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Supporting Digital Learning Channels

Tony Sheehan – Ashridge Business School

The following is an extract from Tony’s whitepaper: Developing a Digital Learning Strategy.

The combination of improved choice of content, improved internet access and recent penetration of devices such as tablets and smartphones has revolutionised the digital learner’s ability to consume digital learning. In 2010 more than 60% of the world’s population were using mobile phones, with smartphone penetration growing at over 20% a year and now exceeding 50% in the US.

The proliferation of such devices does, however, create three further challenges for learning designers:

  •  Devices – the decision as to whether to support one or multiple devices
  •  Formats – the selection of content format to support a particular device or to compromise and apply best endeavours to work across multiple devices
  •  Innovations – the ability to fix learning for a period or to adopt a more fluid approach in order to keep pace with on-going technology developments.

Digital devices – smartphone, tablet, and laptop alike – have become learning lifelines, the veins through which knowledge can be exchanged and through which rich learning now needs to be stimulated. Costs of these devices were previously out of reach of the typical consumer and many organisations adopted strategies based on, for example, a single software platform or mobile device, largely under the control of CIO and Enterprise IT departments. Such centralisation brought with it considerable benefits; centralised storage of knowledge, centralised support, centralised security and common business systems which made digital learning design relatively straightforward with common standards.

Times have changed. Digital devices now support digital social lives and set high expectations for access to learning when the device is brought to the work-place. Learning must now be as accessible as Google, as insightful as and as fun as Angry Birds, with few rules, standards or systems to outline how to deliver on these needs. Learning also needs to ideally work on multiple devices, since depriving individuals of access through their preferred device restricts a channel for knowledge delivery and creates a barrier to the discretionary effort that many individuals put in after hours.

As a result, some organisations have adopted BYOD (bring your own device) policies, allowing users to bring their own devices to work whilst trusting them to both avoid accidentally corrupting company data through firewall breaches and to not spend excessive amounts of time on activities inconsistent with business needs. Multiple devices are accepted within the business, content is often stored in the cloud and social and business networking co-exist throughout the day.

Others have questioned BYOD practices, arguing that device inconsistencies create unnecessary barriers to collaboration, and create challenges (of, for example, decentralised password management) that constrain knowledge sharing. Standardised device policies do cultivate a level of unity around users and content that allows some degree of central support as well as encouraging investment to ensure that user experience in the business reflects that of a social network.

At Daiichi Sankyo UK, for example, the adoption of a standardisation policy based on Apple iPads and iPhones has been seen as a way of driving adoption of digital practices across the business. From a clear link to business strategy and culture (in particular, enhancing the ‘Issho’ – togetherness – ethos inherited from its Japanese parent) the policy has been seen to revolutionise both internal communications as well as interactions with customers and stakeholders.

Decisions must be made on appropriateness of learning object design in a manner consistent with device strategy; is it always fitting to deliver learning on demand in ‘bite sized chunks’ through a smartphone or is this merely a springboard to richer learning in the classroom, online or at work? There is also a challenge to be faced due to a lack of agreed standards for learning content on mobile, tablet and other devices, which can lead to complex demands for the same learning assets to work on, for example, iOS, Android, Flash, HTML5, different internet browsers etc. If content needs to be suitable for both mobile and tablet devices, how can content be readily repurposed to be accessible through small and large form devices? Even as such development decisions are made, the pace of innovation in the digital space creates an on-going challenge. Each week brings new devices, new ideas, and new learning solutions.

To remain relevant and appropriate to user needs, the digital learning designer must maintain awareness of evolving trends, explore which solutions offer best fit and incorporate best practices as appropriate. There is a need to decide how frequently to invest in refreshing learning and, indeed, to consider how viable it is to innovate continuously in this space. It is difficult for any one individual, one team, even one organisation to dominate a space now occupied by so many diverse needs and opportunities and as a result, more flexible approaches are evolving to keep up with the pace of change. Solutions are continuously evolving: flexibility, agility and building bridges between different knowledge domains and different areas of digital learning design are more critical than ever before. As Steve Jobs suggests:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things”

Read the full whitepaper: Developing a Digital Learning Strategy.
From Virtual Ashridge, Ashridge Business School.


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