Adopting digital learning in firms

At the Learning Technologies conference in London, three experts discuss adopting digital learning technologies in their firms

Creating a culture for sharing is one of the main steps towards adopting digital learning in organisations, according to experts.

At Learning Technologies in London, a panel of learning and engagement experts from different firms discussed how they had adopted new learning tech in their organisations and what it involved.

A common theme included an emphasis on developing a way people can share the knowledge they already have in an organisation, rather than develop materials that may not be relevant.

“In your companies, who knows how to do the job? The ones actually doing the job,” said Rachel Hutchinson, head of portfolio and community management at Hilti.

At manufacturing company Hilti, the learning and development team were providing learning resources to 27,000 globally in several different languages, but Hutchinson said the firm’s original approach was to offer “everything you’re ever going to need”.

While the strategy of the firm was to use learning internally to develop the best possible teams, it eventually became clear the approach wasn’t working – the team were providing materials, but people weren’t learning.

Hutchinson’s team focused on creating a new approach to learning on the job, concentrating on what Hilti’s employees did and what tools they used in their day-to-day roles to create “experiences that fit the real world”.

Hutchinson said: “We ended up putting in a platform that allowed people to share their knowledge, to talk to each other.”

The idea of this new platform was to allow users to upload their own content, interact and learn from each other.

Initially, the Hilti learning and development team contributed some of the content by using existing courses, but in 2018, after two years, there were 360 learning communities on the platform, and only 165 of them were managed by the learning and development team, who were still only acting as community mangers.

This added up to around 47,000 individual pieces of learning content on the system, with only around 3,600 created by the learning and development team.

“They’re sharing what they have done out there and other people are taking that on and learning from that,” said Hutchinson.

As most of the employees in Hilti’s business are salespeople who are out in the field, Hutchinson said: “They’re not learning while sitting at a desk, they’re learning on their phones.”

While there have been several issues, the community has dealt with them much like they deal with the development of content – Hutchinson used the example of someone in the US posting advice that would not be relevant in the UK.

Someone from the UK corrected them within 17 seconds, clarifying the advice would only be relevant in the US for legal reasons.

“That is exactly what happens when you put the empowerment in the people to create the content,” added Hutchinson.

Technology for the masses

In a world where automation threatens to replace certain jobs, many believe we’re moving into an era of continuous learning.

This fast pace of technology change can be a blessing or a curse depending on your company’s culture, according to Nigel Paine, managing director of NigelPaine.com and former head of people development at the BBC.

“Learning is the fundamental for survival in this age of turbulence and transformation and challenge,” he said, adding that learning teams need to “work with, not work against” the most recent technology trends.

While this is a “massive opportunity”, it can also bring challenges, much like in all situations where digital transformation and organisational culture are involved.

For example, it also means adapting to how people want to consume content in the modern age, and the devices they want to do it on. Paine said 80% of learning in organisations “happens without you doing anything at all” as people connect, chat and learn in an “age where digital technology” allows them to do so.

“Learning has to work out what it needs, learning has to decide how it can adapt and fit and make a big difference,” Paine said, in relation to learning and development programmes in businesses. “Learning can change lives, and I believe learning can change organisations.”

Sharing good vibes

Lingerie and adult toy retailer Ann Summers took a different approach to developing digital learning, moving away from a paper-based learning process within the business to an e-learning platform.

Wanting to take a “blended approach” to internal learning, which would ensure its people engaged with its content rather than just filling out a form, the brand looked for an e-learning application it could pair with the capability to share and take personal notes in a journal.

But as a small family business, Gayle Tong, talent and development partner at Ann Summers, said most commercially available e-learning systems were “way too corporate” and expensive for the brand.

It also had to have the Ann Summers look and feel, especially as the business has 94% brand recognition in the UK.

The brand chose Nimble to help it develop an e-learning platform that would replace its current paper notebooks, while maintaining the Ann Summers feel for its users.

“We had to be able to author that – it had to look like us and have our tone of voice,” said Tong.

She said part of the learning and development team’s goal at Ann Summers is to “grow our own talent and develop our teams to be the best they can be” across the business, from regional managers to shop floor to the hundreds of self-employed Ann Summers party ambassadors.

Tong also said she “wanted store managers and regional managers to take a bit more accountability for training and learning and development of our people in stores”.

She worked with people across the business to find out how their existing content would “translate” into an e-learning offering. Initially, a pilot group was used to allow potential users to experience the system and ask questions.

“Because we’re all about empowerment, I wanted [employees] to have a voice and be honest with me,” said Tong. She received more than 1,000 pages of feedback.

Using Nimble, Tong’s team developed The Learning One e-learning system, launching in 2016 with 21 courses and around 800 learners. The platform has 90% to 95% engagement, and is available to every new starter in the business.

But Tong draws the subject back to sharing knowledge – not just when developing learning platforms for users, but also during the learning and development process, reminding organisations “not to lose sight of other ways of learning”.

“We learn a lot from talking to each other as well,” she said.

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