Digital Employee Training for Forward-Thinking HR Professionals: The Complete Guide

Forward-thinking HR professionals are investing heavily in digital employee training … and for good reason.

To perform effectively in the modern workplace, employees must be proficient at a wide range of tools and cross-platform workflows.

The burden of training and employee learning, however, often falls on the shoulders of the organization.

HR professionals, IT departments, digital adoption managers, and other relevant professionals must work together to design training efforts that…

  • Maintain a proficient workforce
  • Keep employees engaged 
  • Are efficient and effective
  • Help organizations thrive in a constantly changing digital landscape

In this guide, we will explore digital employee training in depth, including:

  • How digital employee training works
  • Why it matters for forward-thinking HR professionals
  • How to create effective training programs
  • What technology can accelerate employee learning goals

And much more.

To start off, let’s get a lay of the land and define some of the most important ideas related to digital employee training.

Digital Employee Training: Basic Concepts and Definitions

Understanding these definitions will help any HR professional or training manager that deals with employee training in the workplace:

  • Employee training. Employee training refers to on-the-job training activities that relate to job duties, workplace procedures, and other work-related activities.
  • Digital training. Digital training specifically refers to training on digital tools, platforms, and software. Since much of today’s workplace has become digital, the vast majority of training spend is invested in digital training efforts.
  • Digital employee training. Since most enterprise-grade software is only used within a business context, organizations must often train employees on these tools. This can occur each time a new hire is integrated into the workplace, a tool is upgraded, or when managers deem it necessary to improve employee skills.
  • Employee onboarding. Employee onboarding is the stage that precedes employee engagement and performance, at least according to Gallup’s employee experience model. This is an important point in the employee journey, because it can impact engagement, productivity, retention, and more.
  • The employee experience. The overall employee experience includes every interaction an employee has with their employer. It begins the moment they first make contact with an organization, then continues through to post-exit surveys and communications. Training plays an important role in this process, affecting everything from an employee’s productivity and profitability to their longevity and loyalty.
  • The digital workplace. The digital workplace refers to digital tools, digital workflows, the digital employee experience, and every other aspect of the digital work environment. This side of the work environment goes hand-in-hand with the offline work environment, especially in the digital age.
  • Digital transformation. In order to keep up with today’s transforming digital economy, many organizations must change the way they operate and conduct business. Therefore, many businesses are undergoing digital transformation – organizational change designed to modernize business practices, processes, tools, and strategies.

HR professionals familiar with today’s digital environment should be familiar with many of these concepts.

Those who are not can find more information in this article, on our change management blog, or on WalkMe’s main blog – a blog that revolves around digital transformation, digital adoption, digital training, and related topics.

In the next section, we will dive deeper into the concept of digital employee training.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Digital Employee Training

Below are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about digital employee training, starting with the one of the most important questions of all…

Why is digital employee training important?

There are many reasons to invest in digital employee training:

  • Training helps maintain a proficient, productive workforce
  • Effective digital training improves employee confidence, satisfaction, and other related sentiments
  • A well-trained workforce helps an organization meets its performance goals
  • Training is necessary in order to effectively execute digital transformation initiatives
  • An organization that wants to adopt new software must train employees in order to actually generate positive returns on that software investment
  • Effective employee training can increase employee longevity and retention, which in turn reduces recruitment and training costs

For many organizations, employee training is not an option – it is a requirement.

However, some companies fail to fully develop their training efforts, and as a result they only experience some of the potential benefits that employee training could be providing.

What are the biggest problems associated with ineffective training?

To be effective, training for digital software requires training approaches that digital, modern, scalable, and personalized.

However, in many cases organizations end up employing traditional training methods.

And unfortunately these approaches are costly and difficult, if not impossible, to scale.

Classroom training or other human-led training approaches, for example, should not be used for digital training.

A few common results of such ineffective approaches include:

  • Inefficient, endless training. Unfortunately, traditional training approaches simply cannot keep up with the fast-paced digital workplace. Since the rate of learning is too slow – and the costs of training too high – it is all too easy for HR departments to create training programs that are “endless” and deliver sub-par results.
  • Exorbitant technical support costs. When employee training doesn’t deliver, employees turn to technical support. And since traditional training approaches often don’t meet employees’ learning needs, technical support costs can rise rapidly.
  • Training that cannot be scaled. In the digital age, technology moves at a rapid pace – organizations adopt new technology constantly, and that technology is continually being updated and upgraded. This constant change makes it difficult for traditional training efforts, such as classroom-led training or even video training, to keep up.
  • Increased confusion, frustration, and disengagement on the part of trainees. If a training program cannot meet expectations, employees will quickly become disengaged and unmotivated. For the organization, of course, this means employees will be much less productive than they could be – and that software investments will underperform.

Later, we will learn how digital adoption platforms (DAPs) can overcome these problems.

What are the biggest challenges to effective digital employee training?

Digital training presents a number of unique challenges for the modern enterprise.

And unless those challenges are avoided or mitigated, training costs can vastly outweigh its benefits, breeding a host of new problems for the enterprise (see above).

Common challenges to effective digital training include:

  • Scalability. In-person training cannot be scaled effectively or keep up with the fast rate of change in the modern business world. Other training solutions, such as online teaching, are also difficult to scale and personalize effectively.
  • Keeping employees interested and engaged. Software complexity can prevent new users from achieving full competency, which can have a significant negative impact on organizational performance. Simplifying the training experience is a must for any business that wants to improve employee engagement and productivity.
  • Personalizing training efforts. Another factor that can harm employee engagement during training is a lack of personalization. Standard teaching and training methods tend to deliver comprehensive, generalized information. In a work setting, this approach is less than ideal – there is too much irrelevant information, which can easily be forgotten.

The right training setup, however, can solve all of these problems and more.

How do you choose the right employee training software?

There are plenty of training software solutions on the market – but not all training software is created equal.

Here are a few common digital training solutions, along with some pros and cons of each:

  • Digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Digital adoption platforms are mentioned throughout this guide, because they are the most effective, efficient training solution available today. These cutting-edge platforms leverage an interactive training approach with data-driven AI in order to engage employees directly inside the software.
  • Learning management systems. Like content management systems, learning management systems allow trainers to create content, manage users, and track engagement. Unfortunately, these solutions do not offer interactive in-app training or contextualized learning – and, as a result, they are much less effective than digital adoption platforms.
  • Knowledge base software. Knowledge bases are websites that serve as repositories for questions, answers, and information. They are affordable and scalable, but they suffer from the same problems as many of the other solutions mentioned here. Namely, they are not interactive, immediate, or contextualized – users must break from their workflow in order to search for the proper information. This, in turn, decreases engagement and productivity.
  • Online education websites. Online education websites offer a wide variety of courses on software, programming, or virtually any other business topic. While these can be useful for long-term career development, they are much too slow and generalized to provide immediate productivity gains within the workplace.
  • In-person training. In-person training, such as mentorship programs, are more useful for high-level career development, advice, and knowledge. When it comes to on-the-job skills training, this approach is far too costly and slow.

In many cases, an organization will rely on a mixture of these solutions when designing training programs.

For instance, a company may choose to rely heavily on a digital adoption platform for on-the-job software training. Then it may offer online classes and mentorship opportunities to help employees further their long-term careers.

Later, we will explore some of these options in more depth.

What are the ingredients in a successful digital training program?

Effective training programs should:

  • Be integrated seamlessly with employee onboarding. Employee onboarding should be familiar to every HR professional. During this stage of the employee life cycle, employees become familiar with the workplace, their role, and their tasks. Technically speaking, onboarding should begin from the very first day of employment.
  • Provide employees with up-to-date software skills. Unless employees have a current set of digital skills, they will not be able to contribute to the organization or their business unit. A fundamental aim of digital employee training programs should be to provide employees with the skills they need to become contributing members of the workforce.
  • Be responsive to individual employees’ needs. Personalized training helps engage employees and provide them with more relevant skills. It is important, therefore, to provide practical on-the-job skills – not just a comprehensive, abstract education.
  • Be efficient as well as cost-effective. Efficiency and affordability, of course, should be the aim of every training program. The more efficient and affordable a program is, the more easily it can scale … and the higher the ROI it will generate.
  • Be automated. Automation is one of the best ways to keep costs down and performance high in the modern digital business. Correctly used, automation technology can vastly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of training programs.

The right digital training software, such as those covered below, can overcome the vast majority of these problems.

How do you measure the progress and ROI of digital training efforts?

Metrics and KPIs should be based on the goal of the training program in question.

In the case of employee digital training, common goals and metrics revolve around:

  • Overall proficiency levels
  • Time-to-competency
  • Time-to-proficiency
  • Training costs
  • The number of technical support calls
  • Technical support costs
  • Overall productivity levels
  • Time to full productivity

Combined with other metrics, such as the amount of involvement from HR, IT, and training staff, these metrics can offer deep insight into training efforts.

However, to be truly useful, it is best to measure training effectiveness set within the context of the organization’s adoption strategy.

After all, employee training efforts inevitably aim for true digital adoption.

Digital Employee Training in Context: Why Training Always Leads to Adoption

As covered in the main WalkMe blog, digital adoption is defined as:

…achieving a state in which digital tools are being used as intended, and to the fullest extent.

Digital adoption is a critical piece of the digital transformation puzzle and a fundamental requirement for success in today’s economy.

Any HR professional that invests a great deal of time and money in the training process will inevitably conclude that digital training efforts must lead to full adoption.

Here are a few points that explain why this is:

  • Digital disruption drives global digital transformation. Today, the pace of technological advancement continues to increase. In the coming years, we will see the continued proliferation of automation, AI, and other technologies. To stay competitive, organizations must adapt and transform virtually every aspect of their business, from the tools they use to the customer experience.
  • Organizations must continually change to keep up. In a business environment that keeps changing, organizations must also continually change. This global development carries several ramifications: among other things, organizations must stay agile and adaptable, they must manage those changes effectively, and they must maintain a trained workforce.
  • Employees must become perpetual learners. To stay relevant and productive, employees must also be ready and willing to change. For the contemporary worker, this means regular re-skilling, upskilling, and training. 
  • Organizational performance depends on training effectiveness. In order to meet all of the criteria just covered – such as staying agile and maintaining a competitive workforce – organizations must develop effective, modern training programs. Doing so will ensure that the organization continues to stay competitive and effective, even in a continually evolving digital ecosystem.

In short, employee training is becoming a critical value-added business function in the modern organization.

To stay competitive, profitable, and digitally mature, organizations must develop robust digital employee training functions.

Next, we will cover some fundamental steps and tips to help keep digital training programs on track.

Employee Training Basics: Dos and Don’ts in the Digital Age

Below are some fundamental steps to follow – as well as a few things to avoid – when developing any training program.

Let’s start with some of the most fundamental steps that every HR professional or training manager should follow when developing training programs.

Do…

  • Set clear training goals. Clear, overarching aims are important. These should focus on areas such as proficiency with specific tools and platforms, proficiency at specific cross-platform workflows, minimum productivity levels, and other department-specific criteria. 
  • Integrate training efforts with adoption and transformation agendas. As mentioned, many of today’s organizations are undergoing digital change and transformation. This often requires the adoption of multiple digital technologies, and that adoption in turn requires effective digital training programs.
  • Use digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Digital adoption platforms are must-haves in today’s fast-paced digital workplace. These training solutions significantly enhance digital training efforts, increasing efficiency and effectiveness – which, in turn, vastly improves the outcomes of digital transformation initiatives.
  • Optimize. No training program is perfect during its first iteration. With the right analytics and the right optimization approach, training professionals can significantly improve a training program over time.

Following fundamental steps such as these can help keep a training program aimed in the right direction and producing the right results.

However, a few common pitfalls can ruin training efforts from the very start, so be sure to avoid mistakes such as those covered next.

Don’t…

  • Be unstructured. While most employers offer in-house training to employees, not all businesses structure that training effectively. Structured training, however, improves results significantly. To earn measurable returns on training programs, HR departments should develop a program that is robust, measurable, sophisticated, and well-structured. 
  • Use sub-par training methods or technology. Training effectiveness depends a great deal on the training technology being used. The right employee training software can reduce the workload for HR professionals, improve training results, decrease training costs, and more.
  • Forget to update programs as technology changes. As mentioned above, a training program should be regularly optimized to improve outcomes. In addition, organizations should be sure to update programs regularly as workplace technology evolves. One of the best ways to do this by hiring a digital adoption manager to handle adoption and training.

All of these steps can help ensure that an HR department can generate positive outcomes from its training efforts.

However, by following a few other tips, it is possible to improve these results even further.

Take Digital Employee Training Programs to the Next Level with These Strategies and Tips

Going above and beyond the fundamental tips covered above can further enhance training programs.

Here are a few ways to take employee training programs to the next level:

  • Make organizational changes when necessary. To create a truly effective digital training program, organizational changes may be necessary. Depending on the organization and the training agenda in question, these changes may be small … or they may be quite large. Change management is important in order to execute and manage these changes effectively.
  • Look at the entire employee experience, not just training. As mentioned earlier, the employee experience covers an employee’s entire set of interactions with an organization. Each stage of this journey – such as recruitment, engagement, performance, and development – should be analyzed. Then HR professionals can create training programs that help enhance that overall experience.
  • Train employees on cross-platform workflows, not individual tools. Employees in the modern enterprise often use multiple tools to complete a single workflow or task. This means that productivity depends on how proficient employees are with their entire set of required tools. Therefore, training should aim to increase proficiency across multiple platforms, rather than at individual tools. 
  • Enhance the entire digital workplace. The digital workplace involves more than just software and technology – this concept also includes the way that employees work in the digital environment. It includes work processes and concepts such as remote working, digital cultures, data-driven business practices, and more. HR professionals that stay focused on the digital workplace will create training programs that help employees prepare for and be effective in the digital business environment.
  • Use automation to streamline workflows and training processes. Automation tools can create significant productivity gains in many areas of business, including HR and employee training. HR software, for example, can improve HR productivity and streamline HR workflows. Digital adoption platforms can automate many aspects of the training process by, for instance, providing automated in-app walkthroughs and product tours.

These are just a few ways to enhance employee training efforts and generate substantial returns on investments in digital adoption.

Improve Training and HR Workflows by Researching These Topics

Below, we will cover a few important topics that can lighten HR workloads, provide deeper knowledge on the topic of digital training, and increase the effectiveness of training programs.

To dive further into the world of digital training, research topics such as:

  • Digital adoption platforms. Several times, we have covered the benefits of digital adoption platforms (DAPs). Understanding digital adoption platforms – also called digital adoption solutions – can significantly benefit organizations that implement them correctly.
  • Contextualized learning. Contextualized learning will overtake eLearning tools in the digital age – at least, those eLearning tools that fail to deliver context-based, interactive training approaches. The reasons are simple: training delivered immediately and in-context can be applied instantly, increasing knowledge retention and engagement.
  • Interactive training. Most training methods require learners to be passive. Watching videos, reading text, or listening to audio is a passive approach to learning, for instance. Trainees can only absorb the information, but must apply it on their own. Interactive training, through in-app walkthroughs, for instance, engage users actively by requiring them to proactively participate.
  • Digital transformation and digital adoption. Digital transformation, as mentioned earlier, drives many changes in today’s digital workplace. Digital transformation and adoption also drives a great deal of enterprise training in today’s economy. Understanding these two trends can help HR professionals prepare properly and provide better training for their employees.
  • Change management. Digital transformation not only increases the need for training, it also spurs organizational transformation and change. Understanding change management can help HR professionals implement organizational changes more effectively, which are often closely connected to digital employee training efforts.

By understanding and applying a knowledge of these topics in the work environment, it will be possible to create training programs that are relevant, cost-efficient, and effective.

A Step-by-Step Process for Implementing a Digital Training Program – From Scratch

HR departments that have yet to implement a formal digital employee training program can develop one by following steps such as these:

1. Assessment

Before developing a training program, HR departments should first perform basic assessments of:

  • The organization’s needs. Ultimately, organizational performance and strategy come first. These should dictate digital adoption objectives and digital employee training efforts.
  • Employee competency levels. Employees at an organization may be digitally fluent and flexible – or they may totally lack digital literacy. Or, more likely, the workforce will consist of employees with a wide mixture of digital skill levels.
  • Existing and future technology. Another component of an organization’s digital maturity level is its technology. HR professionals should work with IT professionals and relevant business units to better understand the organization’s current technology, as well as the technology it plans to adopt in the future.
  • Organizational culture. A business’s culture can have a significant impact on many areas of organizational performance. A pro-learning culture, for instance, will be more open to new ideas, new skills, and organizational change. A digital culture will be more supportive of digital transformation and adoption efforts.
  • Existing training programs, if any. Finally, it is crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of any existing training efforts. In some cases, these training programs may need to be replaced entirely. In others, they can be augmented and enhanced with new tools and methods.

These assessments will then inform the development of a training program, as well as a change management strategy.

2. Develop a digital adoption and change management strategy

As mentioned earlier, training efforts always lead to digital adoption.

That is, training objectives inevitably serve larger business needs, such as organizational performance improvement – and this is precisely the aim of digital adoption.

A strategy should therefore focus on:

  • Maximizing employee proficiency and productivity
  • Decreasing time-to-competency and accelerating learning time
  • Increasing software utilization
  • Streamlining the employee experience
  • Reducing resistance to change and adoption

A change management framework, such as the ADKAR model, can be very useful when designing a roadmap for change.

These models are specifically built to motivate employees, provide them with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed, and overcome obstacles to change.

3. Mobilize teams

HR will certainly play a crucial role in the digital training program, but they should involve several parties at multiple levels of the organization.

Training teams can include:

  • Digital adoption managers
  • Training managers
  • HR professionals
  • IT professionals
  • Senior managers
  • Change managers

In some instances, organizations may wish to bring on outside consultants.

Not all organizations, for example, have change managers or digital adoption specialists on staff.

Depending on the scale of the organizational change and the organization’s needs, it may pay to bring in outside support.

4. Create a roadmap and implement the change plan

A roadmap for change will be based on the strategies developed earlier, as well as the team assignments created above.

It should include:

  • A stage-based timeline
  • Measurable objectives for each stage
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Descriptions that paint a picture of the end user – that is, the employee

An organizational change schedule such as this can act as a go-to reference document that helps keep all parties in sync and productive.

When implementing a new business process, such as a new employee training program, there are two popular rollout styles:

  • All-at-once. When an organization choose to implement a new program all at once, the entire program is rolled out across the entire target area, department, or organization. In this case, it would mean implementing new training methods for all employees, then optimizing it post-implementation. One advantage to this approach is speed – but miscalculations can be more costly.
  • Phased. In a phased rollout, a new process is implemented in increments, one group or feature at a time. For instance, an HR department may choose to test new training practices on one department or on a certain percentage of employees. Then, based on that information, they could make informed decisions about how to proceed.

Each rollout style has its advantages and disadvantages, which should be weighed carefully before making a choice.

In either case, once the rollout is complete, HR managers should be sure to carefully optimize the program over time.

5. Optimize

Once a program has been fully implemented, it should be continually optimized throughout its life cycle.

Continued optimization will ensure that the training program remains relevant and profitable over the long term.

A straightforward optimization process would include steps such as:

  • Data collection
  • Analysis of that data
  • Learning from those insights
  • Using that information to make improvements 

It is important to be as data-driven as possible when optimizing training programs.

By staying focused on data, it will be possible to be more objective about the program, its results, and employees needs.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.