Catch 22 of Digital Learning
Last year, my husband and I welcomed a baby girl into the world. The time brought and continues to bring much joy. Along with it, though, comes some anxiety. New parents have a lot of pressure. Is my child getting enough sleep? Are these bananas organic? When is she supposed to crawl? Why is my baby so fussy? Oh goodness…what’s in this diaper? Let’s be honest—if you have experienced parenthood, you’ve resorted to “Googling” a thing or two. I mean, you have entered an unknown territory and Google is bound to help in your exploration. Having information at your fingertips makes life easier…or does it?
Does having instant access to information make life easier or more challenging? Has it enhanced our intellect by giving us more tools or made life more complicated because we have to be constantly in the know? Yes, I’m glad I now know that the longest someone has gone without sleep is 264 hours, so I should be good (thanks, Google), but what happened before the constant barrage of information?
This really all ties to how learning is evolving, especially in the workplace. Yes, everyone knows digital learning is impacting our lives, much like the invention of television or GPS. Now, with digital learning, people can access tailored information in real time, anywhere, on demand. Thus, learning in this fashion can lead to higher engagement, improved performance, and enhanced productivity. According to SH!FT, “Research shows that a full 40 percent of employees who don’t receive the necessary job training to become effective will leave their positions within the first year” (Gutierrez 2017).Digital learning addresses this need by providing a variety of resources to motivate employees while also furthering knowledge and skills. Through microlearning, virtual-led courses, flipped classrooms, learning libraries, and video-based courses employees can access what they need in a timely manner. After all, how great is it to be able to watch a two-minute video or software simulation and learn exactly what you need? Or better yet, create a library or playlist based on your specific learning needs? Lynda.com is a prime example, with a learning library featuring hundreds of courses. Then you have LinkedIn Learning and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Classrooms), where instructor-tools, quizzes, skill-based courses, and certification programs are readily available. Options seem endless with all this information right there, at your fingertips, ready to be consumed.
The convenience and accessibility of digital learning is definitely appealing. Many organizations are looking to leverage it more because of just that—its appeal. Learners supposedly love it, and, in comparison to traditional classroom courses, the budget won’t take such a hit. But then consider, are there any negative impacts to having information 24/7? Yes, digital learning requires 40 to 60 percent less employee time than learning the same material in a traditional classroom setting (Gutierrez 2016). However, less time does not equal better quality.
Traditional classroom training fosters an environment for relationship-building and, when done well, is more than just cramming information into learners’ brains. When in a classroom, learners are required to share their opinions, give presentations, work in groups. They cannot hide behind a screen or Google responses to questions they were barely paying attention to. They have to rely on themselves, not technology. With opportunities to articulate original thought and interact with people, in real time, with different perspectives, learners gain confidence and enhance not only their speaking abilities, but also their relationship-building skills.
Traditional classroom training also addresses a common concern regarding digital learning—accountability. By providing learners with a fixed schedule and specific times dedicated to learning, traditional classroom training helps learners focus and avoid distractions. Multi-tasking often is frowned upon in a classroom setting, and facilitators will set expectations for a “be here now” environment, which ultimately leads to better retention of information. When taking courses online, though, you can have three or more screens open looking at e-mail, LinkedIn, and who knows what else.
By providing dedicated time for learning, traditional classroom training doesn’t have to distract you from your work responsibilities by popping up every 30 minutes or coming across in an e-mail. Rather it’s a chance to step away from the constant barrage of bings, buzzes, and alerts. It’s a chance to focus on the human element of learning by interacting with peers and facilitators. “As recent Deloitte research suggests, the value derived from the always-on employee can be undermined by such negative factors as increased cognitive load and diminished employee performance and well-being... In short, digital and mobile technologies give—but they also take away” (Joyce, Fisher, Guszcza, Hogan 2018). Digital learning, intended to provide flexibility, actually has increased the amount of time employees spend working. “According to the American Psychological Association, 53 percent of Americans work over the weekend, 52 percent work outside designated work hours, and 54 percent work even when sick” (Joyce, Fisher, Guszcza, Hogan 2018). So people may be able to learn anything and everything, but with information overload, they may not actually retain the information.
Traditional Learning Still Has a Place
Don’t get me wrong, digital learning is revolutionary. Being able to get tailor-made content enhances the learning experience and fosters a growth mindset. I do want to call out, though, that traditional learning still has a place. Sometimes with all the incredible technological advances, people can lose sight of what’s important—relationships. Ultimately, learning is social. Yes, you can join online cohorts, tweet about trainings, Snapchat content, but having live, in-person discussions with a facilitator and peers cannot be matched. So regardless of medium, the important part is providing quality training that builds in opportunities for human interaction. Learners are much more likely to retain information if they engage in experiential learning and discuss what they were taught. Immediacy has changed expectations around learning, but it shouldn’t change the focus—the focus on quality training.
Connor, J., Fisher, J., Guszcza, Hogan, S. (2018). Positive technology. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/behavioral-economics/negative-impact-technology-business.html
Gutierrez, K. (2017). Mind-blowing Statistics that Prove the Value of Employee Training and Development. https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/statistics-value-of-employee-training-and-development
Gutierrez, K. (2016). Facts and Stats That Reveal The Power Of eLearning. https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/bid/301248/15-facts-and-stats-that-reveal-the-power-of-elearning
Jamie Dickey is a Learning and Performance consultant at Nationwide Insurance. She has been with Nationwide for four years, where she has developed training programs related to cyber security, leadership, onboarding, and customer service. Prior to her career at Nationwide, Dickey taught at Gahanna Jefferson School District and attended The Ohio State University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in Strategic Communication and a Masters of Education.