Out of the Background - Putting Digital Learning at the Strategic Center

Jul 27, 2018 by Matt Burr

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How often does the CEO ask to see data from your company's Learning Management System (LMS)?

Not very, right?

The LMS is a background technology, so it produces background information: Data that’s sometimes important as a long-term indicator of employee engagement and satisfaction, but rarely a part of the day-to-day strategic conversation at the top of an organization or division.

Most CEOs don't ask to see LMS data because it rarely has urgent, strategically critical information.

The same is already true for Learning Experience Platforms (LEPs), the disruptor and slow-killer of the LMS. LEPs are making digital learning easier to use and more effective. They are rapidly stealing attention from the LMS. But they are not at the center of the strategic conversation either.


In today's digitally-driven enterprise, the question of what data gets the attention of the C-Suite is a proxy for strategic relevance. If you are not producing data that gets attention, you're unlikely to have a seat at the strategic table.

For Chief Learning Officers and other senior L&D professionals intent on claiming that seat, the lack of C-Suite attention paid to data from LMSs and LEPs is a symptom of a more worrisome problem.

If we don't have platforms that produce strategically relevant data, we won't be invited to shape strategic conversations. And to get strategically relevant data, we need to build learning that is helping to solve big problems.

The irony is that many of today's most pressing near-term strategic challenges have a clear learning component. Digital Transformation. Enterprise Agility. Employee Engagement. These critical strategic initiatives succeed or fail based in large part on how quickly teams and entire organizations can learn to work differently and adapt quickly to a complex, tumultuous world.

And therein lies the issue. Background learning technologies like the LMS and LEP are primarily focused on individual learning. But most of the biggest strategic problems facing today's enterprise cannot be solved by individual skill development alone.

Take digital transformation. A successful digital transformation does not just require employees to learn how to use new tools and technologies. It goes far beyond that. Digital transformation ultimately depends on radical changes in culture, process, and ways of working that no individual can learn on their own.

For L&D to occupy a leading position in a digital transformation or other big organizational learning challenges they have to create learning experiences that drive those kinds of change at scale, and can be continuously measured and improved.

For a long time, that was impossible. It was simply too expensive and too complex to create learning that reached the scale and levels of engagement needed to truly shift a culture or teach a new way of thinking/speaking/working at scale.

Digital technologies, and especially social platforms, have changed that equation. It is now both cost-effective and feasible to reach and teach an entire organization at once, and measure the results at the individual, team, and organizational level.

To do that requires both a new kind of toolset and mindset for L&D professionals. The focus for content development has to move from transmission of information to engagement of imagination. The critical measure becomes not just the levels of completion, but the quantity and quality of conversation. The stream of data has to become continuous and lead to actionable insights and constant improvement.

When those things happen (and they are happening at scale at some of the world's leading enterprises), the relationship between L&D and the rest of the C-Suite shifts. When L&D is a source of critical insights into the real-time health of digital transformation, or agility of dispersed global teams, or the engagement levels of employees at every level, everyone starts to pay attention.

The Learning Conversation Podcast Pilot. The changing role of L&D

In the first episode of The Learning Conversation we discuss the changing role of learning in organizations, touching on the skills L&D require, where L&D might fit in today’s organizations, and why learning is so focused on the individual, not the team.