Digitalization and automation in L&D are no longer merely abstract concepts, but a necessity for many organizations. Bartek Polakowski, Learning Technologies Leader at PwC Polska will tell us more about this necessity and the latest trends in L&D.
HCM Deck: How much did the pandemic speed up digitalization and automation in L&D?
Bartek Polakowski: It is no longer an evolution, but a revolution. What to digitalize is not really a matter of discussion anymore. It’s about how to digitalize things, and whether it’s worth it, or when it’s actually beneficial? How to do L&D in a new way, under the new normality? So, we made some pretty big leaps forward. We no longer have to convince people that technology is effective and useful. Some people have had different experiences in the past and have observed changes from a distance. Now they must either implement it or start using it. I think it was a really revolutionary six months.
HCM Deck: How has this period since the outbreak of the pandemic changed, from your perspective?
BP: At PwC, we had to digitalize all our on-site trainings. In many different ways. We have been transferring them to webinar forms, self-paced forms, such as short e-learning courses, videos, publications, and documents. In many synchronous and asynchronous formats.
There are more enquiries from the business regarding the tools that can be used for on-line training which could help to involve participants more.
I also get a lot of questions about how to start the adventure with technology in L&D, about what systems to implement, how to talk to the respective suppliers. The demand is very high. Both in the corporate and academic markets. In both cases, however, there is often a lack of people with the right competences. We forget that e-learning is not just about tools.
HCM Deck: Does digitalization and automation in L&D mean the end of ILT?
BP: No. And that will not change for quite some time. The same discussion took place when traditional e-learning in the form of screen-based training was introduced. At that time, many people resisted new technologies in education because they were afraid of change and of losing their jobs. However, recent years have shown that on-line and traditional training complement each other very well and it will continue to be so in the future.
We are giving new tools and new opportunities, but trainers and lecturers are still needed. What has changed is simply the environment. The training does not take place in a room, but on-line. Often it is not all day long, and when broken up into a few days, it is shorter. However, there is no such trend here, that we would suddenly give up human-led training. Automation does not change how our brain works or how we acquire new competences. I think a great deal of time has yet to pass for artificial intelligence or any other technology to be able to teach people itself. It can provide us with materials, match them with us, check the work or give us feedback. (There are even algorithms that can check written work.) However, we still need people today.
HCM Deck: Which CEE countries are leading the way in digitalization and automation in L&D?
BP: It seems to me that the situation in CEE is similar to that in other parts of the world. Countries with a larger budget are quicker to introduce state-of-the-art solutions. It is normal, because at first, new technologies cost more. As they become more popular, they become more affordable.
If we want to follow innovations, one thing is technology, and another is developing skills among employees. They have to be built, and that costs money too. In addition, changes in processes within the company are also involved. From what I have seen, the smaller countries follow in the footsteps of larger ones, using their experience and learning from their mistakes.
I think that Poland, Russia, and the Czech Republic are the leading countries here.
HCM Deck: What opportunities do digital solutions in L&D offer?
BP: First of all, digitalization is a necessity in the current situation. Business, on the other hand, is beginning to specialize more and more in matters related to L&D. They want to cooperate with L&D and HR on their own business principles.
The business community is no longer interested in training completion reports. They want to see concrete results from the fact that employees are trained in the specific area. Learning analytics, i.e. advanced analytics of development activities in a company or at a university, including both the analysis of results and predictions allowing to plan further development activities, is of utmost importance.
Numerous companies decide to optimize their processes and resources using the RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology. This allows them to automate frequent, repetitive tasks. The tool can do something in the system for us, pull out some information, generate a report, or check the consistency of data. There is a lot of room for improvement. Even looking at our L&D, there are a lot of repetitive processes here, which can very easily be automated. For example: registration for trainings, creating new training sessions in the system, reporting, checking data quality. These are very time-consuming things, but they are also repetitive, and a simple algorithm is able to “click through” all that on its own.
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New formats are beginning to settle in the L&D market, such as VR, a new tool which will certainly not replace what we have had before, but which will allow us to implement the highest level of realism to digital trainings. The study we have carried out at PwC show that investments made in VR training pay off quite quickly, thanks to the reduction of training time and faster application of newly acquired knowledge in the workplace.
We now have an abundance of technologies in L&D, and in HR, we only need to be able to use them. I keep saying that e-learning is not just about tools. There are and always were lots of them. I often come across a situation where 2 or 3 tools are implemented which overlap in terms of functionality. We are interested in unusual functionalities, but we do not really think about how to introduce them properly into the educational offer. We also need to help employees to learn online. This is a completely different way of learning, where responsibility is on the recipient’s part. They get training, which lasts e.g. one month, and which is divided into parts. It’s up to the recipients, how they organize their time and working environment. It is a challenge.
HCM Deck: What are the most interesting trends in L&D that you notice?
BP: There are a few of them. I would start with the aforementioned data analytics, even though artificial intelligence, RPA, and VR are discussed more and more.
I believe that data analysis has great potential. The HR and L&D departments have an extensive collection of data on employees and their behavior. I have an impression that this is still, in many cases, an undiscovered area which, if properly managed, can offer any organization many benefits.
The second trend is certainly AI. Many solutions are blatantly described as being supported by artificial intelligence, but only a small percentage of them actually use more complex algorithms. For now, AI in L&D is basically limited to chatbots improving communication with users and to systems personalizing educational experiences. The latter adjusts the materials to the profile of the employee, their experience, interests, educational achievements so far, to people who are still on their development path and who are successful. This is becoming ever more advanced.
There is a little less discussion about this now due to the pandemic, but VR and AR are very interesting trends now. Many companies froze projects due to logistical problems. Previously it was possible to create a VR room or VR rental in the company’s office, and now it is necessary to deliver and disinfect these headsets for each employee separately. Yet it is feasible. PwC takes part in various tests of such tools, and I personally also regularly participate in workshops taking place in virtual reality. This is not science fiction, but another tool which is very, very effective in certain situations.
HCM Deck: How do you start with analytics in L&D?
Let’s start with a Needs Analysis. Let’s talk to business about what information they need. Many reports generated in L&D are based on assumptions which may prove useful. What is missing is discussion about what can be improved to help business make decisions.
Then data sources need to be identified to see what is their quality. We need to know what data we have, what systems we have, what data we want to extract from these systems and what can we do about it.
Let’s build a multidisciplinary team. It should not be a project focused solely on HR or L&D. People with experience in data analysis are part of different teams – Analysis, Finance, or IT. In large organisations, it often turns out that there are the people who can help us, with extensive experience. They also know where to start and what is possible in a given company.
We need to prototype and try. Even a simple dashboard is a living organism. It does not work in such a way that we build it, deliver it, open Prosecco, and have a finished project. We usually get some feedback and implement improvements. This should be welcome, as it also means that business is using these technologies.
HCM Deck: Do digital solutions improve learning experience and learning efficiency?
BP: If implemented poorly, they make it worse, and if implemented well, they improve it.
There used to be a common myth that digital formats are less effective and are not suitable for soft skills training. And, all the studies available on the market show something different. Firstly, the online format is equally or even more effective than the traditional one. The effectiveness of learning can be increased by combining the two formats.
What is also important is what we think about learning digitalization. If we only mean webinars or various types of screen training, many topics cannot actually be presented effectively in this way. For example, in the aforementioned study performed by PwC, training of leadership and soft managerial competences was examined. It turns out that in VR such simulations work well. Our brain reacts as it does in real life. When we talk to the CEO, our hands get sweaty and our heart beats harder even though you are in a game/simulation.
It does not always pay off to digitalize all the trainings. (Like, for example, for smaller groups or easier topics). Yet, when a given solution is well implemented by people with the relevant knowledge, the digital format provides a very high UX thanks to the freedom, ease of access, and personalization of the training process. This is very difficult to achieve in any other way.
Bartłomiej Polakowski has over 10 years of experience in e-learning. Leader of teams dealing with the implementation of effective solutions in the field of remote education, performance support, gamification, blended learning; Instructional Designer, consultant, lecturer and presenter in the field of new technologies and their application in education. At PwC, he is responsible for the popularization and development of e-learning in Central and Eastern Europe.