Digital learning - what’s on offer?

Jonny Gifford, CIPD Research Adviser, @jonnygiff

We hear a good deal nowadays about e-learning but how prevalent is it in practice and are we even clear what a future of a digital, flexible and, indeed, ‘social’ form of  learning might look like?

Earlier in the year, our 2013 Learning and Talent Development Survey found that the level of use of e-learning has not been as high as people expected.

Our forthcoming survey report, Social Technology, Social Business? suggests employees may be looking for something more flexible than simply having learning and development resources available online.

At first glance, social networking platforms seem to play a small role in employee learning. While two in five UK employees (42%) said they have access to e-learning in their organisations – not insubstantial at all – eight in ten (78%) say their organisations don’t use social media to deliver learning and development products at all.

But social media and learning are closely linked. Taking a broader view of learning and development, we find that it is one of the main reasons we use social media, second only to keeping up to date with news and networking. And interestingly, we support other people’s learning by sharing knowledge just as much as we use social media to find out about areas of interest ourselves.

Then there’s the accessibility of e-learning. Of those whose employers provide e-learning, the clear majority can access it through their desktop computer and many through their laptop. But just 2% of employees can access e-learning through smartphones and 3% through their tablets. This despite the fact that nearly half of us (45%) use a tablet or smartphone for work.

The survey gives us a snapshot in time, and the broad picture for the moment is that the power of social technology as a learning tool lies not in hosting formally designed tools and programmes, but in supporting informal learning. Through building relationships with new people and joining communities of interest, social media – supported by mobile devices – opens up a host of opportunities. It helps us locate the expertise we are looking for or, indeed, leads us to stumble upon useful or interesting information we were not expecting.

This does nothing to undermine the value of e-learning tools, and it could change, if e-learning is made more accessible. But it does highlight that e-learning is not the only way we should be using digital technology for learning and development.

It seems to me that learning and development professionals would do well to take a lead from employees. This could lead them to guiding and facilitating learning through social media as much as providing ‘the answers’ through more formal e-learning tools. 

The report, Social Technology, Social Business? will be launched at our Social Media and HR conference on 4 December, where Matt Burton will be talking about how Boots has developed a culture of social learning.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice post. Keep posting.