Here’s How to Make an Effective Digital Learning Strategy

If you wanted to train for a marathon, would you just start running and hope for the best?

No. You’d follow a training plan that builds the specific types of strength and endurance you need to succeed.

The same is true of digital learning in the workplace. You need a plan. A digital learning strategy is that plan.

It helps you determine where to spend your time and resources to get the most out of your training program. You won’t have to wonder where to focus your efforts. And you’ll find a greater degree of success.

We’ll create an example digital learning strategy for a custom software developer called Fast Software, Inc. Fast Software wants to reduce the lead time on iterations of their software by 15%.

To do that, every project needs to become more efficient. Let’s take a look at how we can make that happen with a digital learning strategy.

1. Define Your Training Objectives

A good digital learning strategy starts with what you hope to do with your training program.

Are you trying to increase productivity? Reduce costs? Decrease the number of on-the-job injuries? Improve customer satisfaction scores? All of these work as training objectives.

Avoid the mistake of training for training’s sake. Don’t run a learning and development program just to say that learning is important to your business or that your employees get continual professional development. To get the most out of your program, build a plan and stick with it.

Learning programs with specific objectives outperform program with vague ones. Take the time to document your training objectives before you start.

It’s also a good idea to align your training objectives with your strategic business priorities. In our example, Fast Software, Inc. is trying to reduce the lead time on their custom development by 15% over the next year.

A corresponding digital learning objective might be something like this:

Project managers will be able to identify two areas of potential improvement in each development project.

Of course, different groups may have different learning objectives. Developers will have different objectives than project managers. Account managers will have yet different objectives. Executives will have their own, too.

The fewer objectives you have, the easier it is to coordinate various trainings. You can create as many as you’d like, but a smaller number will be easier to work with.

Be sure to take the time to write your training objectives well. The more specific you are, the easier the following steps will be.

It’s easy to skip over developing a digital learning strategy objective. But don’t succumb to the temptation. The rest of this process will be easier, faster, and more effective.

2. Define the Audience of Your Training

Learning objectives often identify the people who will take part in your training. But after defining a goal for your digital learning strategy, it’s worth taking extra time to make sure you’ve identified the correct audience.

Fast Software, Inc. is going to train its project managers to identify gaps in workflows and speed up the development process. But do all project managers need to take part in the training? Or are there project managers who would be better served by a different training program?

If you plan on offering multiple training tracks or a variety of optional courses, you have more to think about. Let’s say we want to offer a track on agile development and another on an in-house project management tool.

Who should attend each training? You probably have project managers who are experts in the tool. And there might be others who come from a development background. Having them learn about the things they already know wouldn’t be a good use of time.

So we might say something like this:

Managers who have experience agile development will take a course on our in-house project management tool, while managers who have a background in project management will take a course on agile development.

Defining the audience of your digital learning strategy is an idiosyncratic process. You might have a single objective that works for everyone in your small company. Or you may run learning and development for an international corporation—in which case you may have a wide variety of objectives and audiences.

The important thing is to spend time figuring out the best use of each audience’s time.

3. Set the Scope of Instruction

Which type of learning better suits your objective: basic or advanced? The answer is probably built into your learning objective. If it’s not, you need to be explicit about it now.

You might wonder why this deserves its own point—but any knowledgeable employee who has sat through a very basic training will tell you. Being bored in training sessions kills enthusiasm for learning.

The right scope of instruction depends on the information your employees are learning. For example, if you’re introducing a completely new piece of software, you might aim to get employees from no knowledge at all to a basic familiarity.

At Fast Software, Inc., though, we’re working with experienced project managers. So we’ll focus on more advanced methods.

(It’s worth noting that we could also provide both basic and advanced information and separate the sessions into different audience expertise levels.)

Again, this is probably represented at least implicitly in your learning objective. The learning objective for our project managers implies a relatively basic training—being able to identify areas of potential improvement is probably a basic or intermediate skill for these managers.

As with defining the audience, you might have several different scopes of instruction depending on your training. So take some time to think about this point.

4. Link Delivery Methods to Objectives

There are many ways to deliver trainings—and new ones are created all the time. You’ll need to choose specific delivery methods for your corporate digital learning strategy.

The options are almost endless. You could create a fully online training experience. Or use blended learning. Here’s a small sampling of the digital learning delivery methods you might use in either of these strategies:

  • Self-paced video lessons
  • Live online sessions
  • Text-based learning guides
  • Mobile-specific learning options
  • Microlearning support
  • Gamified learning

And, of course, there are many different kinds of in-person training (lectures, hands-on workshops, group discussions, and so on).

You can use any method or combination of methods that works best for your program. When you’re deciding on which methods to use, link them to your learning objectives.

Let’s go back to our example digital learning strategy. Maybe our project managers do a lot of travel to meet with remote teams and freelancers. In that case, we want mobile-based learning so they can learn from their phones while on flights or waiting at airports.

Because these project managers are rarely all in the same place, blended learning doesn’t make sense. So we’ll go with a fully online experience. And to provide a better digital learning experience, we’ll gamify the process by including leaderboards that show who’s completed the most trainings and their assessment scores.

5. Create a Digital Learning Schedule

By now, you have a good idea of what your training will look like. You know who’s going to take part in it, what they’re going to learn, and how they’re going to learn it. Now it’s time to figure out how long will take them to learn it.

Unless you’ve run a lot of trainings in the past, this will be a rough estimate. There’s no way to know exactly how fast your employees will learn. But you can set a goal.

For example, we might say we’d like our project managers to be able to identify two new areas of improvement in each project within 3 months of starting the training. That gives us a timeframe to work toward.

With a more complicated training program, you might need a multi-step schedule. Maybe you’ll have intermediate checkpoints on the way to your ultimate goal. Or you’ll have a more long-term plan.

All of these are fine as long as they fit with your learning objective and delivery methods.

6. Plan for Assessment

How will you determine whether your training is a success?

In our example case, it’s straightforward: if each project manager has submitted requests for two improvements to each of their projects, we’ve succeeded.

But it’s not always that straightforward. For example, you might decide to assess whether your employees have gained knowledge of a particular process or idea. In that case, you’ll need to decide whether you’d like to measure a real-world factor, like the application of knowledge, or a more theoretical one, like the results of a quiz.

Maybe the assessment will be a part of your performance management system. Or a self-assessment from your employees. It’s difficult to generalize about effective strategies for assessment, as every objective is best measured by a different method.

The important thing is to think carefully about what you want to assess.

For example, measuring whether your employees can pass a quiz on the material is one thing. Figuring out whether that has translated into measurable bottom-line improvements is another thing altogether.

You might use a controlled experiment to do this. In our case, we’ll train half of our project managers and see whether their projects are more profitable than the other half. If they are, we’ll continue the training with the other half of our managers.

If not, we’ll go back to the drawing board.

Without a controlled method like this, it’s hard to tie improvements to the training. There are many other factors involved, so isolating specific variables is crucial.

Turn Your Strategy Into Action

Once you’ve completed these six steps, you’ll have a complete digital learning strategy.

Here’s the example digital learning strategy we’ve created for Fast Software, Inc.:

Project managers will be able to identify two areas of potential improvement in each development project. This supports our organizational priority of reducing lead time by 15%.

Managers who have agile development experience will take a course on our in-house project management tool, while managers who have a background in project management will take a course on agile development.

Half of Fast Software’s project managers will be assigned to one of these groups—the other half will serve as a control group to determine the efficacy of the training.

Courses will be delivered online via mobile apps. The courses will last one month, and we expect to see two improvement recommendations for each project after three months.

Lead time will be measured one week before the beginning of the training to provide a baseline. Three months after the training is complete, we’ll again measure lead time to see if training has made a statistically significant improvement. If it has, the control group will then start the training process.

With a bit of polish, this digital learning strategy example could be presented to the board of Fast Software, Inc. or immediately put into action. It has all the information necessary to start the program.

There’s no digital learning strategy template that works for everyone. Your strategy might not look like this at all. Instead of trying to follow the layout we’ve prescribed here, yours should be tailored to the needs of your learning and development.

But going through these six steps will help you come up with the information you need to inform your strategy. After that, it’s just a matter of making it happen.

So start with one step today. Make a list of your organizational priorities and identify a few learning objectives that might help. Once you’ve done that, you can start building the rest of your strategy.

Terri James
Terri is the Director of Operations & Success at Continu. In her spare time she enjoys traveling and photography.