Digitize learning for increased competitiveness – Part 2

Investments in EdTech companies have quadrupled over the past four years. 2018 invested organizations 1.5 billion SEK in technology for learning. Digitalization of learning offers great opportunities, but in many organizations digitalization of learning hasn’t come far.

In a series of articles, I therefore describe how technology can accelerate development to a modern learning organization, give tips on tools and what benefits can be achieved.

In a previous article I described how digitalization led to a complex landscape with new phenomena such as LXP, Microlearning, MOOC, LRS, etc.

Tools and platforms to help digitize learning

The question is how to navigate this complex landscape. What systems actually generate benefits for our organization? How do we implement them in the best way? In what order?

My purpose with this series of articles is to show how technology can encourage us on the road from a traditional training organization to self-driven learning at work. My experience is that for maturity, skill- and resource reasons we need to divide the journey into a number of steps:

  1. Digitization of the course content – We digitise large parts of the course content to create higher availability, reduced costs of delivery and reduced time in training for employees.
  2. From knowledge to capability – We shift the focus from “participation” to “capability”. This step includes technology to create better learning transfer and impact in the work.
  3. Address the skill shift– We make large amounts of formal and informal learning available to meet the skill shift.
  4. Continuous learning – We move from courses being the main source of learning to technology that accelerates collaboration and continuous learning at work.

This particular article is about the second step, going from “participation” to “capability”. My focus is to describe technology, which mean I do not describe the change itself.

Step 2 – From participation to increased ability at work

Why is this important?

The digitization I described in my previous article offers many benefits such as increased accessibility for course content, faster implementation of critical skills and significantly lower costs.

Whether the course is delivered in classrooms or digitally, there are challenges. The biggest problem is learning transfer, i.e. that little knowledge is transferred to new behaviors at work. We quickly forget the knowledge not applied directly. According to Ebbinghaus approx. 70% in 2 days. Research shows that we have placed our memory in the mobilephone thanks to the internet and remember even less. Other research shows that we only apply 15% of what we learn on a course.

As the picture shows, a single course is not enough to build the capability we need at work.

The above makes us today prefer learning at work, just when we need the knowledge. Stand-alone course sessions simply have too low an impact, or as Tony Driscoll (Professor, Duke University) describes the problem:

  • Only 15% of the employees’ capabilities depend on knowledge, the rest on motivation, leadership, processes, etc.
  • Only 15% of the learning depends on formal education, i.e. courses
  • Only 15% of the knowledge of a course is applied at work.

Multiplied, this is less than 1%. That is how much the investments in courses would affect our capability at work. Exaggeration? Maybe, but we can all see that more than one just a course event is needed to build lasting capabilities.

So how do we increase the impact of courses? To begin with, we need to start with the capability we want to build rather than the knowledge the subject expert wants to communicate. We need to take into account the forgetting curve and how difficult it is to apply at work. By doing so, we can increase the efficiency of the courses and programs we provide.

What does the transformation mean?

The first thing we need to work on is the attitude. Instead of focusing on whether employees have completed training, we now focus on what capabilities and behaviors they can exhibit. Working on this means, among other things, that we:

  • Update development methods to build capabilities.
  • Build knowledge about instructional design and behavioral change.
  • Work with culture and mindset around training.
  • Begins to measure the effect of learning.
  • Design applications that increase learning transfer.

Update development methods for building ability

I think the analysis of why a course is needed often is flawed. We often start with the content that is to be learnt than the capabilities to be developed. More time needs to be spent on early phases to understand the context of the capabilities needed, causes of problems and what is required to build the capability.

Similarly, the view of solutions needs to be extended. From a “one size fits all” mindset with course as the only alternative to a variety of solutions, from web guides to change programs that include working with culture, leadership, processes, etc. Better methods with templates and checklists encourage subject matter experts and course developers in that work. Design Thinking is one ingredient, performance analysis another.

Knowledge of “Learning Transfer”

In order to create solutions that have a better effect, we need to raise the level of knowledge on learning and behaviour change. Normally clients or subject matter experts do not possess that knowledge. Many companies I have worked with have therefore introduced “learning consultants” who are experts in analysing and creating solutions that build capabilities. Feel free to look at ATD’s competence model and certifications for learning consultants. It might give ideas for your own skill development.


Working with culture has many sides to it which I describe in my article “How to build a strong learning culture“. In this step, we need to work with the attitudes around “participation” and “tick in the box”. We have a deeply entrenched habit of sending employees on course, not least in terms of “compliance”, without reflecting on the effect it offers and what it costs.

A team of people making learning digital

Measure the effect of training

This point is perhaps most important, to start measuring the effect of training at work, i.e. changing behaviors. It’s connected to the analysis I was talking about before. If we spend time understanding the capability we want to build, we can always define behaviors or achievements that we can measure before and after. Measuring the effect has a major impact on the organization’s attitudes towards L&D. In my experience, it is the most important factor in getting a acceptance from senior management, mandate for change and learning resources.

Create learning solutions that supports learning transfer

To create better learning transfer, there are a number of things we can do with courses and programs:

  • Divide into smaller chunks and distribute over time.
  • Add exercises, repetitions, and tasks with spaced intervals.
  • Create opportunities to train/apply under realistic conditions.
  • Facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing on the application of the new skills.
  • Create commitment and consensus around goals and the new capabilities with employees and managers.
  • Address major issues such as change of processes, rewards, system design, culture, etc.

Technology can help us assign and follow-up tasks done at work. It helps us distribute activities over time and repeat what we learned. The image below shows an micro learning app (BoosterLearn) combatting the forgetting curve with spaced repetition.

Technology to use

The recent large investments in EdTech has led to a large number of new kind of apps and systems that can be used to help learning transfer. I will describe a few examples.

Learning Transfer Platform

Learning Transfer Platform (LTP) are platforms that add activities to a course to improve learning transfer.

One example is Swedish is the app Knowly. It is an add-on to classroom training where the student with the teacher’s help sets out his goals for the training and an action plan to make the goals happen. The student also adds a colleague or manager as a “supporter” to the action plan. This is done using the students mobile phones.

Every week, the virtual coach “Freddie” sends questions via text message that allows the student to reflect on if and how the goals are being reached. Freddie then sends the answers to the “supporter” with tips on how to coach the student in the best way.

I think Knowly is an easy and effective way to increase learning transfer. The advantage is that a teacher themselves adds Knowly to the course without connection to the company’s LMS administration.

A more comprehensive LTP is Swedish Promote. Here, “blended” programs are designed right from the start which can include classroom activities, eLearning, and other activities carried out before, between and after training activities. Managers and employees evaluate the goals at the beginning and at the end of the program to create commitment to what is learned. Managers can also receive tasks in the program, e.g. coach the employee on assignments.

The picture shows my goal-filling in building networks during the course. Social functions enable discussion and knowledge sharing linked to the activities to be done. The student can also compare his own progress in the course with others.

This is a way to ensure learning transfer for more comprehensive training programs. What I like about Promote is the great methodological knowledge that exists around learning transfer and that is neatly included in the platform.

Application platforms

Josh Bersin calls the category “Program platforms.” I’d like to call them “application platforms.” Their characteristics is the focus of applying new behaviors at work. Some typical features:

  • Assignments/projects – learning is linked to assignments carried out in the work with instructions and peer reviews.
  • Communities/Workspaces – work-focused communites where employees collaborate and share knowledge in the field.
  • Coaching – support for letting coaches comment on what we practice and have recorded.
  • Social/gamification – uses the term “cohorts” for groups that together take the program to create joint reflection and discussion but also social dynamics with scores and leaderboards.
  • Exercise/reflection – tools to practice and rehearse with feedback from other participants or coaches, such as what is shown below where a manager recorded how he gives feedback to an employee who is late for work.

Examples of software platforms are Intrepid, NovoED, Nomadic Learning and Rehearsal.

I myself have done courses in Nomadic Learning and find that user experience, integration of social reflection and embedding application is at a significantly higher level than in a traditional LMS.

That is not to say that it is not possible to do considerably more in traditional LMS such as SABA and Cornerstone. In those LMS we can also set up programs with a mix of learning methods, e.g. classrooms, webinar and eLearning. There is often a lot of support for learning at work with tasks, checklists and observation lists. Communities can be tailored precisely for the program with support for planning tasks, sharing learning and discussions around the program and the new behaviors to establish. However, it is not very often these features are used, which may be because the user experience is not as good as in the “application platforms”.

Microlearning platforms

With Microlearning courses are divided into short sessions of just a few minutes that the student can schedule for delivery when it fits at work. Learning is goal-driven and broken down to single learning goals, e.g. single behaviors or concepts.

Microlearning has several characteristics that can encourage the transfer of learning to work:

  • By dividing courses into small parts, learning can easier fit into everyday life.
  • Repetition and exercises are “pushed” out to the employee at intervals. In this way, the forgetting curve is combated.
  • With data and AI, each employee can access just the learning that has the most effect.
  • Learning can be interspersed with application at work and takes place close to the task.
  • Social features and gamification drive the learning experience and create engagement.

Examples of platforms are Axonify, Qstream, Grovo and Surge9.

Platforms for “nudging”

A change of behaviors and habits is difficult. However, research on behavioral economics has shown that small positive nudges are effective in supporting new behaviors. This can also be used in learning.

There are a number of platforms that encourage behavioural change through “nudges”, e.g. Humu and Nudge Rewards. They support in defining desired behaviors, “take the temperature” at the moment and then with the help of AI schedule small nudges with tasks and inspiration to managers and employees. Through advanced reporting it is then possible to follow how well the behavioural change succeeded.

I think we’ll see more and more of these kinds of platforms and that “nudging” also becomes part of traditional platforms like LMS.

VR, AR and Simulators

As stated above, it is important to quickly apply knowledge in real situations. Someone who described the effectiveness of different learning methods was Edgar Dale, visualized in “Cone of Learning” below. Although the figures (10, 20, 30 etc) have subsequently been criticised, there are considerable differences between passive listening and actively doing.

VR, AR and Simulators provide the opportunity to apply and train new knowledge and skills in a safe environment. Simulators have long been in place to train military, police officers, pilots and operators of e.g. Nuclear power plant.

Today, simulators are much more common and cheaper. There are many applications in IT training and, for example health care. VR and AR are increasingly used in medical education, e.g. in the training of surgeons.

Another large area where VR/AR is used is “soft skills”. It is today an area where there are large skill gaps. Soft skills are expected to gain more importance as a consequence of increased digitization. However, it is difficult and ineffective to train in classrooms through methods such as role-playing.

Several companies have therefore developed training courses that enable to train presentation, negotiation, difficult conversations, coaching, feedback, etc. By combining VR/AR with AI and natural language, the employee can train different scenarios in a realistic environment with detailed feedback on how it went. Feel free to go in and look at companies like Talespin, Bodyswaps, Mursion or VirtualSpeech.


It’s easy to get inspired by all new technology. In order to build new capabilities at work, the technology however comes second. Some of the things that need to be in place for this step are:

  • An established view within the organization to focus on performance and capabilities, and that formal training only contributes to a small degree.
  • Measure of effect at work. Without defining goals in terms of achievements that can be measured or behaviors that can be observed, no change will occur. It is equally important to measure and follow up after, for example, in 3 months.
  • ALignment between training, skills and the organization’s performance management process.
  • Knowledge on how to create learning transfer, e.g. knowledge of “Experential/Action learning” .
  • Capabilities in Performance Consulting, i.e. be able to analyze opportunities and problems with performance in work and create broader solutions than courses.

Examples of benefits

My view is that the majority of courses today do not have much effect on increasing capabilities. We don’t have to go as far as the famous Harvard article where leadership training is called “the great training robbery”. As you read above, however, much can be done to increase transfer to work and create increased ability. Some examples of winnings are:

  • Using well-designed “blended” programs, the proportion that applies the knowledge increases from 15% to 86%.
  • Working with multiple repetitions and exercises, increases knowledge retention from 20% to 90%.
  • Metastudies show that the effect of “blended” programs is 60% higher than for traditional classroom courses.
  • What is this worth? According to IBM, those who invest more and have a higher maturity in learning have 10% higher productivity than the average company.

Read more on the next step

In the article “Digitize learning part 3 – address the skillshift” I describe how we can address the skillshift and the lack of learning content that exist in most organizations. I will describe how we use MOOC ́s and LXP and how we address the problems of curating and personalizing learning. Also read part 1 of the article series on how to digitize classroom courses.

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