Success of learning technology and the reasons why so many organisations fail
Updated: May 20, 2021
I have wondered why learning has changed so little despite the use of so much technology. At the risk of sweeping generalization, the focus has been on simplify and add efficiency to training. Digital is so much more than plugging in technology. It’s not about putting stacks of content in an LMS. It’s about getting close as possible to your people and the work they are doing and helping to address problems and getting results. It's about creating a culture of trust and learning, and it's also about align your L&D goals to business outcome.
Still today, I meet (too) many organizations that had invested considerable amount of money and efforts in learning technology and learning content, but they never actually succeed. The investment doesn’t reap the expected result and in some cases it even falls flat. Every organization I have interviewed bring up the same issue: the users don’t access the learning technology more than absolutely necessary, they find no joy or meaning using it.
Technology is absolutely fundamental, but you have to have the right climate in order for technology to flourish, just bringing it in will not solve your problem. Or, it can be ok if you only care about compliance training and checking off that list (literally push the training out to the users, just check it off to get a completion report) but if you are chasing after something more, to go further in supporting the everyday learning and learning in the flow of work, you need to rethink.
What do we miss then? I can write thousands of pages about this issue but, I will focus on the 3 hottest topics.
Bring learning where employees are
Build trust, the willingness to share and collaborate (culture and climate)
Define the purpose and business goal, and use the right language for your organization
Work on those, and I promise you that a journey will take place that will surprise you and your organization!
1 Bring learning to where employees are
Draw the big picture of the users learning environment and tell stories about how the technology is supposed to be used.
Implementing learning technology, we often have a to narrow perspective. We need to take a broader view and see the big picture of all systems and tools that are supporting users with knowledge and information to solve every-day work. Systems as Intranets, performance support systems, systems containing guidelines, policies, rules etc. and other diverse information content systems but also collaboration and meeting tools (and of course, everything that happen outside the use of technology).
Think wide and try to get a deep understanding of your users learning situation, they may be using tools that you or no one else actually are thinking about as learning tools. You have to do a deep dive; meet your users, observe them, reach out with surveys as well as making deep interviews. One of the best methods for doing this work is Design Thinking.
You don’t necessarily have to integrate all those systems and tools, but you have to draw the picture (or map) and then bring it out in the organization in an understandable way. Create inspiring stories how the systems and tools can work together, how they can be mixed and how they can support the users in diverse situations. Give a clear picture how you want the technology to be used. Use videos, tell stories and do it over time, continuously, never stop. Meet and follow the development in your organization and continue to “educate” and inspire your users. To actually make it happen you must get every apartment, unit and team, work through your stories, assimilate and implement them. Why, how and what are questions that need to be answered. I guess that you already have notice that without strong and thrust-based leadership this will be a hard game to play.
HR/L&D Departments need to go beyond their comfort zones, stop playing safe and meet people on the floor to get an understanding about the users learning situation, but also collaborate with departments that have responsibilities for learning systems and tools that don’t fall under HR’s scope. I promise you, doing this will be a win-win situation for HR and for all other departments that have responsibilities for the systems defined as learning tools and for the organization overall.
2 The climate or culture - Build trust, the willingness to share and collaborate
A learning culture is dynamic, it has room to growth, it is an on-going journey that moves the organization forward. A learning culture is taking performance to another level, nurturing creativity and innovation.
The foundation for learning and for building a learning culture is trust! I have met organization, with low and high level of trust, and everything between, and have had the privilege to see the huge difference in how learning comes into action. You don’t share if you don’t have trust and without any sharing the culture will never fly. And without trust, sharing or willingness to learn, there is no culture of using the technology in the way that brings things forward!
Organization without trust: Don’t share, don’t ask, don’t be curious … Just do it!
One of those buzzwords that has popped up is Growth mindset, I love the meaning of this word, but be careful, it’s easy to think it’s just about individual growth. It is wrong way to focus on individuals as being isolated distinct from the organization as a living organism. Learning happens when listening, sharing and questioning comes into action and needs time and effort and more than one brain, colleagues come together and solve a problem, work it out together. There are many words for it; Double loop learning, active learning, peer group learning etc.
Understand me right, there is important learning when individuals solve problems or make performance improvements, but if learning only happens individually you are not using the full potential and the organization will never find the keys to engagement and innovation.
I only briefly discussed this, but there are tons of books and articles written about creating learning organizations, leadership, learnability growth mindset etc., some good, some less good. But I recommend you read some!
3 Define your purpose and use the right language for your organization
Do you have a clear business goal or purpose, what do you really want to achieve with the investment in learning technology? If you don’t have an overall goal connected to business outcome – how should you then be able to convince the organization to work in the way, you tell them? You have to explain the values with the investment, so people really understand it strategically and emotionally, and feel it will be worth all the efforts needed to reach the goal(s). You have to involve people so they assimilate your strategy by heart.
You may not talk about learning as your purpose, it would be better talking about increasing engagement, better performance outcome, higher innovation rate, customer experience … use the right phrase that works for your organization, the culture, the vision and the business strategies. Defining your purpose connected to business outcome will probably completely transform the way you are talking about the project, the desired achievements and possible gains.
You need to go deep down inside the organization to see how people actually learn: To find the vibe of learning. You have to spice things up, you have to make learning enjoyable and meaningful with a clear purpose. Use your bravery to challenge your organizations, every team, every employee and build trust on all levels.