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What are the business needs for learning technology?

Tony Sheehan – Ashridge Business School

Trying to implement a learning technology without first identifying need is a recipe for disaster.  It is easy to be seduced by the promise of innovation in new technology, but careful analysis of needs and clarity of objectives for a learning technology can, however, help to channel effort toward critical benefits, user expectations and appropriate success measures.

In Virtual Ashridge’s 2013 analysis of L&D professionals, Ashridge found that 98% expect to either sustain or increase organisational spend on learning technologies over the next 5 years.  However, 65% of respondents stressed that more effective technology solutions are needed to delivery of business objectives and appropriate return on investment. 

Consequently, any selection process for new digital learning solutions should start by considering the end goals:

  •          How would your business evolve if a learning technology were successfully
             implemented?
  •          What problems would it solve?
  •          What benefits would result? 
  •          How could these benefits be measured?
  •          How will they connect to your overall business strategy?

Most organisations now seek to connect any planned digital learning intervention to a tangible business impact in order to demonstrate value.  Responses to the above questions can help to both refine understanding of need but also to help assess the level of investment and that would be appropriate given the potential impact and appropriate measures that might be used.

It could be, for example, that

  • There is a need to accelerate the speed to competency of new employees in a consultancy practice in order to maximise reuse of knowledge of senior staff.  This may well, in turn, influence specifications for a content based eLearning intervention and the increased potential revenue could point to a sensible level of investment. 
  • There is a need to upskill a group of remote workers in order to improve sales.  This need could be served with specifications for a mobile learning solution with the increased projected level of sales pointing to an appropriate level of investment. 
  • A more innovative mindset is needed across the organisation to create new business opportunities. In this case, a virtual conference to share the insights of a world expert in the field may be appropriate and the investment would be linked to an overall innovation strategy.

In each case, the optimal learning solution comes into focus following consideration of the need.

The process may be summarised as below:

In broad terms, measures such as return on investment (ROI) will be appropriate for process oriented organisations who focus on financial performance whereas value measures (staff motivation) may well be more appropriate in less structured organisations in the design and creative sector.

Most organisations will be positioned somewhere between the two extremes, and so it is important to connect measures to benefits in a way that connects to the language of your organisation in order to ensure success.

Business needs will evolve, but by starting with need and potential measures in mind, any new digital learning solutions can be evaluated and business cases developed in ways that connect to senior management interests.

Read more in our whitepaper: Developing a Digital Learning Strategy.
From Virtual Ashridge, Ashridge Business School.

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