Digital transformation is a term that gets bandied about a lot these days, but it is not always one that is well understood.
For some it means automation of as much as possible and is a way to reduce the headcount of an organisation; for others it is about introducing technology to supplement the work of the human workforce.
In practicality digital transformation is about using technology to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness at every level, from operations to customer experience to people management, and everything in between. But how does eLearning fit into the remit of ‘digital transformation’? Is it a driver or a supporter of the transformation? For most organisations, eLearning will hold a dual role; helping to drive the streamlining of HR and learning within a business, while also supporting the skills development of a workforce transitioning through a widescale digital transformation.
However, this duality can pose challenges for organisations who are unclear about the objectives of the transformation plan, and the role of eLearning in this context.
It is therefore important to understand the different roles that eLearning plays in a digital transformation, to ensure that it can be applied in the most appropriate way.
eLearning as a driver of transformation
Digital transformation, as the name implies, is at its heart, about using digital technologies to change the way businesses operate. From a people point of view eLearning has been driving changes in how employees learn at work for many years, but it is becoming an even more powerful tool as eLearning starts to evolve in line with the technological capabilities being seen in other industries.
The challenge with eLearning, just as with many other ‘digital’ parts of a transformation, is that people often struggle to see the benefits of the new approach, and because it is different to what they are used to, it is common to see quite staunch resistance.
This continues to be an on-going challenge within eLearning, despite its increasing usage over the years. But the most common cause for this, and for the resistance across digital transformation programmes in general, is that technology or new initiatives are rolled-out without considering the wider context or, more importantly, the people. Often organisations invest in these technologies, and expect people to use it without question, or any guidance on why it is important and beneficial. It is partly for this reason that estimates suggest as many as 84% of digital transformation projects fail, and equally, why eLearning continues to display relatively poor adoption rates compared to face to face learning despite the benefits.
Part of the resolution to this challenge will therefore revolve around examining and the explaining the benefits. In the example of eLearning the benefits are well documented:
- Cost-effectiveness – in comparison to traditional face to face methods, eLearning is a huge cost-saving initiative for organisations, tying in neatly with one of the overarching goals of digital transformation. In today’s competitive market, even the initial set-up cost is far lower than it has ever been, and it has always been that case that eLearning is cheaper in the long run, making it the most cost-effective approach overall with large companies seeing savings of millions by employing eLearning at their primary learning resource.
- Time efficiency – for many organisations the time savings enabled by eLearning are one of the most important benefits; employees can achieve competence in a range of areas, while sacrificing far less time away from their actual job. Some research suggests that digital learning can reduce time spent managing and attending training by as much as 58%, enabling employees to dedicate more time to their role related tasks.
- Learning efficiency – for the end users of eLearning in the workplace issues such as money saving, and even to an extent, time saving, may not be the most prominent benefit. What they are looking for is a fast and efficient way to learn the skills they need to do their job and do it well. With eLearning employees can learn what they need, on demand, without the need for long wait periods while they apply for a face to face course. This obviously has far reaching benefits for the organisation as well and is ultimately the prime objective of any digital transformation in a business – to improve efficiency, proficiency, and hopefully profitability, for the company.
- Learner control – even when it is for their own good, people generally do not like to be told what to do and how to do it, which is why the growing trend of self-directed learning is so powerful. Employees are taking control of what, how and when they learn the skills to do their job and a well-equipped suite of digital learning resources is key in enabling this to happen.
While the benefits above are well documented, so too are the struggles organisations face in implementing eLearning, and as mentioned above this is because the wider context is often not considered, and the focus becomes about the technology.
Yet the point is not to digitise everything, it is to make the most of the latest technologies to optimise performance and efficiency – in the case of eLearning, it is intended to optimise the performance of employees and teams, leading to improved performance and efficiency of the business. Driving a successful digital transformation requires a well thought out and holistic approach that combines the different elements of any business’ success – people, process and tools, and this is true whether an organisation is looking to digitally transform its learning, payroll or the entire organisation.
eLearning as a supporter of transformation
In terms of supporting a digital transformation there are a lot of aspects that need to come together to ensure a smooth transition, but the most important one is arguably the people. While there may be an update to the technology being used, there also needs to be work done supporting the people that use it.
This is one area where eLearning can play an important role – educating people about the new tools, the objectives and equipping them with the skills to manage their role in the organisation following a transformation project.
However, it is also important to remember that digital transformation is not a straightforward transactional process; it is, or should be, an ongoing journey, making it even more important to up-skill and develop employees in a continual, flexible and agile fashion. Once again this is a challenge that digital learning can help to resolve, but only if it is implemented well.
In this context eLearning can not only help with the education of employees in areas directly related to the change programme – for example by learning about the upcoming changes, or latest tech being used – but can also have a more indirect impact: the more people are exposed to digital tools and environments, the more comfortable they become adopting other digital technologies. Therefore, by introducing digital learning resources as early as possible, when it comes to then using digital tools in other areas of the business many employees will find these skills transfer easily, increasing both their competence and confidence. This may not be viewed as a significant problem for the modern workforce of ‘digital natives’, but it must be remembered that in some industries as much as 30% of their staff will be aged 50+. As such, building digital competence should be actively encouraged throughout the organisation, and eLearning is a good introduction to this.
Because eLearning precedes the burgeoning interest and push for digital transformation by some time, it is often thought of as something independent and unrelated, but as highlighted previously, eLearning could actually be considered one of the very first examples of digital transformation. As such there are many lessons that can be learnt from the various successes and failures of implementing digital learning, helping to maximise the chances of successful digital change. In addition, there needs to be an understanding of the vital role eLearning can and will play in driving and supporting a digital transformation, so that organisations looking to make such a transition utilise all the tools available to them to ensure success.