How can we support digital learning without falling foul of technology trends?

By Mel Green, Research Associate


Technology is changing how we share and access content, giving us the freedom to learn anywhere, anytime on practically any topic. This presents a world of opportunity for the curation and delivery of learning.

We explore how L&D practitioners are responding to this changing landscape in the CIPD’s recent report, drawing on the Towards Maturity international Benchmark Study. The data tells us that practitioners have big goals for technology that extend beyond the practical- in 2016, 92% wished to encourage reflection by using mobile and collaborative technology.

That being said, only 9% of practitioners surveyed felt they had achieved this aim, highlighting a clear gap between ambition and practice. Of course, encouraging reflection is not a simple task, and there are many factors that contribute to this gap – despite technology advancements, we’re still reporting that IT issues are a barrier to learning. What is clear though, is that digital tools are not yet delivering everything we want.

If we want to use digital tools to enable reflective learning, we need to carefully evaluate the capabilities of the technology we implement – it needs to do more than connect learners or share files. However, there may be other drivers, such as technology trends, that can get in the way of our strategy. Amara’s law suggests that we are quick to adopt new tech, amid the hype of their launch, and then adoption wanes when we overestimate the short term impact the tool might have. On the one hand, this can be positive – it signals that we aren’t afraid to be innovative.

However, it also means we can get caught in the promises of new technology and implement new tools that aren’t aligned with our goals. For example, data tells us that more practitioners are using file sharing tools (perhaps influenced by the ready availability of this sort of technology) than implementing activities such as online communities of practice that are more suited to encourage reflection.

Perhaps we are also expecting too much from standalone digital tools. It is easy to see why many trend reports herald collaborative and mobile technology as the cure-all to organisational learning as they can be a compelling and scalable way to share organisational knowledge. But, as Cathy Brown of Engage for Success challenged in a recent PM article, “an app is not going to bring your workforce together”. For technology to impact learning long term, we need to facilitate and guide our learners to use the tool effectively and embed it into our way of working. We also need to mitigate the cultural or technical barriers that might get in our way- technology alone will not lead to continued reflective learning.

To minimise the gap between ambition and practice in achieving reflective learning (amongst other goals), we need to use evidence to understand which tools can truly facilitate learning experiences and design supporting initiatives for new technology like we would offline learning. Otherwise, we won’t see the outcomes we hope for – and there’s a danger we’ll move to the next piece of technology in the hope that it will deliver what the last one didn’t.

To hear more about the future of technology and learning, join the next instalment of the CIPD international webinar series on 24 January, where we’ll discuss uptake of digital learning, the learning theories that underpin our technology strategies and the critical considerations for technology use in L&D. You can also find a checklist for implementation of digital learning tools in the report here.

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