Your Complete Guide to Digital Learning
One of the best ways to improve both productivity and work quality over the long term is to invest in a purpose-built training program specific to your organization.
It’s what the largest global competitors in any given industry do, and it’s just as important to your retention efforts as investment in employee benefits to keep your workforce healthy and well-adjusted. As with any effort, effectiveness and cost efficiency need to be balanced, which is just one of the many reasons why digital learning has become one of the hot topics in L&D programs worldwide.
While digital training and education efforts are hardly new, today’s sophisticated learning management systems provide more ways than ever to customize and contextualize the delivery of each digital learning object in a course.
What Is Digital Learning All About?
Any kind of learning that’s done entirely in digital environments counts as digital learning. Most of the time, this is synonymous with online learning/eLearning in the minds of students, but it’s not actually so.
Digital learning includes offline experiences like immersive simulators and virtual reality environments as well as online learning in today’s AI-powered online classrooms. It can include learning at a computer workstation while in a computer lab using local resources as well.
In most cases, corporate investment in digital learning does use online tools, but sometimes those tools are only accessible via the company’s secure intranet and not the internet. Other times, there’s a web portal or VPN available to allow learners remote access.
Whether it’s online or not, all forms of digital learning rely on the use of digital learning objects. Those are simply individual learning items that can be embedded in larger modules or courses, like an eLearning course or video.
How Digital Learning Has Changed Over Time
The earliest forms of digital learning were all offline and took forms like educational software accessed on-site and simulators that often served as a digital reality scenario.
The digital learning objects they manipulated tended to be static as well, and often there was only one path through the lesson. Sometimes, like in the case of heavy equipment operation simulators, there was only one digital learning object the machine was capable of serving.Today things are very different…With the development of the digital classroom in the 1990s and its elaboration over the first 20 years of this century, digital learning pivoted to online spaces.As the advantages of asynchronous learning became apparent, things moved away from digital seminars as the most common form of online learning and toward more individualized experiences that could be navigated at the learner’s own pace. Today’s LMSs serve that kind of experience with sophisticated AI tools and features that allow content to be served to learners at the rate and order in which it is mastered.
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The Pros and Cons of Digital Learning
While the digital classroom has become a staple of both traditional educational institutions and corporate learning and development programs, it’s not always universally beneficial.
Like all learning tools, digital solutions have limitations to their usefulness that include situations where a digital environment is simply not suited to the task at hand. When used properly, though, digital learning does have its place in practically any program.
Pros: Digital Learning Contributes to Deeper Learning
There are many cost-saving and convenience-related reasons why both organizations and learners have come to love digital learning environments.
Here are a few ways digital learning opens up new opportunities for understanding and increases the quality of the learner’s experience:
- User-paced learning allows for unlimited review of whole lessons
- Multimedia design provides for learning object definition that appeals to multiple senses and a wider range of cognitive styles
- AI-backed assessment and progress tracking serves content that suits the user’s demonstrated masteries and reviews areas where competency is still in progress
- User behavior tracking allows for both automated insights and tips for success as well as detailed instructor feedback as necessary
- The use of learning object examples from divergent media helps provide more context to lessons, which aids in the synthesis and cross-application of both knowledge and skills
- System-wide tracking of completed modules and courses to provide suggestions for new training topics or courses for users as they’re added
With all these tools automatically delivering both course content and feedback, it’s easy to see how the learner can do more with a digital environment than is typically accomplished in a brick and mortar setting alone.
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Cons: Less F2F Time
While there are a lot of strengths to digital learning, there are some areas where hands-on experiential learning or traditional classroom environments excel. That’s why many university programs are making use of hybrid courses when needed, especially since the pandemic started.
Hybrid learning allows for the effective teaching of material that is best mastered online alongside hands-on labs and live discussions in a limited number of face-to-face meetings.
Here are the downsides to online learning that led to the development of hybrid course types:
- Reduced access to instructors for real-time clarification or questions while students/learners work
- Fewer opportunities for live collaboration, making group projects difficult to design effectively
- Limited success directly simulating hands-on activities like those found in nursing clinicals or automotive repair courses
- Learner success is highly dependent on reliable access to technology and a data connection
- Lack of structured time-based sessions can sometimes be an obstacle to engagement and participation
Some of these features of the digital classroom can’t be changed because there will always be some things that are learned more effectively in a hands-on environment. On the other hand, there are some types of learning that have a clear advantage when moved to a digital environment, and there are learning methods like gamified simulation that can only be accomplished in an immersive way digitally.
It’s a matter of making the design choices that suit each learning objective for each course and modifying the structure to suit the goal.
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How to Use Digital Learning Effectively in Your Classroom or Business
To make the most of digital learning opportunities for your organization, follow these steps:
- Start by mapping out the learning goals for your program.
- Sort them into goals that would be most effectively reached through reading, viewing, or having discussions, with those that should be practiced in a hands-on way.
- Make the most of the advantages of digital learning to provide materials that suit a variety of cognitive styles and modes of communication.
Here are a few examples of concrete applications that are widely adopted.
Application #1: Onboarding Digitally
Before most companies can put a new hire to work, there’s an onboarding process. Onboarding a new team member can take weeks, sometimes even months, so it’s important to get it right. Sometimes, it's a matter of ensuring the right enculturation and processes. Other times, the main goal is to cover the required safety and compliance issues mandated by law. Usually, it's a bit of both.
Using an LMS to create a digital learning environment allows for the creation of an interactive, asynchronous onboarding process that can even be completed before entering the workplace.
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Application #2: Intranet Resource Training
What better tool could there be for teaching employees about new features of the company's digital infrastructure than an online environment?
You can show footage of a user navigating various features, blow up menu items and discuss their uses on infographics, and even link to the app itself.
It's perfect for company-wide orientation when a new feature is being rolled out for everyone, but it's also extremely powerful as an orientation tool for new hires and employees promoted to new responsibilities.
Application #3: Gamify Assessment
Where is digital learning headed next?
The answer is probably something to do with gamification, which is the process of including game-based elements in a learning environment.
Many companies are doing this for both recruiting and assessment, constructing literal games for employees or prospects to play that also provide detailed information about their managerial mindsets, knowledge of the business, and ability to perform quality control.
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Work Hack: How to Use an LMS for Digital Learning
Older online classrooms had to be built from the ground up for each course.
You could often copy over old lessons and content items from previous courses, but they then had to be placed anew, with dates and links updated. Over time, that process thankfully became more and more automated.
Today’s LMS choices not only separate learning object definition from the structure of courses and learning modules, they allow for the fast reorganization of content and relaunch of future sections of a course by automating as many steps as possible. This reduces the labor involved for your instructors and course designers.
The dashboard tools for users also streamline the process of accessing the content, making it easy for learners to get into the system, track progress, and ask questions.Need help getting the right learning tools for your organization or institution? Talk to our experts to learn more about how a modern LMS backed by AI and modern user-based design can take your training program to the next level.