Developing a digital mindset for L&D: Powerful methods to disrupt learning

DM eBook new learning systems

Digital technologies are disrupting business. But it’s not the technologies that are causing the disruption, it’s what we do with them that’s creating change. It’s the thinking processes and mindsets around using technologies that holds the key. This is what I call having a digital mindset; sometimes it’s called digital acumen.

In a podcast interview with Lars Hyland, Chief Commercial Officer at Totara Learning Solutions, I was reminded about this when he talked about how it wasn’t a single technology that was important to the transformation and modernisation of learning, it was learning and development’s understanding of how to use digital technology that holds the key.

This is not always something that learning and development is good at. We tend to go looking for tactical examples that can be copied. But this process of copying, that might work in another situation, does not often work. Most approaches need to be translated, modified to work in the context of your organisation and your people. The key to using digital technologies in disrupting and modernising learning is not just about copying, it’s about generating new approaches and new ideas.

There are broadly two aspects to digital technologies and L&D:

    • the application of digital technologies to the modernisation of learning
    • the use of digital technology to increase performance, e.g. automating or making processes simpler instead of just training people in its complexities.

These blog posts started life as a single slide during a webinar about digital learning and the 70:20:10 learning model. At the time this single slide didn’t feel like enough to do it justice. It was a topic that I needed to spend more time thinking and writing about.

I’ve been working with web technology since 1994. Over that time technologies have changed, but thinking processes and how digital technologies can be used has not. When I started to think about which digital businesses and ideas had been successful it came down to two broad things – data and algorithms (an algorithm is a set of processes and rules).

But reducing digital thinking down to just those two ideas is a bit broad and not that useful for most people. What I’ve arrived at is that a digital mindset comprises six areas:

  1. Automation

  2. Enabling flexibility

  3. Increasing interaction

  4. New ways of collaborating

  5. Media-rich experiences

  6. The Internet of Things

For a new approach to be innovative and disruptive it doesn’t need to involve every one of these areas – it might focus on only one. For each theme I’ve posed some questions that could be used to trigger thinking in your particular context. (Questions are a powerful way to open up new ways of thinking.) These questions would also be useful if you were developing a digital learning strategy.

In this post we’ll deal with automation.



Digital technologies have huge potential to transform processes faster and smarter and can often remove outdated processes completely.

The perfect example is e-commerce, where online connectivity has made the process of shopping faster and easier. Another example is online travel booking. It’s more convenient and has helped to reduce the cost of travel. In both of these examples the processes are automated and streamlined for both the consumer and retailer.


 DM eBook video controller


Putting the end user in control

Organisations with an enterprise resource program (ERP) have a powerful platform for automating processes and removing the need for people to be involved. A core part of automation is giving the consumer more control and flexibility. Another example from travel is the process of checking in for a flight, which is now automated. The integration of technology has made it faster, it provides travellers with more choice, and overall it’s a better experience because it’s not linked to the number of employees the airline has available. There’s also a huge cost saving for the airline.


Automating learning

In the past, digital technologies have been used extensively in an attempt to automate learning. Learning management systems (LMS) are all about making the process of accessing learning, completing and recording learning faster and simpler. When we do an LMS implementation I’m always surprised with the time saving and impact that online management of enrolments of face-to-face training has – for the learning and development team and employees alike. The weakest link in this approach is that most attempts to automate the actual learning process result in ineffective learning experiences. This is explored later in the section on interaction.

DM eBook automation motherboard


Questions and ideas around automation to explore:

  1. What are your learning and development team and learners doing repeatedly? If you’re using spreadsheets to track processes, could these be developed into a smarter system by including more rules around the data you’re collecting? Do you have a set process for when you engage an external vendor? Could the process be an automated flow?
  2. How could you give the learner more control and agency of the learning process while reducing L&D work?
  3. How could you collect richer data? How could you gain insights from the data? Could this insight gathering process be automated?
  4. How could you apply artificial intelligence like machine learning to automate the finding of patterns in data and making predictions?