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5 Tips for Building an Effective and Engaging Digital Learning Academy

This article is based on our recent webinar ‘What You Need to Know To Build a Perfect Digital Learning Academy’. Nic Price, Learning Design Consultant at LEO Learning, talks us through the top five tips we have for building an effective, engaging, and sustainable digital learning academy.

During our webinar, we asked the audience what their current experience of digital learning academies was. The polls revealed that 37% are actively involved with an academy and another 38% said that they were interested in developing one. Meanwhile, 11% of the attendees said they didn’t understand what a digital learning academy was. So let’s start with a definition.

What Is a Digital Learning Academy?

Digital learning academies can fall under a number of names. You may have heard them described as hubs or portals, for example. They focus on a specific learning initiative or strategic need within an organization. A popular example of these includes leadership academies.

Here are some common traits of digital learning academies:

  • Are well-known learning initiatives within an organization
  • Focus on a specific learning initiative
  • Deliver multiple programs and learning pathways
  • Deliver multimodal learning
  • May include content curated from outside your organization

Next, we’ll look at tips for building the perfect digital learning academy.

1) Define Your Purpose Early

One of the most important features of a digital learning academy is the clear focus and direction of the learning.

Clearly defining your purpose allows you to build a sustainable source of learning that you can manage effectively and strategically in the future.

Brand and consistency become incredibly important when curating external and internally created content. It’s vital to think about the impact of the academy and the results you wish to achieve. Academies are, after all, long-term investments. As your learning objectives and initiatives evolve, the academy and the content inside it should as well. You shouldn’t simply set up the curriculum and walk away—it’s an ongoing process.

Recommended reading: ‘3 Key Mindset Shifts for L&D Capabilities

2) Measure the Impact of Your Learning

Where a Learning Management System (LMS) may work as a catalog for your learning, a digital learning academy has a level of expectation surrounding it. With a single point of focus, measurement and reporting becomes even more important. 

With a specific learning intent in mind, this is where learning design and measurement become interlinked.

Image showing relationship between learning design and measurement. Text reads: Title 1: Learning Design. Reads left to right: Business goal. What do people need to do? What do people need to learn? What training is required. Title 2: Measurement. Reads right to left: Did they complete it? Have they learned it? Are people doing that? Was the goal achieved?

Learning design and your measurement strategy should work to complement each other. Good learning design starts with understanding your business goals to help determine the training required. A sound measurement strategy builds in the opposite way. 

Although metrics like completion rates may seem a little superficial, they’re important underpinnings to the wider measurement piece. With the correct logic and strategy in place for the learning design, these lower-level metrics gain more meaning than if you were measuring completion rates alone. These measurements become more relevant and useful in the wider context of your requirements and in the context of an academy itself.

The last two key measurement questions focus on behavioral change and goal achievement. Learning the information is one thing, but are your learners really transferring those skills into the workplace? If they are, how is this measured against organizational KPIs and goals? Any learning you design won’t be the sole reason for lasting behavioral change, but it will be a key component. It needs to be measured effectively.

Handpicked for you: ‘Making Sense of Learning Data

3) Faculty and People Are Vital to Success

Digital learning academies are no longer simply about supplying learning content. The faculty involved and your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) have never been more important. Just as your learning content and pathways need to be designed, so does your academy faculty.

A digital learning academy is the perfect place to drive best practice in learning. They are in place to drive a number of important behaviors including engagement, taking ownership of learning, and connection with the content.

The most important people for the success of your academy fall into three categories, each with their own roles.

Firstly, Governance:

  • Driving and ensuring relevance of content
  • Maintaining quality and creating guidelines
  • Encouraging innovation and growth
  • Marketing and communication
  • Reporting to the board

Secondly, Your Academy Faculty:

  • Presenting credibility and authority around key topics
  • Moving beyond training roles to become experts
  • Learning to be facilitators of digital/virtual learning
  • Editing and curating content
  • Supporting learners as much as delivering content
  • Developing into consulting roles

Finally, Your Champions:

  • Engaging others in learning
  • Leading by example
  • Mentoring and coaching other learners
  • Assisting with social marketing
  • Challenging academy content and strategy, working alongside the governance team

As you can see, each of these sets of people have vital roles to play in the success of your digital learning academy and these roles should be designed as carefully as the learning content.

Recommended reading: ‘5 Ways to Integrate Social Learning Strategies into Digital Learning

4) Designing the Ideal Learning Experience

You can design and create the best content in the world, but if no one can find it, or they don’t hang around long enough to figure out how to, then it doesn’t matter. Your academy needs to deliver a great User Experience (UX).

You can optimize for UX through a few simple steps to keep users engaged and the content easily accessible:

  • Personalize the content where you can – creating profiles/logins is a great place to start. Collect basic data, for example, the department they work in, learning topics of interest, etc. 
  • Start with fewer options – don’t bombard your learners with access to everything at once. Begin by presenting a few options, like entries to new learning pathways or a “continue” button.
  • Prioritize user-friendly language – you shouldn’t be making them work to access the content they need or want. Regardless of their expertise, keep language simple and concise.
  • Create a sense of progress – milestones, progress bars, and completion percentages throughout both the learning and the system are a great way to keep learners motivated.

You may also like: ‘How to Design a Distance-Friendly Blended Learning Experience

5) Your Alumni Are Key

When you’re building and refining a digital learning academy, your learners are your most important stakeholders. So your alumni (those who have already completed courses or entire programs within your academy) are the key to getting the word out and increasing engagement.

Your alumni can have a great level of influence on your learners. Word of mouth, social marketing, and shared experiences are great ways to get more learners enrolled in your academy and keep them engaged with the content.

It’s important to consistently drive and tell stories in your organization around what is working. And in order to maintain transparency and build trust, it can also be useful to communicate what isn’t working and provide feedback to the faculty involved in the academy.

This article is based on a recent webinar ‘What You Need to Know to Build a Perfect Digital Learning Academy’. Access the full recording here.

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