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Digital Learning for the International Engineering & Construction Industry – What are the Challenges?

Gabriele Burian, 9 May 2018

“We know the future is going to be digital. We also know it’s going to be challenging.” This statement was made by Diana Laurillard, a prominent UK educator, with reference to the field of online learning. But many of us will be able to relate to her words as we consider the rapid progression of artificial intelligence, automation, industry 4.0, etc. in our jobs and lives.

A major – and exciting – test for us learning & development practitioners is how we will best use educational technologies to support and facilitate workplace training and learning.

Digital Learning Breaks the Iron Triangle

Online learning can achieve what was previously impossible – to have high number of learners, high quality of learning content and low training investment cost per person. Especially for large, globally operating organisations, the benefits of shifting training from costly face-to-face interventions to online delivery are therefore fairly obvious.

Although the initial creation of good quality online content is just as – if not more – expensive as for classroom training, it can then be rolled out to an infinite number of learners. This substantially reduces the investment cost per person, with the added savings on travel, accommodation and even time away from the project, as participants can spread learning time throughout the working week. Then there is the convenience of having elearning available 24/7 irrespective of geographical location and the ability to use learning analytics to track progress and support completion.

From Click-and-Play to Digital & Collaborative

Alongside the more conventional self-directed elearning ideally suited for knowledge acquisition, technology now allows us to deliver effective online programs with cohorts of perhaps 1000 participants. These type of programs are rooted in social and collaborative interaction, in problem solving activities focused on real work challenges and on-the-job reflection shared with peers.

Although there are obvious benefits to be had, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome.

Three Top Challenges

1.  Lack of buy-in – “We don’t do elearning in our company” After creating our first elearning course some years ago, we soon realised that we didn’t just have to sell our new course, we had to sell online learning as such. Although these attitudes have become less, they still persist at all levels, from HR and sponsors to the trainees themselves, and remain a barrier to take-up.

2.  Digital skills – Many of our customers will be digitally skilled but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to learn using digital technology. “Click-and-play” elearning needs different skills to a collaborative Corporate MOOC, where people learn best when they are able to apply digital and social skills in equal measures.

3.  Lack of time – Online learning can be very convenient for organisations, but we know from research¹ that getting employees to make time for learning is a very major barrier to take-up and participation.

How You Can Meet Those Challenges

•  Provide credible information and convincing argumentation to managers & sponsors on the benefits of digital learning, based on current and relevant research

•  Don’t take digital literacy for granted but integrate digital skill development in your learning designs – that way people develop their digital skills at the same time as working on the actual training topics. A good learning experience will also make it easier next time round

•  Get managers to take an active role in development initiatives – this is known to significantly improve take-up and participation². Lack of take-up not only wastes training investment but also means that the original learning needs have not been addressed. Helping senior managers to embrace their leadership roles in development initiatives also boosts team performance and morale

¹ CIPD (2017) The future of technology and learning. Research Report
² LinkedIn Learning (2018) Workplace Learning Report