The dramatic effects of Covid-19 have made most of us reflect on all aspects of our lives. For some it has been a terrible time and for others they have found the experience of slowing down and spending time doing things they may not have done before quite invigorating and rewarding. For the majority, the most rapid change has been having to fully embrace the digital world.

During lock down, this became really clear to me as I prepared to speak virtually to 600 people at an e-learning conference hosted by The Institute of Leadership and Management about the barriers of online learning. It made me reflect on just how far the online learning industry has come in the 20 years I’ve been working in the thick of it as global QA lead at PWC for their next generation learning platform, or consulting to global brands such as Kaplan, BT, Barclays or membership bodies such as RIBA, TILM, CIH, but also to realise how many barriers still exist. Let’s explore this for a moment.

A number of contributing factors have reduced the barriers and challenges in the way of successful online learning for corporate and membership organisations. Technology advancements being the most obvious, particularly the movement to cloud computing. We are certainly a long way from when I started out my career and had to travel across London to put a CD in to a PC to complete a very drab compliance course. How things have changed since then!

However, with technical innovation and evolution, has come greater expectations of online learning.

In our personal lives we have a plethora of apps and tools such YouTube or LinkedIn Learning which we can use to access content to teach us anything, at the precise time we need it, and we can access it from any device (even if we still struggle to find the time to consciously use these tools).

These expectations have exposed weaknesses in learning platforms that are not easy to use or house content that is not relevant and stimulating – causing then the modern learner to quickly disengage. Typically this is because LMS platforms used by corporate and membership organisations have been designed and built with L&D departments in mind, and not to the needs of the learners. Hence why we have seen the explosion in the last 2-3 years of ‘Learning Experience Platforms’, which are much more learner centric and focus on driving engagement – the biggest barrier of all to online learning.

So, to come back to my reflections. From what I have personally seen and been involved in, the most successful online learning strategies that truly engage and have an impact in both the corporate and membership world, all have the same magic formula.

At the heart of them are diagnostics that drive personalized learning pathways.

These pathways are made up of bite sized learning experiences, some form of workplace application and are supported by coaching and driven by senior management.

To expand on this a little. In the corporate world for example an organisation will make the strategic decision to invest in L&D to achieve a commercial objective. To achieve this objective the business will need to develop people’s capabilities by ‘role’, or maybe in certain ‘subjects. Just look at how PwC for example are investing over 3 billion dollars in reskilling their entire workforce in cyber security, AI, bid data, drone technology, robotics knowing that 96% of an accountants job will be automated by the end of the decade.

So for a learner to truly engage with any form of learning there needs to be a trigger event, an event that motivates them to want to invest time and energy in learning. After all we all have very hectic lives and are spoilt with sources of information. Creating this trigger event for a membership body can be even harder to create than for a corporate, unless professional development is mandatory.

I have seen this ‘trigger event’ achieved where a diagnostic is used to identify a leaner’s competency and skill gaps before they engage in any learning. Understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses gives us a focus and ‘engages’ us in investing time in our own development.

By identifying the exact development gaps, a platform can prioritise online learning experiences to the specific needs of the learner saving them time and helping them see exactly what they are capable of. These online-learning experiences should be bite-sized, short and come in many forms such as: high quality videos, PDFs, e-learns, and podcasts. Variety is essential. When online learning content is personalised and relevant to the learner, this is then when we notice high levels of engagement.

However this on its own is not enough. The application of any online learning is critical to truly embedding it. So any online learning strategy should include workplace activities or events that can be digitally tracked. Some sort of task that is completed in the workplace, which can then be measured to demonstrate that the online learning has been effective in achieving the organisational goal.

One thing I do know for certain is that when on-line learning is personalised, bite-sized, accessible from any device, actively applied back in to the workplace, and if a learner can be supported by a coach giving them an opportunity to reflect, then you have an online learning strategy that will achieve any commercial and organisational goal. This is no longer a nice to have for professional organisations, it’s a must have to stay ahead in the new world we all find ourselves in.