Skip to main content
Digital & Technology

Four principles for designing digital learning technologies

Four principles for designing digital learning technologies
Published: October 16, 2023
Share this article:

The pandemic has become known as ‘the great accelerator’ of digital transformation. Lockdowns have sparked an increase in contactless payment, robotic delivery systems, and online shopping and entertainment, whilst other measures, such as testing and tracking systems, has led to the rapid development of new technologies.  

One of the key areas of this transformation has been digital learning. A recent CIPD report claims that, when surveyed, 77% of organisations say they’re successfully using learning technology, and 69% say they’re innovating in their use of this technology. In this sense, many believe that the pandemic has sped up the adoption of digital technologies by as much as 3-4 years.  

But the pandemic is not over, and digital innovation continues to take place in a consistently uncertain and volatile global context. The requirement for adaptability and agility in digital learning is ongoing, and the development of learning technology must not only continue at pace but must also reflect and respond to the VUCA world that it aims to serve.  

So how exactly do we stay on track? At Impact, we believe four important perspectives will help when designing digital learning technologies in a VUCA environment:  

Learning is the work 

As the pace at which we need to learn increases, we can no longer afford to separate knowledge transfer from learning transfer. In other words, we need to be able to use new knowledge directly and immediately, which means breaking down the boundary between learning about the work and actually doing the work.  

Standardised work, in which efficiency and compliance are key success factors, is quickly being replaced by non-standardised, emergent, contingent work. We might characterise this shift as moving from organising labour to leading creative talent. It is a shift from hierarchy to networks, where learning is socially constructed, tested, and applied through a mesh of relationships, collaborations, and connections. In this context, we need to deploy digital technologies that will support the process of integrating and connecting learning with work. 

Let the learning lead 

The arrival of new technologies has left the marketplace struggling to respond to waves of innovation, hype, and complexity. Many L&D and HR professionals are faced with the challenge of making strategic decisions on investment in technology in a rapidly shifting landscape. Impact’s view has always been that we must never be led by tools, techniques, or fads. Instead, we must be led by the learning need; that is where our designs begin. At its core, this means that we should use technology to support the delivery of learning experiences that are relevant to the work that employees are doing now –and will need to do in the future. 

Context not content 

The volatility and disruption we are experiencing means that we are increasingly dependent on implicit or tacit knowledge to perform. Explicit knowledge and information might be readily available on the internet, but how do we absorb, apply and use that knowledge effectively? In our view, creating huge libraries of learning content only creates multiple channels to access knowledge whilst failing to address the issue of learning transfer – the ability to apply learning to context. By context, we mean the nature of the work, the nature of the learner, and the social or relational context that both exist within. It is this that is important, not the learning content.  

Process not platform 

Digital technologies haven’t changed the way people learn; they have just provided additional tools to help us learn. In this sense, any learning process needs to be carefully and intentionally designed. But in the rush to provide digital platforms, we seem to have forgotten the role of pedagogy, learning theory and practice, and high-quality design. Learning resources need to include learning processes – not just flat or static content. The more sophisticated the learning, the more sophisticated the learning design needs to be. Indeed, one of the findings of the recent CIPD report was that organisations that adopted a more sophisticated approach to learning actually generated an increased appetite for learning.  

Impact is an award-winning expert in virtual facilitation, with over 40 years of experience in supporting global organisations through change and disruption. In 2021, 80% of our global solutions were delivered virtually. We design customised solutions to be delivered on a combination of tech platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Spatial, and Mural, as well as through our own immersive software platforms – air™ and Inscape Rooms. Find out more on our Digital learning solutions.

Grahame Broadbelt is Global Head of Communications and R&D at Impact.