What Is Digital Learning?

Connected consumers learn at work the same way they solve problems and shop: Online, using digital resources. 

Digital learning is a catchall term that embraces both the formats and media learners use and the attitudes and expectations of modern learners. It’s not a new paradigm for learning so much as a description of behavior: Rather than going to a course or waiting for someone to teach them to solve a problem, digital learners are self-directed and seek knowledge in the moment. And, instead of gravitating toward in-depth courses, learners seek tightly focused resources that solve an immediate problem.

Digital learning is largely self-directed

Learners search for their own resources and consume them at the moment they need them. This is a shift from conventional learning that occurs, usually in a group or cohort, at a scheduled time and, possibly, a designated place.

Digital learning offers options

Someone holding a smartphone with a wire-frame brain overlaid and several lines coming off and pointing to various icons representing choices - Neovation Learning Solutions

Accustomed to turning to the internet with their questions, learners expect digital learning to exist as a selection of resources in a variety of formats. Thus digital learning might include audio, video, text, infographics, social platforms and more. 

Much digital learning occurs on curated content sites that offer learners a choice of learning content that meets their needs. To meet the needs of digital learners in a corporate setting, instructional designers might consider offering content to cover commonly asked questions and essential information in multiple formats.

Digital learning is outcome-focused

Conventional learning is often centered on expectations that learners will complete or pass specific courses. Digital learning emphasizes results: The problem is solved; the question is answered. 

Modern digital learning platforms track knowledge retention and performance over time, rather than chasing learners to ensure that they’ve completed the requisite number of courses.

Digital learning occurs in the moment

Much digital learning takes place in the workflow. A manager starts filling out her employees’ annual reviews, realizes that she has forgotten how to do it — and looks it up. A new employee needs help signing up for benefits and turns to the onboarding chatbot for assistance. A salesperson is heading toward a meeting with a client, so he listens to a podcast that reviews the features of a new product he’s going to pitch.

These examples of digital learning illustrate the immediacy, convenience and flexibility of digital learning solutions. None of these employees would have benefited from taking a course; instead, they found and used the information they needed, while doing their work. That is the essence of digital learning.

Poor Use with
Adult Learners

Effective with
Adult Learners

Games

Simple games layered on top of content

Scenario-based games that use the content

Leaderboards, competition

Fan excessive competition among employees or teams by offering large prizes for top performers and/or shaming those with lower scores

Challenging employees to beat their own past performance, or design a leaderboard that shows each employee only the four scorers above and below them

Points, rewards, badges

Awarding points or levels for completing sections of training or playing for a set number of minutes

Awarding levels, badges or points for recalling or applying content correctly, demonstrating mastery

Written by Pamela S. Hogle

An experienced writer, editor, tech writer, and blogger, Pam helps you make sense of learning science and eLearning technology. She provides information you can use to drive improvements in your training effectiveness and ROI.

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