Digital learning – why the trend is moving from push to pull
Professional development has taken an incredible turn over the last few years. It wasn’t all that long ago when training sessions often played a modest role and were considered an optional extra by many companies.
Nowadays, there isn’t an HR manager around who hasn’t realized that professional development and talent management are business-critical factors that deserve to be placed front and center of any business management strategy. After all, both are decisive in how well a company fares in a crisis and how quickly it can react to turbulent changes in the age of artificial intelligence (AI), remote working and data-driven business. When it comes to competing on the market, it’s not technology itself that makes the difference. Much more important is how confidently and creatively staff take full advantage of its potential. This calls for continuous learning and a fast pace during knowledge transfers – and that’s what digital training formats, more than anything else, offer. Not all formats are able to provide this, though. So what do you need to bear in mind?
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The COVID-19 pandemic has given digitalization in the world of professional training an unprecedented boost, including in Switzerland. Virtually overnight, learning specialists had to wave goodbye to face-to-face sessions and pluck new formats for staff working from home out of thin air. All of a sudden, the standard option of having someone stand at the front of a room and deliver a monologue was substituted for eLearning, webinars, peer-to-peer learning and virtual classroom training.
These digital learning formats have been established at many companies for years and they continue to have their benefits, even when people are working remotely. They bring variety to the in-house training portfolio and promote dialog without everyone needing to be in the same room. When it comes to knowledge transfers, they also factor in – at least to a certain extent – each individual’s pace of learning and preferences for certain media formats. What’s more, eLearning allows employees to decide for themselves what they want to learn and when. Despite all this, the majority of the learning formats mentioned fail to meet the everyday needs of people in the company. Anyone who has ever trawled through a one-hour YouTube video, a podcast, or page after page of documentation to find that single all-important nugget of information will already suspect what the issue is here.
The problem is that many digital learning formats are based on pre-digital methods of knowledge sharing. Although they undeniably provide indispensable know-how on certain topics or projects, they are neither clever nor smart, because they give far too many answers to the different, often very specific, questions raised by individual participants. Most of you will be aware of the consequences from your own experience. Employees suffer from information overload or boredom, let themselves get sidetracked and worry about not being able to remember what they have learned when they need it one or two weeks later. These are all classic obstacles when it comes to bringing digitalization projects to a successful conclusion.
Less is more – contextual learning in the workplace
Swiss health insurance provider KPT decided to confront this dilemma head-on, opting for a digital adoption solution that ensures knowledge is provided exactly where it is needed most every day – directly at the workplace. “We are seeing a paradigm shift in how knowledge is being shared within companies. Training content should no longer be considered in isolation from the jobs employees do,” says Remo Luzi, eLearning specialist at KPT.
Like many other companies, KPT is working flat out on digitalizing its processes. As a result, a lot is changing and learning requirements are so high that Luzi and his colleagues have deliberately chosen a solution that supports contextual learning in the workflow. “What’s crucial for us is that, whenever possible, we only show staff the functions that they need for their work and that they are authorized to use,” Luzi explains. “The additional options for evaluating how our colleagues learn are important for us, too. This helps us understand their needs even better and incorporate our findings into new training courses.”
The key element of contextual learning is breaking down large chunks of knowledge into quickly digestible mini lessons that staff can call up in their “moment of need” to suit their current task and role – in other words, exactly when an acute gap in know-how opens up. To ensure things go smoothly, the performance support solution runs in the background – as long as employees want it to and the software has been activated. It recognizes which program employees are working with and what functions they would like to use. If users hit a wall, they can get the exact help they need at the click of a mouse – from step-by-step guides and video tutorials all the way to cross-program and cross-process eLearning courses, documents, animations and quiz formats.
Greater acceptance by helping users help themselves
Barry Callebaut has also realized that providing context-specific knowledge in the “moment of need” plays a critical role in ensuring digitalization projects are successful. “It’s not just about providing microlearning in the ‘moment of need’, it’s also about removing all obstacles to it,” says Stefan Weingärtner, Global HR Solutions & Digitalization Lead at Barry Callebaut. Since 2013, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer has been working with SAP SuccessFactors and is about to roll out another global solution for time management.
The company has offered a wide-ranging digital learning portfolio for many years. It became clear, however, that employees were not finding documents, training materials or tool guides straight away, even though these were available. To provide better support for its staff, Barry Callebaut decided to bring in a digital adoption solution. It’s still early days for the roll-out. HR staff are the only ones working with the solution at the moment, but there are plans to hook it up to SAP SuccessFactors in the future. “We therefore favor a solution that can work with any software. That way, staff can always try to work their own way out of difficulty and consult the centrally available help content before turning to the support desk.”
Weingärtner knows just how important swift user adoption through microlearning is for successfully onboarding new staff and establishing acceptance when rolling out and using new software. Particularly in these situations, digital adoption solutions can harness a great deal of potential.
That said, Weingärtner would advise against pinning all hopes on eLearning. According to the specialist, Barry Callebaut will continue to host knowledge-sharing and virtual team sessions in the future. “You need to be tactful when deciding on the best way to ensure learning content is taught effectively,” he says, adding: “I’m confident that software-supported learning will become increasingly important. We must not forget about the people and their need for interaction, however. Acceptance and frustration are not far apart.”