The shift to digital learning comes with its challenges. Here’s how organizations can be prepared.

By Nikki Edwards

It seems hard to believe that a year has passed since the first pandemic lockdown when organizations saw in-person training cease and scrambled to get learning content online. While some businesses chose to postpone their training plans in the hope the pandemic would soon be over, others were forced to continue through digital platforms. Within three months, it became clear that the pandemic and its effects would loom long and digital learning would be the primary method of training and developing employees.

Organizations can be commended for their willingness to embrace cloud-based, peer-to-peer platforms like Microsoft Teams or Zoom for learning delivery. HR was looking to educate employees on long-term safety, including mitigating the risks of contracting COVID, while delivering information about well-being, such as ways to minimize feelings of isolation and maximize social interaction. Many opted for this online delivery when it came to essential training and pulled content together at short notice. But this wasn’t sustainable, and attention soon turned to making the online experience more engaging for learners. This was achieved by
leveraging enhanced features like breakout rooms or interactive platforms like Kahoot. Organizations with small learning teams that lacked the required skill sets turned to external third-party support for guidance.

With employees predominantly working remotely, it was critical to attract learners to the content by delivering it in bite-sized bursts and keeping it interesting and fun through a mix of modalities. Videos, animations, quizzes, and gamification proved to be popular choices.

Organizations now acknowledge that e-learning or a blended learning approach is becoming the new norm. Consequently, HR leaders are looking for ways to entice learners to obtain the critical skills they need to do their jobs. HR also needs to examine their learning technology and tool mix and seek advice on optimizing those assets.

Take, for example, manufacturing and mining -two industries that have adapted their learning practices. Before the pandemic, workers were usually flown in and out of their location to undertake in-person training. Now, workers are using augmented reality to learn components of their mission-critical training from home. Using appropriate, mobile-enabled technology, organizations can see whether the employee is safe, quick, competent, and compliant, and whether they will be safe in the actual working environment.

But digital learning is not without its challenges. Despite the good intentions of organizations to shift to digital learning, they often fail to consider the infrastructure requirements needed to put digital learning into practice.

In a rush to get employees working from home within 24 hours following the first pandemic lockdown, it quickly became apparent that organizations had to deal with various internet and broadband accessibility issues, mainly where they operated internationally. Issues included whether or not employees had access, how that access was provided (satellite, cable, telephone wires, wireless, or mobile connections), and the quality and reliability of the connection. Many organizations helped employees access the infrastructure required to work from home, but employee accessibility issues continue to be a challenge and should not be underestimated. Despite 85% of the U.S. population owning a smartphone, smartphone penetration globally is around 46%, so not all employees can access learning via apps.

Other challenges also persist. Some organizations may have purchased user licenses in the past that are now insufficient for current employee needs, imposing restrictions on who can access learning at any one time. In other cases, organizations want to provide digital learning access to their extended workforce, including contractors and customers, which requires them to modify their authentication services for security reasons. Cybersecurity, including issues around single sign-on, antivirus, and mobile device management, has been a growing issue. Many organizations do not have a secure environment and some organizations are reluctant to address it, posing an ongoing barrier to digital learning. Cybersecurity and regulatory requirements like GDPR impact the international transfer of learning data, adding to companies’ woes.

Enthusiasm for new tech like virtual reality and augmented reality has opened a can of worms around integration. Many existing learning management systems with a set of simple features saw their capabilities maxed out. It can be difficult and costly to integrate legacy on-premise learning platforms with cloud-based technology. Organizations also fail to ensure they have suitable bandwidth to support the platforms that deliver new tech. Most organizations must understand the infrastructure requirements needed to enable these learning technologies and consider upgrading their platforms.

Tackling the Challenges

The pandemic has sped up the digital transformation of organizations by three or four years -and there is no going back. The pace at which technology is evolving continues to accelerate, and most, if not all, jobs will be digitally enabled in some form in a matter of years. Organizations must get the right digital infrastructure in place if they are to operate successfully in a digital world. The ongoing impact of the pandemic, likely to be prevalent for another few years, accentuates the need for the global workforce of the future to encompass a higher proportion of remote work.


Nikki Edwards is HR outsourcing principal research analyst for NelsonHall.

Tags: June 2021, Learning, Magazine Article

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