Today’s fast-paced business world has rapidly changing technological benefits, but are employees able to keep up? Advanced technologies — virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), automation, data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud solutions — create massive transformational opportunities. However, without continuous skills training, companies will lack the talent to address them.

Digital transformation is about reimagining how you bring people, data and processes together to create value for employers, employees and clients alike. In this rapidly transforming business environment, the need for an adaptive workforce will change the business of learning and development (L&D) and its delivery methods.

The Skills Needed for 2020

According to a 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report, the Fourth Industrial Revolution entails business growth stemming from technology advances, including high-speed mobile internet, AI, big data and analytics, and cloud technology — all of which are poised to dominate the next few years. As a result, businesses will require a heavy concentration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related training and expertise. The report also stated that some of the most in-demand job categories will include data analysts and scientists; AI and machine learning specialists; software and application developers and analysts; and big data specialists.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of skilled workers to address AI and machine learning. In a recent survey by CGS, 39% of L&D professionals said they were highly concerned “about their organizations’ current level of technical and interpersonal skills,” and more than 50% of learning leaders said they made “digital upskilling” their top priority for 2019.

Employee Learning and Development Transformation

How will companies meet this scarcity of skilled workers? Digital transformation has companies reviewing their technology spending and adopting new learning tools to meet the challenge. A combination of a low unemployment rate with the high demand for technology expertise means that companies must rely more heavily on their current employees to fill the digital void. Learning is, therefore, critical to companies’ growth strategies, transformation and revenue objectives.

Successful employee upskilling requires more integrated, immersive training methods for workers to quickly gain real-time experience. This type of training often occurs through methods such as e-learning, video and gamification. In fact, according to Forrester Research, employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than to read documents, emails or web articles.

Another popular format is virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Today, roughly 80% of workers do not have desk jobs (e.g., employees in the retail, construction and health care industries). In a 2018 survey of hiring managers, respondents said they expect up to 43% of full-time employees to work remotely in the coming years. To reach those employees while maintaining human interaction, many organizations rely on VILT that is accessible on a variety of devices and incorporates video, collaboration, gamification, AR and virtual coaching.

These delivery methods are becoming more mainstream and easier to use, especially for today’s digital-native generation. Being mindful of the learning preferences of all generations, these formats offer interaction through video, digital content and mentoring.

Not Your Grandfather’s Career Path

The gig, deskless and remote workforce are all on the rise. While the rules have changed, employers are benefiting from this phenomenon as their employees are more engaged and productive. But how do companies reach their remote employees? Decades ago, they would have brought employees on site for training, but then online self-service became standard. Today, technology allows companies to have human interaction with employees — no matter where they sit — through mobile phones or tablets. Such interaction keeps expenses low without losing the human personalization of an instructor-led environment. Technologies such as VR and AR can enhance L&D effectiveness in traditional and non-traditional work environments.

Digital Formats

A 2019 IT trends survey by CGS found that the largest obstacle to IT projects was the availability of skills in the workforce, with 63% of respondents feeling that their companies will be challenged to grow while dealing with constrained resources. Staffing will continue to be difficult in the foreseeable future, leading companies to be more creative and reskill their staff.

In determining which training delivery format is best, L&D leaders should question whether digital provides the most engaging training, especially as companies are expected to continue to invest heavily in digital platforms. In a recent workplace trends survey by CGS, employees identified instructor-led training (ILT) as the most engaging format — ahead of all digital formats. Also on the preferred list of modalities are group training, simulations and video-based learning. As L&D plays its role in driving digital transformation, training leaders should consider which delivery mechanisms their employees find most engaging.

Hard Work Brings Rewards

There’s no denying that the age of digital learning has arrived, and with it comes great expectations for quantifying return on investment. Done right, highly interactive online learning, powered by smart technology, will provide just-in-time personalized learning: Robotic process automation (RPA) can reduce the cost of creating training content, redirecting investment to instructional design; AI can surface relevant training assets for each learner; and machine learning and big data can anticipate and align the best learning for the situation, time of need and learner. Digital learning can replicate the benefits of informal, social and on-the-job learning in a way that formal classroom training cannot.

Taking a new, creative approach to L&D delivery will bring benefits to employees and the organization. Most learning professionals are familiar with the Ebbinghaus forgetting curve hypothesis, which suggests that we forget 80 percent of what we learn within 30 days. By creating sticky, short, connected, real-time learning experiences, training teams are converting the forgetting curve into a retention c curve.

Engaging employees into “real” scenarios related to their job will not just make learning more entertaining; it will provide practical, albeit virtual, hands-on experience.