Digital learning in the spotlight at HR Indaba Network

Former Altron group executive for human capital Dolores Mashishi discussed the shift to digital learning platforms.

The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a significant increase in online learning in the workplace. But as a panel of top learning experts pointed out at the 2020 HR Indaba Network, it also provides a powerful test of the potential of online learning, while highlighting some key limitations. These include the prerequisite of adequate digital skills, unequal access to internet and computers as well as potentially lower levels of engagement with learners.

A chance to reimagine
For Trevor Kunda, group head of leadership development at Discovery, corporate learning is facing an identity crisis now that classroom learning is no longer possible. He sees this as a chance to reimagine the learning agenda.

“Covid-19 has accelerated our move into digital. Two years back we facilitated very traditional classroom learning experiences. Today we are embracing an on-demand online learning programme. We have had to re-evaluate our skills and tools to create learning experiences that are effective. It’s been an exciting journey that will continue to unfold,” said Trevor.

Some successes from Discovery during the pandemic include much better engagement from employees attending and committing to finishing courses as well as a learner experience score jumping from 88% to a 97% approval rating.

Employees are increasingly taking a more proactive role in learning and development. A LinkedIn Learning report found that employees increased the amount of time they spent on learning on their platform by 130% between February and April this year.

Trevor conducted an exercise at Discovery to find out how many people were already subscribed to learning portals through LinkedIn Learning and Udemy. He was surprised to see that 5,000 employees were registered with LinkedIn Learning while 6,000 employees were registered with Udemy. “As employees are prepared to pay for their own training, it was easy to demonstrate to our executive team that investing with these platforms is worthwhile,” Trevor observed.

Trevor said he didn’t think this was the end of classroom learning. “For example, I don’t see online learning working in the leadership space. Here you need deep immersion, which virtual does not really cater for. There will always be a place for the classroom.”

Barriers to learning
For Dolores Mashishi, formerly the group executive for human capital at Altron, a lack of digital skills in the country limits the potential for online learning. Another barrier is unequal access to the internet and computers. Companies need to upskill employees in digital skills but also provide access to online learning opportunities.

Online learning is only possible when the learning culture within an organisation is supportive. “Often it’s the learning culture of the organisation that limits learning. Leaders must give employees explicit permission to learn. Employees apply to learn, but their manager doesn’t sign off the form. This holds employees back. Employees need easier ways to access learning,” said Dolores.

Dolores called on HR professionals to be more digitally savvy: “If your HR strategy does not have a digital talent strategy, then you won’t be able to compete. The pace of change and automation is so fast – you need digital learning to close the gap.”

Nation building
According to Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director at Henley Business School, learning and development professionals are the pioneers of major change in the country. “We have a highly intelligent population who are not formally educated. This is the untapped pool of talent who need to contribute to building our nation. What they don’t learn in formal education, they can learn in the workplace,” he commented. At Henley Business School all employees receive free education.

Jon said that of every 100 employees, only 45 have the skills suitable to our current economy. This is before considering the changes afoot with the fourth industrial revolution. “L&D specialists are not only building their companies but building a country. We need people who have the skills, not to get the corner office, but to be cornerstones in our society. They need to expose employees to a broad range of skills and energise them to solve complex problems,” he said.

Key to educating a workforce is to make learning platforms more accessible. “A fish doesn’t think about the water. Today, digital is that water. We need to be more creative with a blended online and classroom approach. For most employees, we need a mobile-first learning approach,” said Jon.