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The repercussions of digital transformation in L&D

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Due to online learning’s ease of delivery and scalability, hundreds of online learning providers have since emerged and labelled themselves as the ideal solution for organisations, pitching that digitalised learning is the best and only viable method for modern learning delivery.

While it is inarguable that digital transformation in L&D has many positive benefits for organisations and learners alike, there is often a dismissal of the very serious repercussions and disadvantages that arise from halting face-to-face learning in favour of digitalisation.

Here are some of the unspoken reasons as to why digital transformation is perhaps not the ideal solution it claims to be, and why you should think twice before ditching the classroom.

1. Differences in digital literacy

An issue that is often ignored when implementing digital transformation across learning functions is the disparity in digital literacy amongst learners.

Not all learners are adept digitally, and losing the classroom in favour of digital learning puts those who are not as well-versed at learning new digital tools and platforms at a serious disadvantage.

Those who are not able to immediately grasp the functionality of their new learning platform will often waste time simply trying to successfully use the platform that would have otherwise been spent on learning.

Furthermore, consistent inability to successfully use the platform can lead your learners to feelings of negativity and frustration, souring their perception of undertaking your learning programmes and could lead them to harbour a resistance to completing more in the future.

2. Technology inequality

There is also an inequality when it comes to online accessibility and hardware functionality amongst learners.

When you take learners out of the classroom and digitalise the learning process, you make your entire learning function solely reliant on your learners having no technology issues and a consistent access to both functional hardware and a strong internet connection.

This ultimately risks the delivery of your learning entirely on your learner’s technology, making learning an impossible task for those who may be experiencing issues with their internet or PC/laptop.

3. Reliance on external providers

Another issue that arises from digital transformation, is the overreliance on the learning design of your chosen platform.

When you opt out of face-to-face learning, you become reliant on the idea that your learning platform’s design is sufficient for your learners to understand everything they need to know.

With no in-person instructor to help recontextualise information or break down the content in a way that helps learners understand, digital learning can often isolate learners that don’t pick up the information right away – and with no instructor to turn to, the learning platform becomes completely ineffective.

In addition, when using online learning services, you become reliant on an external organisation to create new content, and update and implement them into the platform should any of your materials need updating.

In comparison, those who use a face-to-face learning instructor can instead update their information as needed, and tailor the learning to accommodate the organisation and learner’s needs.

4. Content quality and relevancy issues

Platform providers will often employ a blanket-use of copy and paste learning platforms across similar industries, which dilutes the relevant information needed for your learners and can lead them to waste time on generic industry teachings that have little to no relevance to your organisation.

Unless you are able to purchase a bespoke learning platform, which can be extremely costly, the vast quantity of digital learning content available on pre-made learning platforms can lead to issues of both content quality and relevance for your organisation.

5. Loss of human connection

One of the biggest criticisms of digital transformation in L&D is undeniably the loss of human connection.

Regardless of what online learning providers might claim, having a physical person involved is extremely valuable to the learning process. There is a reason why universities employ lecturers and don’t simply provide students with textbooks, and this is due to the vast number of benefits that a human connection can have on your learners.

Just because you can digitalise the learning materials, does not mean you can digitalise the learner. Humans are social creatures, and through digitally transforming your L&D function, you lose some of the nuanced communication tools that are crucial for effective learning.

As well as the prior mentioned ability to recontextualise information in a way that is relevant and insightful to the learner, human facilitators are much better equipped to understand and update their material to suit the individual learner’s needs as well as catering to different learning styles.

In addition, having an in-person facilitator benefits your learners, as unlike in digital learning, facilitators are able to provide immediate clarification and unique feedback, helping learners to understand the topic better while also ensuring that they remain focused on the task at hand.

Furthermore, open group discussions, sharing of diverse perspectives, emotional support, networking, debates, and motivation from peers are all unique aspects of face-to-face classroom learning that are stripped away through digitalisation. While there have been efforts to replicate these in the digital space using chat forums, they often fall short of replicating the human camaraderie, support and trust that arise naturally from learning in group face-to-face settings.

Ultimately digital learning, while it has its benefits, lacks the personal touch and human interaction which has been a key staple of learning for millennia. Taking the learners out of the classroom setting and into the virtual environment can often result in:

  • Reduced engagement for your learners
  • Costly platform fees
  • Platform administrative issues
  • Content relevancy issues
  • A sense of isolation for some learners
  • Lack of insightful discussions amongst team members
  • Technology issues that take time away from learning.

So before fully adopting digital learning across your L&D function, be sure to weigh the benefits against the negatives and remember to consider what your learners really need, not just your organisation.

Looking to get back into the classroom? Call us on +44 (0)24 7652 3222 or email us at for an informal discussion on our unique learning spaces and how they can be tailored to meet your learning objectives.

Gail Tomlinson-ShortGail Tomlinson-Short

Gail has over 20 years of experience within the events services industry at Warwick Conferences, developing strong business relationships through a consultative sales approach. Primarily specialising in the automotive, construction, logistics and manufacturing sectors.

Gail dot Tomlinson-Short at warwick dot ac dot uk

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