The Digital Learning Narrative

In the world of L&D, there is a clear narrative about the use of digital technologies and how we have to adopt digital technology in order to deliver better learning solutions. I want to raise a hand of caution about this drive and provide some thinking to it. Just because someone can use Amazon to buy goods or watch YouTube videos, doesn’t mean they know how to use transfer those skills to using digital technology for learning. Consumer behaviour is different to learner behaviour.

The narrative currently says things like:

  • everyone has a smartphone, so they can access their learning when they want it
  • an answer is no more than a Google search away
  • there is a lot of content available digitally and freely
  • we have more opportunity to connect with other professionals
  • we have more opportunity to discuss and debate about our profession

Those things are all true, and we shouldn’t dismiss any of them.

Where I think we need to be cautious is that although those things are true, what is also true is:

  • using digital technology for active learning isn’t a normal habit for most people
  • most people don’t use digital technology for their professional skills development
  • most people are used to being a consumer of content
  • most people don’t know how to engage with digital content to learn from it
  • most people don’t share knowledge and opinions for their own personal learning
  • most people aren’t comfortable sharing their opinion openly because they don’t know how it will be received and they don’t want to offend

Will people search for things on Google or YouTube in order to get an answer to their question? Yes, they will. Will people actively use Google or YouTube to find content that will help them develop their professional skills? Sometimes.

And that’s where we as L&Ders have an almost doubled responsibility. We need to learn how to use digital technologies in order to find content, learn from the content, share the content, curate the content, and create the content. It’s not easy, and there’s no real ‘course’ you can attend to learn this stuff. It’s kind of a catch-22 situation. If you’re not using the tools in this way, you won’t learn how to do it, and you won’t learn how to do it if you’re not using digital tools.

There does seem to be a constant in the digital learning space, and that is that most practitioners are willing to share what they know freely and are often happy to chat to help you develop your skills.

The other side of the coin is that we need to help people learn how to learn using digital technologies. With tools like Twitter, TED.com, white papers, HBR articles, Google, YouTube, WordPress, and so many more, we need to help people to learn how to use them as learning tools. And that’s a whole different skill set to learning how to use them as consumers.

Consider it, if you watch a TED video and find it to be really insightful and useful to your professional development, what do you do with it? Most likely nothing. You might ‘like’ it, and stop there, or what’s more likely is you just do nothing. That’s what most people do. Taking it further as a learning tool involves dong things like:

  • sharing it with your social network
  • taking the knowledge and insights and incorporating as part of some work you are doing
  • starting a discussion with others about the content to help you debate it and discuss it further
  • using it as an activity piece in the design of a learning solution

So, yes, digital technologies have enabled a whole new way of learning and how to develop your professional skills. What we also need to be mindful of is that we need to help people learn the skills needed to use the digital technologies so that they can develop their skills professionally.

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