Using Digital Learning to Drive Learning Impact

dreamstime_xs_43563469What happens after a piece of training should never be left to chance, but so often it is.  I make no apology for periodically bringing out my soap box to talk about this.  I also call this our industry’s “Achilles heel”.  When survey after survey reveals how our profession still wants that seemingly illusive seat at the top table, we need to acknowledge that if we could demonstrate how our learning made an impact, we’d be in a much stronger bargaining position.

There are a whole variety of factors that influence the success of a training programme.  These include qualitative factors such making the learning as engaging as possible, but actually there are much stronger forces at play and which are triggered regardless of the content’s engagement index.

Learners need to:

  • Have a clear and articulated reason for enrolling on the training, with tangible end-goals.
  • Remember what they’ve learned so they can put as much of it into practice as possible and not fall back to the old ways and habits.
  • Be steered to take proactive steps to implement what they’ve learned, again to help affect the essential and necessary behavioural change; and
  • Be supported throughout the process by those equally committed to seeing them succeed.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that one piece of research changed how I think about learning solutions.  The fact that 50 per cent of the impact from any piece of learning results from what happened after the learning took place can’t be overlooked.

Learning Effectiveness Activities
Activities contributing to learning effectiveness

And with my over two decades of experience in developing blended learning programmes, the data shows me that offering just some token preparatory online content is insufficient.  Just under a quarter of the success from the main piece of learning is generated by good preparation.  This is a stage that therefore needs greater attention.

So it’s clear that we need to look at the balance and nature of the activities we include in our blended learning solutions and this may well mean that we need to think beyond the course and look at other forms of learning activities.

All of this will require some good management and coordination too, along with clear learner communications.  We need to make the whole experience easy for the learner – and those they call on for support – to use and show them how this “new look” programme will truly enable them to derive the benefits they are seeking.

I should state that I’m not advocating applying this approach to every piece of training, as ideal as that would be.  It would just be too complicated and over-engineered.  However, I believe that this approach should be mandatory for any flagship training programmes, where the investment in budget and time will be much higher, where (hopefully) the learner motivation will be strong and where the organisation is looking for – and hopefully defined – measurable outcomes of success.

I’ve brought my thoughts in this area together in this diagram.

Supporting the Transfer of Learning.png
Using digital learning to drive learning impact

Not only does this help to signpost the various options for digital learning support, it also helps map the activity into the workflow of your typical learning management system.


So if 24 per cent of the impact from a training programme comes from good preparation, it’s important to get this right.  In the past, we would have typically delivered online learning courses here and, depending on your subject matter, this might still be part of the solution.  But if part of the preparation is getting the learner motivated to learn and intrigued by what will follow, or making sure they have a good grasp of the overall programme scope, then increasingly we should look to micro-learning to support this phase.

Explainer videos, quizzes, mini games that allow the learner to identify their own gaps and short learning modules are not only a good way to tackle a number of the key elements of effective preparation, they also make completing this stage more manageable as it can be done in short pockets of time in the run up to the main training event.  And think about it:  if push comes to shove, micro-learning is ideal for completing on the train, bus or plane journey to the training venue.

And remember the golden rule of preparation activity.

Do not repeat the preparation content during the main event.

I can still remember the first time a trainer colleague of mine told someone, who’d clearly not done the preparation work, to log out of the virtual classroom session she was facilitating.

Another aspect of successful preparation is enabling the learner to think through their own objectives for taking part in the programme.  Having sound goals at this point in time is also a key determinator of what happens after the main training event, so include ways to capture and review learner goals before they get too far into the programme.

The most appropriate use of digital learning content during the preparation phase – and beyond – will help the learner to better assail the so-called “learning curve”.

The Training Course

I’ll assume here that this will include some aspect of live training, although that needn’t be classroom-based nowadays.  You might well deliver the main body of training in a virtual classroom.  Here you will get into the meat of the content, but this is also the time when you need to start to prepare the learners for what happens afterwards.  So throughout this stage, you should not only be referencing what will happen afterwards, but also giving them hands-on access to it.  Even better if you can embed use of the follow-up resources within the live sessions themselves.  So if, for example, you have created an app containing hints and tips, then have the group download this and use it during the class.  Mentioning this as part of the live session close is much too late and I’ve seen lots of great post-training support tools ultimately fail as a result.

If you have captured goals beforehand in some digital format, then also make sure that the learners have the chance to reflect and amend these as they work through the course content and possibly reprioritise their own needs.


This is when things get truly interesting, as a number of forces will conspire to thwart the learners’ best endeavours to put what they’ve just learned into practice.

Firstly, there’s the so-called “forgetting curve”, whereby what has just been learned is so often quickly forgotten.  Sophisticated but fledgling technology is actually starting to help us here, through the use of spaced repetition.  At its most advanced – and currently restricted to specialist learning systems – algorithms and machine-learning like analysis guide learners through the most relevant modules of reinforcement content, tailored to each individual.  I’m sure I’ll delve deeper into this topic in a future post.

But for now – as I like to keep things pragmatic and more easily achievable – if we can schedule a series of short micro-learning assets to be periodically pushed to learners during the first few weeks after a course, then this should go some way to keeping the content uppermost in their minds.  The goal is to keep the “forgetting curve” as shallow as possible, by providing quick refreshers that span the course content.  In some instances you may be able to reuse some of the micro-learning that has been delivered at the start of the programme, but there should also be scope to develop new content items.  And we shouldn’t just think of what to create here.  Content curation will also work well, leading to timely and bang-up-to-date materials being circulated to participants.

The second “force” is the fact that action plans are often left to gather dust, or fizzle out over time.  There might be lots of reasons for this, including unrealistic or possibly now redundant goals, but if we assume that the action plans are still valid, then we need to ensure that the learner remains committed to seeing through each action point.

In the past I’ve used specialist online action planning tools to help learners to execute their post-training actions.  But even without such tools, we need to see how we can use existing technologies to:

  • Send out reminder notifications to ask for progress updates.
  • Provide a quick way for learners to review each step in their action plan and to record their progress.
  • Enable a learner to mark each action point as complete.
  • Share their action plans with their trainer, line manager and even fellow course participants and to encourage them to provide support and encouragement.
  • Ideally provide a dashboard for the trainer to show the percentage of completed action plans.

This was the basic functionality of the tools I’ve used before and together they helped keep learners engaged with the latter stages of the learning process, long after the main training event.

Thirdly and finally, following on from the last point about action planning, learners need the support of others if they are to break their old habits and change their behaviours.  The line manager is particularly critical here and we can all recount examples where a line manager was – in effect – a blocker to behavioural change.  An online community forum, dedicated to the training programme in question, with its membership drawn from the course alumni and its trainer pool, is a great way to extend the support network to include colleagues with a vested interest for the group to derive as much benefit from the training as possible.

In summary, our past attempts to create blended learning programmes quite often failed to deliver the support when it was most needed.  Now with a broader range of digital learning approaches, coupled with better knowledge of where we need to invest the most, future flagship blended learning programmes should deliver a greater impact.


Using Digital Learning to Drive Learning Impact

One thought on “Using Digital Learning to Drive Learning Impact

  1. I love the diagram where it shows that the follow-up should actually take more time than the actual learning session! I absolutely agree, but I’m sure a lot of people would view that as a waste of time, not realizing that the follow-up is a actually a way to remember all that knowledge.


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