“Self-service” learning is emerging as a dominant feature of digital learning.

This is radically different from the conventional approach to instructional design, which not only defines learning goals, it determines the path that all learners will take to reach those goals. “It’s highly defined,” said David Kelly, the eLearning Guild’s EVP and executive director, “like an interstate highway that goes straight to the destination.” Modern eLearning may have variations—branching roads, exits, and roadside stops—but that’s not enough. Future digital learning “won’t even have guardrails—no roads, no maps; learners will find their own way to the destination,” Kelly said.

That shift poses a challenge to L&D professionals, who will need to assess and measure what employees know, though they may have little insight into each employee’s learning path.

As part of a crucial conversation about the future of digital learning, Learning Solutions Magazine published four articles. “Digital Learning: An Interview with David Kelly” introduced the concept of digital learning; “Emerging Digital Learning Landscape: Flexibility, Opportunity” looked at how L&D can anticipate and best meet learners’ changing needs; and “5 Reasons Execs Should Pay Attention to Digital Learning” presented an executive perspective. Here, Learning Solutions examines the effects of changes in learner behavior and expectations on how L&D professionals measure those employees’ knowledge and skills.

Reevaluating assessment

“We’ll need to allow employees’ knowledge and experience to affect how we support them,” Kelly said, emphasizing that the transformation of how and where employees learn doesn’t mean the end of eLearning. Instead, he said, it’s more of a rebalancing or difference in emphasis.

L&D teams generally devote the bulk of their resources to creating content, to conveying information, to teaching or training. As employees increasingly seek outside sources for foundational knowledge, L&D teams will likely need to reallocate resources. “Only a small sliver of time is spent on assessment,” Kelly said—often on knowledge checks or testing learners’ understanding of material presented in an eLearning course, rather than deeper assessments that measure competency.

“Our industry knows what it means to measure competency,” Kelly said. Thus, as L&D teams adjust, resources might be shifted to devising and implementing new ways to measure employee performance. L&D professionals will need to:

  • Figure out what employees know already
  • Identify—and fill—gaps in their basic knowledge, gaps that will be different for each employee
  • Create targeted content that covers company-specific knowledge and skills

One possible outgrowth of L&D efforts to measure competency could be new forms of credentialing. “More organizations are accepting that self-directed learning matters,” Kelly said; and they are recognizing that knowledge with informal and in-house tools.

Just-in-time resources

The types of content that L&D teams create could also see radical changes.

“If you want to understand how technology will change the way we learn, you’ve got to understand how technology is changing the way we live,” Kelly said. Employees’ expectations are shaped by the way they live, learn, and behave outside of work. “If I need to fix a weird noise that my washer is making, I’m not going to take a course,” Kelly said. “I’m going to Google a solution.”

Just as someone needing to resolve a minor plumbing problem at home is likely to watch a YouTube video rather than register for a 90-minute course, that employee is likely to approach an on-the-job need or issue by searching for resources that solve the immediate problem.

Syncing corporate eLearning with the self-service approach might mean choosing eLearning formats that allow learners to access just the information they need, quickly, in the workflow, over courses that delve deeper into a topic but that also take employees away from their work for an hour or more. “That’s where the buzz around microlearning approaches and tools that employees turn to in the moment come into the discussion,” Kelly said. “As an industry, we want to pivot, to embrace the changes in learner behavior.”

Indeed, interest in mobile-friendly eLearning formats, such as chatbot-based performance support, podcasts, and microlessons, is burgeoning, evidenced by examples documented in Learning Solutions Magazine and presented at eLearning Guild events.

Join the digital learning conversation

The Guild continues to explore the digital learning landscape at DevLearn 2017 Conference & Expo this month in Las Vegas. Senior learning leaders will delve into digital learning strategies on October 24 at the Executive Forum on Digital Learning. The conversation on digital learning continues, as a special area of focus, throughout the conference, October 25 – 27. Register today!