Business continues to shift at an ever-increasing velocity. The skills required to be successful today are different than the ones that were required yesterday, and they will continue to change in the future, creating a skills gap. Take, for example, the popular authoring tool Adobe Flash. For a long time, visual designers who knew Flash were widely sought after. But now, Flash has been replaced by other authoring tools, creating a skill gap.

Here’s how a digital learning strategy can be the key to bridging skills gaps in your organization:

Why Is the Skills Gap a Risk for Business?

Even well-established businesses that thrive for a time can fail when they’re unwilling or unable (or both) to bridge their workforce’s skills gap and, as a result, quickly fall behind innovations developed by upstart competitors. In contrast, the upstart firms are faster and more innovative. They either develop or recruit employees with more relevant skills.

Often, organizations are slow to recognize their skills gaps and, instead, double down on practices that previously brought them success. Sometimes, it is due to a conservative leadership approach; sometimes, it’s a fear that new skills and the resulting innovations will undercut the existing business. Either way, failing to bridge the skills gap is a leading cause of business failure.

Why Do Digital Learning Programs Hold the Key to Closing the Skills Gap?

Creativity and the ability to learn will soon be the most sought-after skills in potential employees, and existing employees should continue to foster curiosity and passion for learning. Upskilling and reskilling employees helps organizations build a competitive talent advantage, but businesses often shuffle the required time and effort for ongoing learning to the bottom of a long list of priorities.

Opportunities for professional development are a critical factor in employee satisfaction and retention. Job-seekers rate it as one of their most important considerations when looking at potential employers. Digital learning, therefore, can make an employer more appealing to talent.

Digital Learning Programs Make It Possible to Train Distributed Talent

The COVID-19 pandemic restricted a lot of travel, but businesses have found that they can not only function but thrive with virtual meeting and training technologies. Self-paced eLearning content, accessible anywhere and on any device, also supports higher employee performance. Adopting digital learning programs helps organizations to quickly create and deploy scalable training solutions.

While face-to-face training will still play a part in training strategies after the pandemic, time, resources and facilities often restrict how scalable that training is. Digital learning programs give access to learning content to a wide variety of audience sizes, regardless of location. They also decrease the time required to deploy solutions, allowing businesses to respond to performance, economic and social situations more efficiently.

Digital learning programs also make it easier to measure and maximize the business impact of training programs. Platforms such as learning management systems (LMSs) house content and track application and business impact metrics.

How Can You Close the Skills Gap with Digital Learning?

Creating a culture of learning is the top priority for any organization seeking to close the skills gap. Digital learning, accessible online through any device at any time, is central to developing this culture.

Organizations can use digital learning to close the skills gap by:

    • Aligning the learning programs to the business goals, which enables more effective training program assessments.
    • Focusing on two areas: improving poor performance metrics and capitalizing on performance strengths.
    • Creating an environment that facilitates continuous learning.

What Digital Learning Strategies Can Close the Skills Gap?

The following digital learning strategies will help close the skills gap:

    • Enable learning anytime and anywhere using mobile, microlearning and gamification.
    • Encourage virtual collaborative relationships that include coaching and mentoring by experienced subject matter experts (SMEs) and leaders.
    • Offer safe practice and feedback opportunities that are immersive, use learning strategies for training a remote workforce, are scenario-based, are focused on problem-solving and are inclusive of opportunities for experimentation.
    • Use cloud-based learning platforms so training is device- and location-agnostic.
    • Offer mobile learning so employees can learn on the go, on the job and at their moment of need.
    • Provide on-the-job support, including performance support systems, learning in the flow of work and informal learning networks.
    • Use analytics and measurement tools that not only keep track of learner progress but also provide real-time nudges and feedback.
    • Offer training that focuses on iterating solutions, including using design thinking (which helps users identify core issues and brainstorm and experiment with potential solutions in a low-risk environment), nudges (for example, using software tutorials), and performance support and just-in-time learning for learning in the flow of work.

What Must Organizations Do to Support a Learning Culture Through Digital Learning?

Among the requirements to close the skills gap, organizations seeking to develop an effective learning culture through digital learning should foster:

Support and Modeling of Desired Learning Behaviors

Executives should share on the digital learning platform what they’re learning and how they’re applying it.

A Safe Environment for Learning, Experimentation and Failure

People don’t learn when they succeed; they learn when they fail.

A Culture of Curiosity and Safe Experimentation

In this environment, ideas and product iterations are rewarded, and trying but failing is celebrated.

Opportunities for Learning

These opportunities should come in the form of both time and funding.

Concrete Rewards

Employees who make the effort to initiate, apply and share learning should be rewarded.

On-the-job Support

This support includes performance support systems, job aids, and coaching and mentoring.

Informal Learning

Provide employees with self-directed informal learning opportunities.

What Are the Issues that Can Inhibit Skills Gap Solutions?

Be careful of the following issues that can inhibit skills gap solutions:

    • Digital learning that isn’t connected to workplace performance.
    • Distractions like email and messenger applications. Encourage employees to silence notifications for large chunks of time, so they can commit to focusing on learning.
    • Platforms that aren’t conducive to learning because they are overly complex. The cognitive energy required to use the interface inhibits learning. Too often, learners are overwhelmed by a platform’s complexity.
    • Organizational resistance to change.

Parting Thoughts

Business is moving faster and faster, and change is the only constant. This reality will continue to widen skills gaps within organizations. Building and deploying an effective digital learning strategy will help you bridge this gap.

Want to learn the key focus areas for training and development strategies and tactics to plan for the year ahead? Check out this presentation.