EFMD Report Now Available – “Digital Age Learning”

Sponsored by Capgemini in association with IESE, the EFMD Special Interest Group (SIG) “Digital Age Learning” explored how organisations can equip themselves to fully exploit the learning opportunities of the digital age. The SIG focused on documenting existing good practice and trapping emerging technologies, tools, services or learning paradigms that would help member companies move forward exponentially. It combines, therefore, an intensely practical element as well as looking at emerging research and experimentation.

The overall goal was to advance the critical area of digital age learning in concrete and practical terms, while helping install the practices that will allow innovation and development into the future. It acknowledged existing research and this report indicates areas where more research might be needed. The essential aim was to work in partnership with the members of the SIG and share their initiatives and challenges rather than ‘tell’ them what they should do. This project was a partnership in a profound area of learning development, across industries, across geographies and between research and practical applications. This report summaries the conclusions and is accompanied by a detailed research report on digital age learning written by Capgemini.

An initial interview was conducted with those companies who signed up for the EFMD SIG. What emerged was the importance of digital transformation as a live and current challenge for each member company. The implications of this rebounded directly on the learning and development function. That function had the task of transforming itself into a digital age operation as well as lead the reskilling of all staff and all companies caught up in this process. DAL was therefore centre stage and both the subject and object of the process.

What was also clear, however, was that L&D was by no means leading the charge. In fact, the opposite was true. L&D has a significant role in reskilling and changing the mind set of staff to accommodate the changing conditions that digital transformation was creating, and is struggling with the process.

This is the genus of the report you are reading. It is an acknowledgement that the L&D function is critical in terms of helping organisations adjust to very different futures by developing new skills and new mind sets, but has a long way to go in terms of fulfilling that need and realigning itself around the exigencies that the current social, technological, economic climate dictates. If we had to choose title for this report, it might be: “Some Way Forward, But a Long Way to Go!”.

The research report reveals six key characteristics of digital age learning, and shares a vision for what an L&D future might look like. The experiments that were undertaken by the member companies demonstrate most of the characteristics but reveal the gap between what is currently being developed and the full panoply of digital age learning. They reveal both the considerable progress is being made as well as pointing the way forward for the road ahead.

The fact that there is some misalignment between the promise revealed in the research, and the reality displayed in the case studies is a sign of health and strength not weakness. There is a recognition of the direction of travel and first steps have been taken. This is a lot of solid progress that should be applauded. Each experiment reveals encouraging signs, and indicates some of the challenges moving forward. This was, after all, action research where the abstract and the theoretical was put to the test in real world situations that emerged from the members work in progress.

The experiments were not artificial attempts to prove a point but realistic projects set inside the cultural context of the companies listed here. There is some excellent work, and innovative rethinking of how learning should be remade in the light of the current contingency. There is also a large amount of variety in the experiments, which reveals the diversity of the challenges together with an abundance of need.

Each case study is described in a similar format, so that comparisons can be made and the outcomes and lessons learned, can be clearly described. The report concentrates on categorizing the embodied innovation, rather than going into detail about any specific learning programme. The idea is to reveal the thinking behind the experiment, and show the scaffolding that holds it together. These the most transferable elements, and the ones that will have direct influence on L&D going forward.

The report, therefore, has a very simple structure. It sets the scene, defines the business landscape and the L&D context and how the digital age is transforming both the business, the learner and the learning organisation. It then describes the research undertaken and the report’s conclusions about the six principles of digital age learning.

This sets the stage for describing how the case studies embody many of the DAL characteristics. These are laid out in detail in the accompanying research paper. In summary, the six characteristics of digital age learning focus on three essential areas.

Digital Age Learning is continuous and cross-context; it is learner-led and social, as well as being data-driven and personalized. The analysis revealed six core characteristics that define DAL and differentiate it from what came before. The learning is engaging and delivers an exceptional learning experience. Learning is empowering, personalized and largely self-directed. Learning is ubiquitous, just-in-time, and in context. Learning is social, both formal and informal, and experiential wherever possible. Learning is hyper-connected with analytics everywhere. Finally, learning is continuous and promotes inquiry, exploration and doing.

The final section focuses on the necessary mind set changes needed to fully embody, and enrich digital age learning. This shift is encapsulated in the new roles of learning architect and learning experience designer that seem to underpin the changes necessary for digital age learning. The report also includes a select bibliography, which reveals and underpins the research conclusions. These references are a good starting point if you want to explore further.

The full guide is available for EFMD company members by contacting Shanshan Ge.