CMO and CIO working together
PHOTO: NESA by Makers

Digital workplace professionals have been talking a lot over the past year about digital literacy and the importance of raising employees' digital IQ. This is an incredibly important topic, with a number of practices, frameworks and approaches now available for teams. For example, Digital Work Research director Elizabeth Marsh's excellent digital literacy framework as well as my firm, Spark Trajectory’s Skills Matrix are both open source frameworks to get started planning a digital literacy program.

What About Learning in the Workplace?

However, I think as digital workplace professionals we’ve talked much less about learning and how the digital workplace supports it. Collaboration? Tick. Communication? For sure. Knowledge management? Getting there. Innovation? Here and there. Learning and development? Well, I think there’s a bit of a gap here. This is partly down to professional responsibilities with learning being very much the domain of Learning and Development professionals. While social networking and collaboration are up for grabs — with IT or Communications often taking ownership — learning is unambiguously the responsibility of the training or L&D function.

In enterprise software terms, a Learning Management System (LMS) tends to be a bit of an outlier. They are often standalone and less integrated with other tools than say, your collaboration platform.

LMSs are also not, generally speaking, loved. They may have a bit of an outdated and clunky interface, and will be outside the daily flow of work. Chances are high that employees have forgotten their log-in details, which means they have to go through the whole “reset password” rigamarole. And then the compliance focus on e-learning means you have to do a mandatory, but crushingly dull, e-learning module. 

Has anyone ever loved an LMS? I’m feeling the silence in the room ....

Related Article: Poor Digital Skills Hinder Digital Workplace Progress

Learning Deserves a Bigger Place in Digital Workplace Planning 

But learning is a key function and process within organizations that deserves a much bigger role in how organizations plan their digital workplaces. It’s also of great strategic importance. We’re already familiar with the imperative for digital literacy initiatives, but across some industries training and reskilling are also a focus.

Training and learning is also an important part of the employee experience (and therefore digital employee experience), with opportunities for professional and personal learning and growth one of the reasons employees are attracted to join organizations.

Related Article: Key Skills Every Digital Workplace Practitioner Needs

Looking at Learning Through User Journeys

Even though learning systems may not be a core part of digital workplace design, learning activity is central to what we need to use the digital workplace for. When we look at what employees need to do through the lens of user journeys and related user stories, we can clearly see learning activity as a common thread.

When we at Spark Trajectory developed our Task Trajectory framework for mapping user journeys across the digital workplace, we quickly realized just how interconnected everything really was.

In our methodology we identified around 25 user journeys that are common to most organizations, each including a number of common user stories, covering what we believe is almost 90% of interactions and tasks within the digital workplace. The user journeys identified include common areas such as the “Project journey,” the “Meeting journey,” the “Personal change journey” and the “Buying Journey.” Most learning activity is covered in our “Development journey” and its constituent user stories:

  • I need a how-to guide right now.
  • I want a course to develop my skills.
  • My boss wants me to develop my skills.
  • I have to complete mandatory training.
  • I want to update my performance plan.
  • I want a new role.

When we started mapping the detail behind these user journeys and user stories with clients, we realized two things.

Firstly, we noticed that learning and training was an explicit element in other User Journeys, including our Knowledge Journey, our People Manager journey, our Finding Journey, our Reach Out Journey, our New Starter Journey, our IT Journey and even our Wellbeing Journey. For example, it is common for people in the IT Journey to want to learn how to properly use software to its best use. In this case, Google rather than the digital workplace is generally their best friend.

Secondly, some of these Development Journey user stories frequently end up in another User Journey altogether, particularly our Finding and Reach out Journeys. For example, learning about something new often ends up in a need to find a resource through a search (Finding Journey) or reaching out to an expert (Reach Out journey). Training course catalogues and output are not often provided as search results.

In short, when we look into the detail, we find learning is a core activity users do every day that needs to be properly supported by the digital workplace.

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Bring Learning Into the Digital Workplace

It’s time we bring learning more into the digital workplaces we plan and design. I think there are probably two main elements to this.

The first is to truly understand how learning is embedded into everyday activities. How do people use your digital workplace to learn? We’ve certainly found mapping user journeys is a powerful way to understand and visualize the detail.

Secondly, you need to speak to, and involve your training function. I agree with Simon Thomson, a digital workplace professional who has worked across intranets, digital workplaces and learning environments, that digital workplace teams cannot design for learning on their own and should be talking to their colleagues in L&D.

Once we understand the extent and detail of learning activity and bring learning stakeholders into digital workplace design, then we can really start to make advances And maybe, just maybe, we can learn to love our LMS, just a little bit.