Digital Learning Is Here—Kind Of

Josh Bersin By Josh Bersin February 27, 2017

One of the most important and fastest changing functions of HR today is employee learning. Digital technologies, mobile apps, video and the rapid pace of work have reinvented what corporate learning means. Let me try to briefly explain.

Evolution of Corporate L&D

© Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2017.

As the chart above shows, corporate learning has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years. What started as an effort to put instructor-led training online (the early days of e-learning) has rapidly evolved into competency-based learning, video-based learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and now micro-learning solutions. HR leaders have had to deal with all this change and to try to build platforms and programs that are modern and up to date.

As technology and content have changed, so have the expectations of employees. Our new research shows that employees have about 20 minutes a week to "learn," and most of the time they are so overwhelmed with e-mails and other tasks that even this time is interrupted constantly. One client told me recently "even TED Talks are now too long for our people; they don't have eight minutes at a time to learn."


[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing Employees]


Of course, there is no replacement for taking time away from your desk and going to a training or offsite program, and then forcing yourself to focus, reflect and learn. We know from our research that effective organizations understand the value of time spent away from the job to learn, and they deliver learning solutions through simulations, collaboration, meeting other people and learning from experts. Bersin by Deloitte's 4E learning model (education, experience, environment and exposure) shows how important it is to think about learning well beyond content.

But people don't always have the time or funding to go to offsite classes, and small companies likely can't afford to deliver such education very often. Plus, people often don't retain what they've learned. In addition, while people gain great cultural exposure through classroom experiences, they still need on-the-job training.

This is the domain of what we now call "digital learning."

Digital learning, as we describe it, is bringing just enough learning right into the workplace and embedding it into your digital environment at work.

Here are some ways employees can adapt digital learning to suit their particular needs:

  • By accessing an easy-to-use portal that recommends content and shows what other employees are using to learn in their business function (vendors such as Degreed, EdCast, and Pathgather provide these capabilities). 
  • Getting help finding just the right course so they can advance their skills in a particular topic (vendors such as Lynda, Skillsoft and Grovo offer this).
  • Setting aside 10 minutes a day to learn precisely what they need to know for machine maintenance, about the manufacturing process or in regards to safety training, with regular timed activities to fit into open slots in their schedule (vendors like Axonify offer this).

*Taking a micro-masters or nano-degree course in a new topic or field (vendors such as edX offer this).

The new world of digital learning is really just beginning to come together.

Today, vendors including Cornerstone, Oracle, Saba, SAP, SumTotal Systems and Workday offer video learning platforms and complex learning management systems to help manage millions of courses and videos. But we need more simple systems that bring all this content together in a compelling way and mobile apps that deliver the learning where employees can find it fast.

Our latest research shows that the learning and development profession is in the middle of a minor crisis right now. Most employees don't recommend corporate learning systems. This isn't because corporate trainers aren't smart or working hard, it's simply that the digital workplace appeared much faster than we expected, and it is just taking a little time to build the next-generation solutions employees expect.

Right now we all have very high expectations for content. We expect corporate learning systems to be as easy to use as everyday social media, networking and search websites. But the business world environment is far more complex: We have compliance training, new-hire training, and hundreds of company-specific topics and programs to deliver. So we, in HR, should take the time to rethink our learning environment and bring together a modern digital experience with all the face-to-face and cultural learning strategies our employees need.

This is the year to take digital learning seriously. Take some time to segment your workforce and find a challenge you can really focus on. (New-hire training is a good one.) Consider hiring a consultant or building a small team, and pull together what you believe is a modern, compelling digital experience for the group you have decided to focus on. You'll be able to learn a lot and position yourself for the explosive digital learning opportunities ahead.

As used in this document, "Deloitte" means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte USA LLP, Deloitte LLP and their respective subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.


Josh Bersin is founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. He is a published author on the Forbes website; is a LinkedIn Influencer; has been quoted by Bloomberg, NPR and The Wall Street Journal; and speaks at industry conferences and to corporate HR departments around the world. He will also be the keynote speaker at the SHRM India HR Tech '17 Conference & Expo in Hyderabad in April. Contact him on Twitter @josh_bersin and follow him at

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.