it now.
Digital learning vs eLearning – What’s the difference?
At Omniplex Learning, we often get asked what the difference is between digital learning and eLearning.
After all, the two terms do seem interchangeable. Many words have been written on this subject… just Google search and you’ll see what we mean. But we think it would be oversimplifying it to say they were the same thing.
Broadly speaking, eLearning only happens virtually via the internet. It’s also referred to as ‘online learning.’ There is no face-to-face element to eLearning and it’s usually supported by online collaboration tools, such as video conferencing, group chat and email.
What is digital learning?
Digital learning involves the use of digital technology in delivering any type of learning. This could include remote learning, but also face-to-face classroom learning, where digital tools and devices are used.
Digital learning may involved different types of media used to engage your learners, whether it’s video content, virtual reality headsets or online experiences.
Traditional eLearning courses may still form part of a digital learning strategy, but there are now more ways than ever to engage your learners digitally.
We’ve seen huge growth in digital learning post-pandemic. So what’s the problem?
Whatever the terminology we deploy, it’s clear that the pandemic has changed the way organisations deliver learning. Covid and the resultant move to more remote working have fuelled the growth in both digital learning and eLearning.
According to the 2022 Learner Intelligence Report*, face-to-face learning accounted for 53% of all learning before Covid in 2019. The equivalent figure for 2022 is 34%. 66% of all learning is now delivered either online or via a “blended” approach. This compares with 47% prior to the pandemic.
Lizzie Crowley, CIPD’s Senior Policy Advisor states: “While many learning professionals have had to do more with less in the last year, it was also a time to challenge assumptions and embrace new ways of doing things. It’s clear there is no going back – the pandemic has likely changed for good the face of learning and skills development in organisations”.
But that can be too simplistic a view. Lizzie’s comments are certainly borne out in the way we are now using online collaborative tools.
Microsoft Teams had 20m users in November 2019. In 2022 it has 270m users. Zoom can point to similar meteoric growth.
But whilst Covid’s impact is clear for all to see on collaborative tools – driven by the move to remote working, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the creation of digital content. And that still remains the case. For online learning to be effective, this needs to be addressed.
Collaborative tools are the vehicles to deliver content. They play a supporting role. Apply that to digital learning, and we can see that it’s so much easier to set up virtual classrooms and online learning environments to deliver training. But the content delivered is often hashed versions of face-to-face classroom training programs. And sometimes not even that.
The CIPD and Accenture in its 2021 report “Learning and Skills at work” support this view:
“Despite the seismic shift to digital learning, take-up of technologies that have the potential to make learning more engaging and effective remains low. The proportion using mobile apps, chatbots, VR and AR animations or games is largely unchanged from last year.”
It recommends that “digital learning is a part of an overall learning philosophy and working out which types of learning are best suited to digital platforms rather than transferring all face-to-face content online ‘as is’.”
There’s a gap we must close to bring the two together with the learning needs of employees at its heart.
Most organisations still regard digital learning as a tactical add-on
Unfortunately, the evidence is that there is still a way to go. Digital learning and eLearning have made the tactical deployment of training and development easier. But the real test of an organisation’s belief in learning as a way of improving organisational performance lies in the extent to which digital learning is embedded in a company’s culture. In other words, it’s “part of the way we do things”, rather than just a convenient add-on that ticks a few corporate boxes.
This is also referred to by L&D commentators as the level of “learning maturity”.
In the latest 2022 Learning Performance Benchmark* of over 700 L&D practitioners, 56% of organisations are stuck at the lowest levels of learning maturity. This is interpreted as a “transactional impact focusing on short-term-only gains.”
Those organisations in the top performing level of learning maturity where there is a high-impact learning culture, are two to three times more likely to report a reduction in employee turnover, an increase in organizational productivity, and an increase in “organizational revenue.”
The trouble is that only 11% of organisations are in this category.
This suggests Covid has resulted in more digital learning. But has it really changed the way we view digital learning as part of a company’s organisational strategy?
So going back to a definition of Digital learning. I think we have to broaden it to include both the delivery platform and the suitability of the content for L&D purposes.
Many organisations still operate a traditional top-down approach to L&D, albeit digitally; “we’ll provide our people with the training we think they will need for the good of the organisation.”
But there’s been a shift of emphasis to self-directed learning as employees strive to improve their own personal development to get up the career ladder or learn new skills. Employees recognise their worth at a time when retaining existing employees has never been more important with the dearth of available talent as well as the huge costs and disruption caused by having to replace people.
Embedding a digital learning culture is a key opportunity to motivate existing employees to commit to a company’s future.
It necessitates a deep dive into understanding employees’ needs and providing them with the content and ease of access to the right L&D tools in the flow of work.
Award-winning industry analyst Laura Overton has been researching learning maturity for nearly 20 years. She puts this succinctly: “The difference today is that the world has changed – workers are ready to learn and the path ahead is clearer.”
Short-circuiting the path to learning maturity
There’s no doubt about the potential for digital learning. The CIPD believe that “with digital learning moving at pace, it’s vital that L&D professionals invest in the skills and capabilities to harness its potential. While most consider the delivery of virtual classrooms as key, only about one-third have the necessary in-house skills to offer that opportunity. Similarly, while most want to develop digital content, less than one-third feel able to do so.”
Organisations such as Omniplex Learning can help plug some of these gaps and create a mature learning culture. By providing award-winning authoring tools, market-leading learning management systems, bespoke digital learning creation and systems and skills training – all in one place, organisations can short circuit the tortuous process of piecing all these together themselves.
It’s the easy way to achieve in-house control over course content creation and training delivery.
*Learning Performance Benchmark 2022 by Mind Tools for Business.