Since the development of modern computing, the definition of the term “digital” has rapidly changed, referring first to binary digits and then to automating processes and systems. The evolution of digital technology has given rise to a world that is social, mobile, analytics-driven and cloud-based.

In the digital age, both employees and customers are more aware and connected and an integral part of the value chain. Digital technology, in its current form, is about leveraging technology to create an exceptional customer experience, become more agile and unlock new value. To do so, people play an important role. Enabling people is the role of the learning and development (L&D) team. It is, therefore, important for L&D to be up to date with market trends and disruptors to the business.

The Implications of Digital Disruption

Success in the digital age is the result of a harmonious union of technology and people. To effectively leverage technology, people must have an enhanced set of capabilities. L&D must consider the expectations of learners, human resources and the business in order to prepare for their survival and their company’s survival in the digital age.

Expectations of Learners

Business requirements are evolving, and so developmental needs are changing. Employees now expect their learning to be personalized, on-demand, engaging, instantly gratifying and enabled by technology.

Expectations of Human Resources

HR teams are under pressure to create a people strategy that complements new business models and visions. To help their organizations meet the challenges of the dynamic and rapidly evolving business landscape, HR teams expect L&D to develop the workforce’s digital competencies. This expectation requires L&D to reskill, upskill and cross-skill employees, with a focus on developing a digital-first mindset and a learning-centric culture.

Expectations of the Business

Traditionally, functions that are not directly involved in the generation of revenue have been considered cost centers or support functions. In the digital age, however, these functions, specifically L&D, are demonstrating increasing importance. High-performing digital organizations have come to realize that human capital is their most important asset. As a result, talent management and L&D have become a strategic priority. Today, L&D leaders at many companies are earning a seat at the strategic planning table to support the business and deliver measurable impact. The expectation in the near future will be that L&D play a crucial role in not supporting but actively driving corporate strategy.

Competencies L&D Teams Need in the Digital Age

The implications of the digital age for L&D are significant. To rise to the challenge, L&D teams must develop five competencies. These competencies are crucial for L&D to play an effective role as a business partner. It is important to note that they are interrelated, so the inability to develop even one can jeopardize the strategic role L&D teams are required play to support the business.

Driving Change

In the digital age, change is not a choice, because the consequences of not changing are unaffordable. However, it is human nature to resist change. In light of this impasse, the role that L&D teams play can make or break the organization.

Being receptive to change is a mindset. Shifting mindsets, as all L&D professionals can attest to, can appear to be an insurmountable task, as it requires breaking existing mental models in favor of a more relevant mindset. To lead change, L&D teams must break free from their own resistance to change and allow their roles to evolve to better support the business.

Engaging and Developing a Multigenerational Workforce

For nearly two decades, the global workforce has been the most generationally diverse it has ever been. However, L&D teams continue to struggle with engaging, developing and leveraging the capabilities of the multigenerational workforce.

Every generation has its own challenges and expectations. To effectively cater to each generation simultaneously, L&D teams must have a clear understanding of the changes that they need to make to L&D to align with diverse generations. The mantra to follow here is, “One size no longer fits all.”

Design Thinking

Developing a strong design thinking capability can help L&D teams combat most of the challenges they face in light of digital disruption.

For example, employee engagement is a challenge at most organizations. Research from Towards Maturity has found that while 96% of organizations want to improve employee engagement through learning, only 20% are successful. To combat low engagement, L&D teams often roll out new learning methodologies, but this approach doesn’t fix problems at their core.

Design thinking helps L&D leaders think differently and come up with innovative yet practical ways to solve current problems while being future-focused. After all, you can’t solve problems by thinking the same way you did when you created them.

Addressing the Engagement Deficit

There are numerous reasons existing learning practices result in low employee engagement. Almost all of them can be addressed by incorporating experiential learning and gamification.

Experiential learning involves creating life-like scenarios in safe learning environments that allow learners to develop and practice new skills without the fear of real-world repercussions. Gamification involves incorporating game mechanics into non-game scenarios. This modality works because it involves elements that most learners are familiar with from playing games throughout their lives.

In the digital age, where an enhanced customer experience is of utmost importance, organizations are investing in incorporating experience and game elements into customer interactions. They can also benefit L&D, as they often result in:

  • Demonstrable mindset change
  • Accelerated learning
  • Bridging the gap between theory and practice
  • Hyper-personalization
  • Exceptional ROI

Driving Exponential Growth Through Data

When incorporating digital technology into learning, L&D teams face two common challenges: a failure to invest in technology-based learning and an inability to capitalize on the data produced from learning technologies.

Learning technologies enable the collection of insightful data about learner participation, performance, improvement and engagement. Leveraging this data requires a strategic understanding of the business, how each function contributes to the business and the skill sets required to fulfill each role.

L&D can be a powerful force, not just in creating the organization’s business strategy but in driving it as well. Therefore, it is important for L&D teams to take a step back and identify the gaps in their own skills and capabilities and then transform themselves into their organization’s powerhouse.