Virtual is (our) reality: The impact of experimental offerings in a digital learning environment

Digital Experiential Learning has an impressive capability for providing immersive experiences and is quickly becoming part of most corporate learning ecosystems. Research has shown immersive and experiential experiences enhance learning and help our brains retain knowledge. It’s also believed to increase workplace productivity, employee safety and improve training. HR and Learning leaders are continually searching for new ways to improve training and learning and development for both new and existing employees. Digital Experiential Learning may hold the answer to endless possibilities. However, HR and Learning leaders will need to be equipped with the necessary skills to support their organization in implementing the supporting technologies. There are still several significant challenges to integrating experiential offerings within the digital learning environment.

COVID-19 has been an accelerator of almost every existing digital trend. It has certainly been an accelerator on the topics of digital learning and virtual learning, and their associated tools and technologies.

To better understand the impact of digital learning, I recently attended a roundtable on the topic, sharing with peers in the learning industry how our organizations are adapting to the changes resulting from the digital revolution.

What is working?  

One participant shared their desire for immersive learning that catalyzes the behaviors their organization wants, while equipping people with both the technical and the soft skills needed to do their jobs effectively.

A second participant shared what’s working from a human perspective. They noticed that our resilience in adapting to change has increased. People have shown enormous abilities and openness to change, finding other ways to succeed and overcome obstacles. Furthermore, they observed this behavior in all levels of their organization. This kind of openness to change, or capability has spread through organizations around the world. We, as Learning leaders, may benefit from this new willingness to change, providing an opportunity for us to try new technologies and new learning techniques our organizations would have resisted previously. However, all participants agreed that it’s important to not only focus on what their organizations are doing well, but also adjusting based on the current environment and employee feedback.

In terms of immersive learning, the consensus view is how the need to suddenly work remotely forced all of us to learn how to work from home by doing things differently. Some of us had to adapt and overcome by learning new ways to perform effectively while providing new solutions to our customers that go beyond performance. This is hard to accept because change is hard. Our ability to adapt is the most positive thing that came out of what we’ve had to face over the last 18 months. We are now heading down a path where organizations want more remote learning solutions, but this will require some upfront planning.

What is changing?

A third participant shared a COVID scenario on how their leadership training has gone 100% virtual. Their organization hasn’t returned to a classroom setting. But the biggest difference is in their leadership training model. His company used to follow a ‘one and done’ approach, holding 4-day training off-sites, but this can’t be replicated online. He pointed out the limitations of putting people through 4-days of back-to-back Zoom meetings and how quickly their attention fades. Instead, they created a program called the “100-day Journey”, using journey maps. The journey begins with a micro-learning with multiple micro-learnings throughout. The journey includes action plans with on-the-job experiences and 90-minute virtual classroom trainings, which are spaced every couple of weeks with more micro-learnings at the end. Managers help their direct reports apply these learnings in their job or role. He said this new approach has been very effective, improving both efficiency and engagement by double-digits, as well as increasing knowledge transfer and the application of skills.

Another participant shared how their organization has eliminated instructor-led training all together, and how all training will be virtual moving forward. Their company is spread across the US, so they believe this change brings equity to everyone. They also mentioned it is budget neutral for employees to attend training, and how they no longer need to worry about environmental conditions or travel concerns related to COVID.

Their framework is over a ‘period of time’ instead of a ‘point’ in time. Training will now incorporate multiple types of learning interventions. “When you think about how adults learn over time, and have the opportunity to practice, then come back to share what they’ve done, it really makes the learning more effective”, said the participant.

What are the limitations?

Despite the advantages digital learning offers, one limitation mentioned is the difficulty in teaching a skill that requires an in-person, tactile engagement (e.g., repairing a transmission or recalibrating a machine) and how that type of learning needs to be better positioned to be effective in a digital environment.

Digital transformation, or communicating in a digital format, is not only improving communications within organizations, but also creating new ways for people to connect. The challenge is how in-depth those connections are. You get more information on the surface, but you need to drill-down to really understand what is behind the answers.

The consensus view regarding digital learning is that we’re seeing how people are more open to participate in these learning initiatives. However, HR and L&D are struggling with all the various platforms being used to ensure they reach everyone. There isn’t a one-stop platform where all the training can be easily accessed. And, that engagement with digital learning is not equal at all levels of the organizations; there still seems to be more disengagement from the senior leaders on the learning side.

Reach Out to RPS

Digital experiential learning and virtual learning; how do you use these approaches to assure effective knowledge transfer and improved performance?

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Is your organization using digital experiential learning? What knowledge tools & techniques have been applied within your organization? What was your experience? Connect with us on LinkedIn, or at @RaytheonRPS using hashtags, #learning, #training, #digital and #experiential.