digital-learning-strategy
Training & Learning

UK L&D: How to Develop a Comprehensive Digital Learning Strategy

The incredible speed with which the business world moves has been a boon to the major economies of the world, and the UK is no exception. But it is not without its share of dangers. New technologies and business practices emerge faster than many workers can keep up with. In fact, McKinsey & Company reports that by the end of the decade, the share of the UK workforce lacking in basic digital skills may reach as high as two out of every three workers. 

But the skill gap goes beyond technical skills. The McKinsey & Co report also predicts as many as 10 million UK workers will be underskilled in soft skills such as communication, leadership, and decision-making by 2030 as well.

To combat this growing chasm between the current skill set of the workforce and the skills necessary for future success, businesses need to invest in training and developing their employees by upskilling from within.

In this article, we delve into how to develop a comprehensive digital learning strategy. We’ll cover how to establish clear knowledge goals to help you to determine what you need to track, how often you need to track it, and where you need to store it. It will also facilitate an organisational learning strategy that supports your digital learning strategy and helps you achieve your goals.

Establish clear knowledge goals that align with your business goals

The first step is to identify your long-term knowledge goals. Why are you implementing digital learning in the first place? What do you want your team members to know? Knowledge goals are a foundational element of every digital learning strategy and are vital for establishing the processes for measuring your knowledge, expanding its reach, and increasing its value. 

To develop a comprehensive digital learning strategy, you need to outline how your specific knowledge goals help you meet your broader business goals. By clearly establishing what you want to accomplish with your digital learning strategy, you’ll ensure all future activities align with those goals and support them directly.

One way to identify concrete knowledge goals is to hold a ‘know-why’ workshop to discuss why you are developing a digital learning strategy. What are the business problems that necessitate the strategy? What do you hope to achieve once the strategy is in place? This kind of organisational self-assessment can help you translate broader business goals into actionable knowledge goals, outlining specific weaknesses in your organisation that need to be addressed.

At the end of this step, you should be able to clearly explain what knowledge and skills your organisation will need—your knowledge goals—to successfully achieve your broader business goals. Next up? How to identify and prioritise skills gaps.

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Identify and prioritise your organisational knowledge & skills gaps

Once you have identified your destination, the next step in planning your L&D journey is understanding where you are as an organisation. By identifying the specific skills gaps your organisation is facing, both now and in the future, you will be better placed to provide solutions that address the learning needs effectively. This will help you focus on the learning your employees need most, paving the way for your business’s successful implementation of digital learning tools.

It is crucial to keep in mind that skills gaps can come in many forms. The most obvious, of course, are skills that are completely absent from your organisation. But there are other, less apparent gaps that can be just as vital to your organisation’s ability to stay competitive. When only a small number of employees have the knowledge or skills to perform vital tasks, it can lead to productivity bottlenecks.

Take, for example, an organisation with a star senior software engineer with skills in a critical but infrequently used programming language. Currently, the organisation has the skills to keep the legacy codebase updated. But what happens when the engineer goes on holiday, has an unexpected medical leave, or decides to retire to a sunny spot near Benidorm? This is more than a farfetched hypothetical. This is a serious issue facing major companies worldwide that rely on COBOL to run some of their most critical infrastructures. 

The outcome of this step should be a concrete understanding of the current state of your organisational knowledge and skills and which areas need to be improved—your skills gaps—to meet your knowledge goals. 

Here are some ways you can identify the gaps in your organisation:

Core competency audit

You can conduct a preliminary audit of the skills and knowledge your organisation likely has by analysing the core competencies in the job description of each active role. Each position within the organisation should have the skills and knowledge required to perform that role’s duties successfully. Taking stock of the composite core competency requirements of all positions in your organisation will give you a baseline assessment of your organisational knowledge and skills. 

Once the audit is complete, you can use the baseline assessment to measure your team’s actual knowledge against core competency expectations. As a bonus, updating the core competencies outlined in each job description as you perform the skills gap audit helps ensure open positions will be filled by candidates possessing skills that align with your organisation’s knowledge goals.

360-degree peer feedback

With this approach, peers provide feedback on each other: their co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses, areas for improvement, and how their work impacts the company as a whole. Collecting peer feedback can be as simple as sending out a company-wide email asking employees to list the skills areas where their team and co-workers excel, where they can improve, and which skills are lacking. 

This can also be done in a more targeted manner. You might ask senior employees or managers to provide feedback on the skills of specific employees on their team and provide suggestions for improvement.

Expert review

You may need to assess skills that you don’t have more than general knowledge about, especially if your organisation is looking to enter a new industry. In these cases, don’t be afraid to bring in experts to conduct a review of your organisation. Once the review is complete, experts can provide recommendations for addressing these gaps. 

Experts can also suggest ways to prepare for upcoming industry shifts. Once experts have reviewed your organisation, you can then compare the gaps they’ve identified with those that you’ve identified through other approaches. This allows you to close more gaps than you would through only one approach.

Competitive analysis

Once you’ve used the above methods to identify knowledge and skills gaps, you can conduct a competitive skills gap analysis. With this analysis, you determine how your organisation’s skills compare to the skills of your competitors. This allows you to determine how prepared your organisation is to face future challenges.

Once you’ve prioritised your organisation’s knowledge and skills gaps, you can begin developing solutions for closing those gaps that will have the most significant impact on your organisation. Following this step, you then need to begin creating a long-term content roadmap. 

Create a long-term course roadmap for addressing skills gaps

There’s a lot to keep track of when planning the learning materials your organisation will need. To avoid getting lost, L&D teams need a content strategy that ensures their learners are always accessing the correct information at the appropriate time. A successful eLearning programme requires an organised approach to planning and executing courses. By creating a course roadmap, you can build a solid structure for your organisation’s eLearning that will last for years to come. 

A course roadmap is a plan for your eLearning assets. It is a map that helps you get from point A (the status quo) to point B (a robust eLearning programme). Your course roadmap should include the following: 

  1. A list of all the content pieces you’ll create for your courses (plus any assets you may need to create in the future)
  2. The estimated length of each piece of content
  3. The estimated cost of each piece of content
  4. The estimated time to create each piece of content
  5. The estimated publication time frame for each piece of content. 

Follow these three steps to help you get started on your content roadmap.

Related: Solving the UK Digital Skills Crisis: 4 Ways to Identify and Close Skills Gaps

1. Create an inventory of your training courses

Before creating your course roadmap, you need to know what educational material and content you have and what you need to make. Create a spreadsheet with the list of important learning content and assets your organisation has already created. Include columns describing the topic of the content, the audience, and the medium, so you can see how your content is distributed across your various L&D channels. This will also help you identify any gaps in your content, such as topics that haven’t been covered recently or knowledge repositories that have fallen behind. 

You may find that your team are creating courses at a slower pace than you need for critical topics or that the volume of content for less important skills is greater than what you need. You may also notice that your team is duplicating efforts. Creating an inventory of your organisation’s learning content will help you more effectively assign course creation tasks throughout your teams. 

If two teams have subject-matter experts creating duplicate content, you could assign each SME to produce half as much content, alternating between the two. If an SME is creating content for knowledge areas that have already been covered, you can have them focus on creating learning materials for one of their other areas of expertise.

2. Identify the best course formats for meeting each learning objective

Before outlining your eLearning course creation roadmap, it’s essential to match up the content with the key knowledge goals. After all, meeting your learning objectives is the whole reason why you want learners to complete your courses. The learning objectives might be to acquire new skills, understand company policies, or be able to do their job more effectively. 

Each objective will require a unique mix of content and formats. A very technical skill with multiple steps might be better taught with a text-based wiki, for example, while a software tutorial might work better as a video with voiceover. For skills that are more complex, you may want to utilise a text document to help viewers follow along with an online class or create an infographic to help learners remember the steps they learned from a video. 

Once you know which combination of content formats will be most effective for meeting each of your learning objectives, you can better determine what each piece of content needs to include. This will help you create courses that iare more relevant to the needs of your organisation and learners. Objective-based course creation will also help you meet goals and identify where you may need to create supplementary content to help learners who are struggling to complete a particular course.

3. Recruit internal subject-matter experts to share their knowledge  

After identifying the courses you will need to create to meet your key learning objectives, you will need to identify who in the organisation is best suited to developing each course. If your organization’s learning strategy is focused specifically on L&D topics, this step will be pretty easy. You may even be sitting in the same office (or the same chair) as your company’s L&D SME. For other departmental training, you will need to reach out to and recruit the internal subject-matter experts for each topic . 

Your internal subject-matter experts are an invaluable source of information and should play a key role in developing your digital learning course materials. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you may have only a single SME or you may have several experts spread across multiple teams.

Whatever the situation, it’s important to make this process as smooth and painless as possible for the SMEs you do recruit. This means being thoughtful in how your schedule their time and spreading the work across multiple SMEs. it also means being respectful of how each individual is comfortable participating, whether that be on-camera, in-person, or behind the scenes. 

Of course, even the most knowledgeable SME in your company might not have a mastery of all the skills needed to meet your knowledge goals. And that’s OK. Even so, they are likely in the best position to identify where to look for resources to aid in closing these skills gaps.

Related: 5 Top Tips to Win Over Your Subject-Matter Experts

4. Estimate production requirements and plan out your new courses

Now that you know what courses to create and who will be creating them, it’s time to develop a brief for each piece of content. An outline will help you better visualise your broader course roadmap. This allows you to see how each piece of content fits together, how much time each piece of content will take to create, and how much content of each type your organisation needs. 

The outline for each piece of content should tell you everything you need to know about the asset. It should include all relevant information, including the title, the format, the knowledge goals it addresses, associated pieces of content, storyboards or outlines of what will be covered, and the estimated length of the asset. Once you’ve outlined each piece of content, you can better organise your content roadmap and determine gaps and needs within your eLearning programme.

Now that you have your content outlines, it’s time to estimate the amount of time and input it will take to write or record your content. This will help you create a more accurate timeline for your course roadmap and eLearning program. It will also help you determine how many people will need to be involved in the creation of your course and whether or not your organisation has enough staff members to tackle the workload. 

It’s important to note that the amount of time it takes to create courses will vary by format and subject matter. For simpler formats, like a text document outlining the steps for uploading a file to a company repository, it may only require a commitment of 30 minutes from a single person. However, as the complexity increases, so too will the necessary investment of time and resources.

Determine the most effective digital tools for meeting your learning goals

Now that you have identified where you are as an organisation, where you plan to go, and the resources you will need to get there, it’s time to find the best tools for your unique journey. There are hundreds of options for how your organisation plans, creates, organises, and deploys your learning materials. Before you can begin implementing new digital work tools, you should identify which digital tools will have the greatest impact on meeting your organisation’s learning goals. 

To find the right tools for your organisation, you should evaluate your existing technology infrastructure, as well as the team’s current processes and procedures. While each digital tool has its own set of benefits, not all digital tools are created equally when it comes to achieving your company’s learning objectives. By selecting the tools that will have the greatest impact on achieving your company’s learning objectives, you increase the chances of success.

This three-step process can guide you in choosing the most effective digital tools:

1. Conduct a self-assessment

Before choosing the right digital tools for your organisation, you first need to conduct a self-assessment to examine your existing technology infrastructure. Take an honest look at the digital tools currently being used by your team. Examine your team’s current processes and procedures. How do they collaborate? Where are they getting hung up? Where do they feel most comfortable? 

If your organisation already has a company wiki that some of your teams are using, find out what these teams are doing to find success with this tool and see if it is possible to replicate this success with other teams. Of course, just because employees use a certain tool doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job. Your employees may tell you they are using the tool out of necessity and would be happy to help you understand the features they would want in a new tool.  

By understanding your team’s current digital habits, you can get a better understanding of where your company is struggling and where you could benefit from more digital tools.

2. Calculate the set-up and maintenance costs

When choosing the best digital tools for your organisation, you need to consider their potential maintenance and set-up costs as well as their features and functions. Consideration of these factors can help you identify learning tools that are aligned with your organisation’s goals while also minimising associated costs. 

As with any enterprise-level digital solution, you are likely to encounter a range of self-hosted and cloud-hosted SaaS options. 

Self-hosted products often have low ongoing costs but high set-up costs associated with installation and integration. The more affordable long-term operating costs can provide an opportunity for cost-saving in the long run, but you will need to weigh these potential savings with a higher barrier to entry.  

Cloud-hosted SaaS products, on the other hand, tend to have much lower initial costs and instead charge an ongoing subscription fee. The lower introductory costs can make it easier for smaller companies to get started without the need for large upfront costs.

3. Consider the impact of support and scalability

The impact of set-up and maintenance goes beyond financial costs. Finding a provider who offers support throughout the set-up and can easily scale with your business needs can make a huge difference in the overall effectiveness and costs of your digital learning tools. 

While SaaS tools tend to include ongoing support as part of their business model, especially with enterprise-level subscriptions, technical support for self-hosted solutions may require an extra fee not included in the initial set-up costs. 

And, as your organisation grows, you need tools that can grow alongside you. Self-hosted solutions, while typically not limited to a specific number of internal users, are limited by the server infrastructure you are able to allocate to them. Cloud-based software, on the other hand, is designed with scalability in mind. Subscriptions often charge based on the number of users, meaning you only pay for what your organisation needs. 

A truly comprehensive digital learning strategy is never complete

The best way to evaluate the success of your digital learning strategy is to review progress over time against your outlined goals. This means that you will need to regularly assess the success of your strategy against the key metrics and milestones outlined in your roadmap. 

But it is also important to remember that as technology and business practices evolve, so do the skills and knowledge your organisation will need to stay competitive. Because of this, you will need to keep track of trends in your industry and adjust your learning goals accordingly. 

Luckily, it is much easier to keep your robust digital learning strategy up to date than it was to build it from scratch. Your internal subject-matter experts are your best resource here.

As the culture of digital learning matures within your organization, it will become a mark of pride for your internal subject-matter experts to share the new skills and knowledge they learn. And if you equip your teams have the tools to be more collaborative in how they create and consume digital learning courses, you make it possible for every employee—from the executives to the entry-levels—to share their unique expertise with the organization, honouring a culture of upskilling from within.