Ask the Experts: Digital Transformation in L&D

digital transformation expert l&d

In a survey in 2019, 70% of respondents said their organization was either in the midst of their digital transformation plan or was putting one in place. There’s no doubt that events in 2020 ramped up the level of urgency around the implementation of digital transformation.

But how do those strategies and plans translate into L&D operations and output? While many teams were forced to quickly transition from in-person training to online solutions for a remote workforce, there are many other areas of L&D’s operations to incorporate into digital transformation.

Navigating all the elements of planning and implementing digital transformation for L&D teams can be overwhelming. It touches every area of the way your team works and collaborates. So we’ve brought in some L&D digital transformation experts to share their sage advice on how to get started and the common pitfalls to watch out for along the way.

Bianca Baumann is a Senior Learning Strategist and Director, Learning Experience at GP Strategies, focusing on digital education success, combining L&D and digital marketing. Over time, she has developed processes and methodologies to help organizations meet their growth and revenue targets with the help of innovative L&D approaches, including digital transformations, onboarding and reskilling programs.

Rhia Newton is Senior Manager, Learning and Development at RFA Bank of Canada. With 13 years experience in the L&D field, her specialities include transforming learning departments, human development and facilitation across the globe. 


Bianca recently joined us for a webinar to share a practical framework for planning and implementing digital transformation in L&D. Check out the full webinar recording here:
Digitize This: Your Essential Framework for Digital Transformation in L&D


What are the biggest barriers L&D teams are facing when it comes to digital transformation?

Preparing for an undertaking like digital transformation means understanding your current limitations and risks. L&D are facing some specific challenges and barriers to successful digital transformation.

Bianca: I think one of the biggest barriers most L&D functions face is the overall organizational readiness. Digital transformations can’t happen in a silo in L&D, the overall organization needs to support the change towards the workforce of the future and become digitally ready. This includes alignment to changing strategic objectives, stakeholder support from the top, all business lines, employee readiness, and even expands to customers and the community. 

Transformation is first and foremost about people and processes, not technology; a misconception that can easily create another barrier for organizations. Thinking about technology before understanding people and processes won’t get you far. 

Transformations are messy and disruptive which means without a solid change management strategy, they won’t be successful. But before even thinking about that, transformations require a systemic framework and a systematic process. We do have to remember that while digital transformations are happening, the day-to-day business is still happening.

Rhia: Typically, money is a huge barrier. Digital transformation requires investment in digital tools. L&D is often still considered a “Cost-Centre” and not a value add.

Concerns around security and infrastructure management also come into play. Internal security often worry that digital opportunities will lead to increased risk exposure  (i.e. mobile learning). Some security teams may not be open to managing (yet another) tool. 

Lastly, there’s the issue of generational and change mindsets. Some leaders may be uncomfortable with digital because they don’t understand it and may retreat to what they know i.e. lecture style training with checkbox attendance sheets.

What should be the first step towards the digital transformation of L&D?

Knowing where to get started is half the battle. But the first step in digital transformation is not necessarily making immediate change.

Bianca: The first step is to truly understand what you are trying to achieve with your digital transformation and ensure it aligns with your organization’s overall strategic objectives. Getting buy-in is crucial, but once more, the organization as a whole needs to transform towards the same goal.To strategically approach any transformation effort, you want to first identify the areas of focus within your organization that will help drive the transformation efforts forward. This could include measurement, learning, talent management, governance or operational effectiveness, to just name a few.

Speaking of governance, I recommend you bring together a steering committee that can help communicate and promote upcoming changes and help make decisions to drive your transformation efforts forward. 

After that, take stock of your current state and envision the future state of your digital transformation. Use this as a starting point to create a transformation blueprint.

Rhia: The first step is to develop a change mindset. Identify the challenges with the current state then ask: how can a digital transformation help? 


Free eBook:
How Agile Learning Can Power Your Digital Transformation Strategy


What is the biggest mistake an L&D team can make with digital transformation?

Any project can have unforeseen challenges crop up and preparation is key to avoiding surprises and minimizing risk. But, outside of poor preparation, there are other common mistakes L&D teams can make when it comes to digital transformation.

Bianca: The biggest mistake is to work in a silo and only look at digital transformation within L&D, without expanding it to the entire organization. L&D is still accountable for learning, but learning is happening everywhere in the organization. Meaning, we need to include other business lines into the creation of training, create informal and social learning opportunities, and allow employees to learn in the flow of work. As we bring work, and the workplace, to the equation, it becomes obvious that digital transformation needs to happen across the organization in order to be successful. 

Rhia: I would say the biggest mistake is not knowing why you are embarking on a digital transformation journey. When that happens, some companies may overcompensate and purchase tools or overcomplicate their internal processes unnecessarily.

Any final words of advice?

Bianca: Launch of digital transformation sounds like there is one point in time where things simply switch over from the “old way of working” to the “new way of working”. That isn’t the case. The most important thing to remember is that digital transformation happens over time. It’s a long process that needs proper planning and foresight. It’s iterative and will continue to change over time.

That being said, don’t underestimate the importance of change management, as well as a solid adoption strategy for new technologies. Start communicating changes about work processes, technologies and other digital transformation related aspects as early as possible. Give sneak peeks, pique curiosity, educate your staff, leverage a champion network to get the word out, and let employees practice new skills and technologies in a safe space. Change takes time and digital transformations affect the worker, the work and the workplace. Be cognizant of that and plan your digital transformation accordingly. And, most important of all, listen to feedback and react to it in a timely manner. 

Rhia: One major tip is to try to tie urgent current state challenges (i.e. reaching remote workers)  to opportunities for a digital transformation strategy (virtual training).

Looking to incorporate digital transformation into your L&D strategy? Try this L&D strategy toolkit to keep on track towards your goals & objectives:
The Learning and Development Strategy Toolkit

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