Adopting a Digital Learning Strategy: What CLOs Say

Five Digital Learning Strategy Revelations

Last year indeed proved to be a year of pivoting for learning organizations… pivoting on the technology infrastructure used to support learning… how training is delivered… what technologies are used for learning… and how learning is being consumed. What can we net-out from all of this?

I recently moderated a panel of top learning leaders from companies in diverse industries — DTE Energy, Parexel, American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), and Innovative Learning Group (ILG) — about how they’ve changed their approach to creating and implementing their digital learning strategies. We talked about the challenges they’ve faced, learning technologies they’ve considered, learning strategy “must have” components, and the responsibilities they’ve taken-on to execute their strategies.

Here are some of the most interesting revelations from our discussion.

Begin with the end in mind.

“We aren’t trying to build a world-class training organization; we’re trying to build a world-class workforce,” says Amy Schultz, Executive Director of Organizational Effectiveness & CLO at DTE. “We’re listening to the sentiment of the workforce and building [our strategy] from there.”

“It’s important to spend time creating an ideal-state outcome,” says James Young, Senior Vice President for Education & CLO at CHEST. “It’s about challenging ourselves to describe what the ideal-state outcome looks like once we’ve reached that destination.” 

“We start with the needs expressed from the businesses they support in the company,” says Dr. Albert Sui, Corporate Vice President, Global Learning & Development at Parexel. “The focus needs to be on the problems those businesses are trying to solve.”

The message here is that now in 2021, you don’t need to be as reactive as you were when everyone was ordered to work from home back in the Spring of 2020. You can step back and take time to think it through and create a robust learning strategy.

Have a robust learning strategy.

Since a learning strategy represents the road map for your learning function, it should have the details necessary to drive the learning function for three-plus years,” says ILG CEO Lisa Toenniges. “This isn’t a few slides in a PowerPoint deck. Your learning strategy must include nine key components.”

The upshot is your strategy should be thorough and on par with those of other functions in your organization, such as IT and marketing.

Apply the right learning development and delivery technologies.

Learning development and delivery technologies are at the heart of a digital learning strategy. Our experts had three recommendations:

  1. Use technologies to allow choice, responsiveness, and connection. This tech can include learning experience platforms, social media, live content, and games.
  2. Technologies don’t have to be cutting edge or expensive; use those that fit your organization’s needs and budget.
  3. Let the learning and performance objectives guide the choice of an application. Don’t chase or use a new technology, such as virtual reality, just because it’s cool; use it if it’s the best at cost-effectively achieving the objectives you set forth.

At times, I’ve seen learning functions try to figure out how to use or implement new technologies — and sometimes it’s a force fit. It’s important to let the learning needs define the technology, not the other way around.

Launch and adopt your strategy.

Time and energy need to be spent on getting a strategy launched and adopted. The success CHEST experienced in getting its strategy adopted was due to a serious effort at “selling” it. According to James, it’s really about consistently selling why CHEST is implementing the strategy. They do an enormous amount of relationship building and gather shared momentum around the entire organization, from the board to the C-suite to the directors of the people who run the organization and to all of the volunteer leaders.

The lesson here is to socialize your strategy early and often — throughout the entire process.

A silver lining?

“The pandemic created a transparency and the pervasive need for a more digital approach to learning, and that is a silver lining,” says Albert. “It’s an excellent opportunity right now to capitalize [on this situation] because you don’t have to argue with anyone. One hundred percent face-to-face training simply is not going to cut it.”  

Albert’s point here is perhaps the most important one for learning functions. Now is your window of time to develop a strategy that will establish a direction for the digital future.

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