What is Digital Learning and how do we actually implement the transformation?

What is Digital Learning and how do we actually implement the transformation? We'll explain everything you need to know.
Becky Willis

I just returned from a great learning conference that included lots of “hot topics” surrounding Digital Learning and vendors with cool ideas. But l left feeling that we are missing the core question: What is Digital Learning and how do we actually implement the transformation?

To me, Digital Learning is a matter of math.  Digital Learning is:

  • More than Training                       ■ More than Technology
  • More than Curation                      ■ More than Mobile
  • More than Micro learning           ■ More than Learning Paths
  • More than Content                       ■ More than pushing out courses


In Math terms, Digital Learning is greater than the sum of its parts.  It is all about all the pieces, but put together in a custom blend, driven by user experience.  It brings the right learning to the right learner, easily.

User experience is what creates the need, the formats and ultimately, the success.  Creating this environment means that we need to be immersed in the learners’ journeys and also provide solutions for managers that complement the experience.  We need to think like a digital native.

Digital learning is as much about culture as it is about technology.  Of course, technology is involved, but to create a great user experience involves process, people, business needs, and organizational culture that’s willing and able to embrace it.

User Experience

Let’s focus on the learner of today for a minute.  I am not telling you anything new when I say that we are all busy, overwhelmed, distracted and constantly bombarded for information.  I am sure you have seen the statistics that tell us that today people spend 1% of their time on “training.”  But learning is more.  Learning today is continuous, but only if we provide the right tools, content and can measure it.

In today’s environment, people have access to instant information on all sorts of devices.  We have become accustomed to finding what we need.  But that means we spend large chunks of time searching.

So, what does all of this disruption and change mean to Learning?  We need to find the right blend to provide information (learning) that is easy to find, easy to access, personalized and designed to be a great user experience that helps them grow.

Simple, right?  Well, just like any transformation, we need to find a way to get from here to there.

The challenge

Through our clients and contacts, I hear many questions about how to actually get from here to there.  The answer is quite individual, but it can be found in the new blend and a new mindset.  We will need a blend of technology, curation, micro learning, macro learning and more.  We should adapt a new mindset of user experience (Ux) that uses design thinking.

What is here?  Most corporate learning environments sit on an LMS with tons of content.  Most of the content has become somewhat easier to find through the use of corporate university interfaces or new front ends.  Most of the content would be expensive to redesign but is often in need of refreshing.  In most cases, we are not tied to our HRIS system nor to any job family or competencies.  How do we adapt to cloud, mobile and user experience?

The first step is to design new learning with the future in mind: make sure it is in a format to be responsive and, where possible, in chunks.  This effort changes the role of an Instructional Designer and of the vendors you use.  It means learning new tools and concepts.

Secondly, take a long look at the user experience you want.  Research new technology that will provide the interface to all types of learning, from formal to informal, internal and external, libraries of content and custom programs. Most of these solutions are cloud based and do not require a long-term commitment.  More on these products later in this blog and in a future posting.

Next, work with IT to tie in your learning and HR systems so that you can take personalization, machine learning and people analytics to a new level.

We need to adapt to our mindset to create, curate and deliver all types of learning.  Adapt new models, incorporate new methods and respond with a better user experience.  As learning professionals, we learn about other people’s jobs, the best methods and tools to help them learn, grow and perform.

A vision and a strategy to new opportunities

OK, off the soapbox, on to making it work.

For some, the first instinct when confronted with this kind of disruptive change is to play defense and protect existing business.  But now is the time to go on the offensive, to experiment, to create new offerings, and push into the opportunity. Match consumer behavior.

Be prepared to hire the right outside people to drive the operational changes.  Get your team excited about the opportunities Digital Learning brings to their work.  Focus on people who can adapt and think beyond traditional models and look at what is possible.

For example, One revelation that many have recently expressed is that the old standard LMS cannot get you there.  It is fine for compliance and some certifications, but it cannot be the center of the corporate learning experience any longer.  Some of new LMS/LRS/portal vendors are adapting.  Look past your traditional solution.  I suggest adopting technology that allows several key additions:

  • Informal learning
  • Personalized learning
  • Social learning
  • Learning Library search
  • Integration with HRIS and Performance Management systems
  • Learning paths
  • Machine learning

Not all solutions offer every addition, but these technologies often sit on top of a LMS, a LRS or some other hosting system.  A few can host as well.  These companies include Pathgather, Go1, Degreed, EdCast and more.

Another change that is in the center of the tech revolution is the move from SCORM to xAPI.  Long overdue, xAPI gives us the analytics we need to personalize and track all forms of learning.  Everything someone does can be logged and tracked.  Internal recruiting and managers will get better views of performance, as will the learner.  Most platforms can deliver better suggestions to learners that reach into what people are really doing every day to learn.

Next Steps

Back to reality of today.  Overwhelmed learners, small budgets, user demands.  How can we move to Digital Learning?  One step at a time.  The world has changed, with new models and ways to learn.  In my next blogs, I will go through actions, ideas and how we can meet the disruption.

Learning professionals, let’s roll!


Becky Willis has a mix of executive leadership in sales and marketing and deep learning strategy and development experience. Known for strategic and innovative solutions, Becky is an organizational leader who thinks about learning with a business mindset.

Today, Becky is a co-founder of WilLearn Consulting, where she focuses on helping companies, plan, design and develop high performance learning.

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