Learning and development has changed and is shifting online. 71% of L&D professionals have experienced increased demand for digital learning, and 21% have already implemented a new digital learning solution. Things won’t be the same, but an effective learning and development strategy always has (and still does) depended on four core components:
- Engaged learners
- Relevant material that is aligned to driving performance
- Convenient access to quality content
- A culture that supports and rewards learning
It’s the specifics that get swapped about.
At Video Arts, we’ve spent more than 40 years developing innovative ways to deliver effective workplace learning programmes. Here, we are going to look at what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, and what an effective L&D strategy looks like in 2021.
Learning is more important than ever
Learning can improve staff retention, reduce complaints, upgrade digital skills and drive commercial success. A third of organisations are expanding their L&D budget this year, and 57% will spend more on online resources. But that comes with the expectation to demonstrate ROI. In the current economy, it’s important that learning aligns with business priorities.
94% of L&D professionals report updating their strategy in response to 2020. But 2021 isn’t about reinventing the wheel. If you have an LMS or LXP (more on acronyms later), you’ve got the groundwork in place. It’s a matter of putting the piece in the right order. Let’s start learning.
Step 1: Put engagement first
Engagement needs to guide your core learning decisions. No one will learn anything if they don’t engage. Fundamentally, this comes down to being:
If you get this right, people will go out of their way to use your system. Of course, it’s helpful to make learning easy to access and supportive. But by developing your learning programme around engagement, you’ll make success far easier.
How to be engaging
The core of engaged learning can be split into three key choices:
- The right topics: The impact of relevant and valuable training is obvious, and learners can easily put new skills to use — dramatically helping with retention. Topics might include “hard skills” (how to use new tools, digital training, coding) or “soft skills” (leadership, cooperation, change management, creativity). Both are important, but don’t underestimate the value of soft skills training programmes to address skills gaps in the workplace.
- The right content: High-quality content sits at the core of engagement. When it comes to remote working, that likely means video modules. Concise and information-rich video content can create an enjoyable experience that benefits and entertains learners at the same time.
- Making it easy: Learners need an easy way to access personalised material, they need to be provided with the time to take learning seriously, and should be rewarded for engagement. Fundamentally, making learning easy will improve engagement and increase adoption rates.
If you remember to put these core concepts at the heart of every choice you make, you are on the right path. The rest of this article is about expanding these choices in more detail.
Step 2: Plan simple (and remote) access
Learners need a way to access content and track progress. The more personalisation and customisation within this process, the better. Fundamentally, there are two main ways to deliver learning experiences:
- In-person training: Courses, classroom sessions, training days and “company away days” all have a place in skills training. They’re great for team bonding and create positive experiences. However, they are expensive “one-off” events and are increasingly difficult in the era of social distancing.
- Online training: Online modules provide on-demand and long-term value, bring consistency to training, and make it simple to engage remote staff. Online training has become more important than ever. 82% of L&D professionals report an increase in demand for digital learning from senior stakeholders. But it has also been a long-term staple of effective corporate learning programmes.
A complete learning and developing programme should include complimentary in-person training and online learning. But in 2021, online resources will be the critical component to get right.
LXP vs LMS vs Learning Platform
The popularity of online learning has generated a sea of terminology. Realistically, there isn’t a lot of consistency or substance behind what are effectively marking terms. But you can learn something by looking at the idealised definitions of the two leading acronyms:
- LMS (Learning Management System): LMS is the older term and the older solution. With an LMS, learners get a “top-down” experience. Modules are curated by an admin, allowing you to create a straightforward and prescriptive learning journey. Learners log on, access training resources and lessons, and track their progress.
- LXP (Learning Experience Platform): What differentiates an LXP from an LMS is greater learner empowerment. An LXP allows users to create their own courses, pulling from a range of content. The look and feel is also different. An LXP has a far slicker interface that requires fewer clicks — think something that looks a lot like Netflix vs a clunky folder system. There are generally more options for learners to actively comment on content, add new content, and share insights with each other through the platform. An LXP might also come with gamification features like leaderboards, rewards and time trials.
Pro tip: There are technical differences. But a big part of the divide between an LXP and LMS is “strategy”. For example, if you let users engage with curated modules in an unstructured way on your LMS, you could create a much more flexible experience than someone using an LXP with limited content or user-first features disabled.
Step 3: Select the right content
Your learning platform is important, but not as important as the content itself. All of the collaboration and personalisation features in the world won’t get users to tune in if your content is boring, convoluted or irrelevant.
Most learning platforms don’t come pre-loaded with content. And, to be honest, that’s not a bad thing. You should think deliberately about content selection and regularly update and add to your content library. You can do this in three main ways:
- Make it yourself: You should always be on the lookout to repurpose. Record webinars and in-person training. With a little bit of editing, you can create digestible segments and upload them to your learning platform. However, you should recognise that unless you plan on becoming a production house, you likely won’t be able to make all of the necessary learning content yourself. It’s also really expensive — think about equipment, post-production and talent costs.
- Buy off-the-shelf: Content providers have large catalogues of material and modules addressing core topics. This is a great way to get top-notch production quality and well-researched training that will deliver long-term value.
- Commission custom content: If you want high-quality content addressing specific subjects in a manner unique to your brand, the right production studio can deliver. Working with learning professionals, you can develop any number of bespoke training courses.
The right learning and development strategy for you will likely include most or all of these content creation strategies. But that still leaves the question: what kind of content is best?
People love video
Video can increase engagement and provide long-term assets that reduce costs and let learners engage at their own pace. Video brings together visual, spoken and written communication. 40% of learners respond better to visual information than just text, and our brains are able to process video 60k times faster than text.
Although there is still debate about how video impacts retention (particularly compared to text), 93% of teachers believe that video improves learning experiences, and it’s hard to deny video’s magnetism. Again, if employees don’t engage with your learning platform, they won’t retain anything at all. Employees are over 75% more likely to watch a video than read text — it’s really that simple.
Make it entertaining
Humour activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, and dopamine is critical to both motivation and memory. Correctly used, humour can make learning more fun and more impactful — driving retention and engaging the parts of our brains needed for critical thinking and creativity.
One study on university students demonstrated (back in 1988) that injecting humour into the classroom increased learning by almost 15%. But regardless of the impact on retention, humour is again critical to engagement. By making learning fun, you’re far more likely to get learners to show up and make time to learn.
Microlearning is a strategy which prioritises short-term learning activities. Often centred on a video, and maybe a related activity, microlearning delivers a stand-alone lesson in no more than 3 or 4 minutes. Short modules mean less commitment, and every time users log into the platform they walk away having learned something new. Not only does this keep learners coming back, it dramatically helps with adoption. “Selling” learning to staff can be a critical issue, and the ability to say “it only takes five minutes” removes barriers to getting started.
Microlearning can also be more effective. One study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that bite-sized learning was 17% more efficient. Because microlearning is more focused, learners can go straight to the relevant information.
Pro tip: We can help you deliver all of this. The Video Arts catalogue has a range of off-the-shelf content and bespoke options. We have microlearning modules and long-form courses. We can even help you plan a learning and development strategy.
Step 4: Build structure around learning
An engaging and fun learning programme, accessible on-demand through a quality LXP/LMS is likely to grab learner attention no matter what structures you put in place. But you shouldn’t strive for “good enough”. The secret to creating a truly engaging learning and development programme is to create a learning culture throughout your organisation.
What is a learning culture?
A learning culture integrates learning seamlessly into day-to-day life. It prioritises and incentivises learning, making engagement culturally expected and rewarded. Really, this comes down to the “attitude” that business leaders (senior executives) and individuals have about learning. Engaging and relevant content is a big part of that. But a few additional steps can make a lot of difference.
- Make time for learning: Setting aside one day a month, or a few hours a week that are dedicated to learning (and part of the workday) demonstrates learning as a priority. It also gets people started. If your content is good, learners will make time to come back for more.
- Reward success: By showering praise on people who complete courses, you create social incentives to engage and improve the effectiveness of your programme. This can be done face-to-face, or using leaderboards and other rewards systems integrated into an LXP.
- Structured pathways: Although we believe it’s important to let users create their own learning courses, you should also provide curated pathways that deliver skills training specifically targeted at different jobs. This helps create “reward targets” and provides obvious starting points for new learners.
The goal is to create a system in which learning is valued and engaged with proactively. This will benefit both personal development and organisational development, creating a continual learning process.
Step 5: Look at what works
Learning and development is an ongoing process. That applies to learners and the development of your learning programme. You need to track outcomes and double down on success. Mostly, this comes down to picking the right metrics.
Stay focused on engagement
Your top metric should be engagement rates. It’s the most straightforward way to calculate the impact of your investments. As long as the content and modules are high-quality, engagement rates will tell you how far-reaching an impact that material is having on your organisation. Engagement can be calculated based on:
- Total users
- Completion rates
- Active users as a percentage of the total
- % of people who complete more than one course
- % of people doing more than mandatory courses
You should also look to gather information about secondary outcomes — retention rates, complaints, commercial growth. But there are so many variables here that it’s hard to draw a 1:1 correlation.
Digital learning experiences
2021 requires a full embrace of digital learning. Luckily, the industry was moving that way already. But if you don’t have an LXP/LMS/Learning Platform, take it as a blessing in disguise — go out and pick one that aligns with your exact digital learning needs.
With that said, the real secret behind effective learning experiences (digital or not) is engaging content and training programmes. A learning platform is like a bookshelf, it helps organise information. But without any books, it doesn’t work — and won’t deliver ROI. You need to provide convenient, bite-sized training that delivers relevant and entertaining outcomes. Valuable learning experiences will keep learners engaged and create the learning culture you need to succeed in 2021 and beyond. Get in touch if you want help. Good luck and start learning!