What is digital body language in L&D?

Reading time: 6m

AuthorSteve FinchHead of Customer Success
Reading Time6 minutes

“Every drop-off, click or share is a learner shouting their likes and dislikes.” – Lori Niles-Hoffmann

L&D is changing. As workplace learning moves away from long training days away from the job, today’s organisations are now looking at ways to meet the needs of the modern learner. In doing so, many are now adopting a more blended learning approach in their L&D strategy. And while this does not mean that face-to-face learning is in any way redundant, by moving a great chunk of the learning into a digital environment we are instead faced with a new challenge. And it’s something that’s sitting right between us.

I’m talking about the screen.

You see, while the classroom trainer has traditionally always had the ability to adjust his or her approach according to the learners’ immediate reactions, body language is far harder to read when separated by device screens. A classroom trainer might be able to tell just by the sound of someone absently clicking their pen or a vacant stare out of the window that the learners are getting bored. Whereas an eager response to a question or an enthused nod may well be enough to say, “I’m engaged and I’m listening!”

But how can you do this for remote learning and training?

Cue digital body language.


What is digital body language?

A term first coined by Steve Woods in his book of the same name, digital body language (or DBL) was primarily used in sales and marketing to track and analyse customers’ buying habits in an online environment. Sales and marketing have seen a seismic shift in the way consumers interact with brands and how they go about the buying process. E-commerce, for example, has seen high street retailers shutting stores in their droves for the past few years as savvy buyers conduct research online and make their purchases at the touch of a button. In fact, ONS states that the average weekly value of Internet sales was £1.2 billion in April 2018, most of which was spent in stores without a physical presence.

Sales and marketing aren’t the only sectors having to equip themselves with the right skills to connect with their target audience digitally. A similar thing is happening in L&D. In order to future-proof their learning strategies, L&D practitioners are now having to adapt to the shift to digital learning, which has grown by a staggering 900% in the last 17 years. What’s more, 90% of learners believe that online learning is the same or better than the traditional classroom experience.

Just as the marketing professional must, therefore, be able to interpret every customer click, exit or purchase, so too must the modern L&D practitioner equip themselves with the skills to interpret their learners’ online behaviour in order to get the learning strategy just right.

What can digital body language tell us?

When teaching online classes via an LMS or LXP, for example, there are several things you might look at to determine how learners are engaging with the content. Say, for example, you’ve just uploaded a new module for customer-facing staff to learn how to deal with conflict management. To gain insight into engagement with the new course, you might want to consider factors such as:


The length of time spent on the learning content

Once learners are logged onto the platform, how long are they spending learning online? Say your analytics show that the average length of time spent watching a 4 minute video is indeed near enough 4 minutes. This indicates that learners are taking the time to watch it in full and are consuming the content. Or perhaps you see that learners are only spending an average of 2 minutes reading a 10 minute article. This could be a signal to you that either the text is too long; consider using shorter articles to engage the easily-distracted and time-poor modern learner.

It could also indicate that the content lacks relevance. A great way to see feedback on the article would therefore be to allow users to rate the content. When buying, we often look to peers for recommendations before committing to a purchase, and choosing to commit time to learning is no different. In Thinqi for instance, our ratings feature can provide the user with a clear indication of which resources learners find most relevant and helpful.

This is the content you need to take note of and promote. This is the content that works.


The time of day learners are most active

The modern learner, according to Deloitte, wants learning that’s untethered, on-demand, and available at the point of need to fit their busy lifestyles. Are learners logging in mostly during commuting hours? If so, this is the time you need to reach them – consider sending out mobile notifications at this time. Or maybe there’s a spike in traffic to the learning platform in the late evening, when people have had the chance to unwind, hit the gym, or put the kids to bed.

Knowing exactly when your learners are most active means you’re reaching them at a time when they’re most likely to engage, rather than shouting into the void.


Devices most used to access the learning

Insight into how your learners are accessing the learning will inform the design of your content. Take a look at the metrics and see how many are accessing via mobile device and how many via desktop. Is mobile usage increasing rapidly? Then start releasing bite-sized chunks of content (short videos, audio clips or articles) so that people can dip in and out of the learning content on-the-go as they please.

Mobile learning slow to catch on? It might not be the right time to roll out all your mobile content at once. Drip-feed according to the peaks in mobile usage and you can adapt your content to suit your learners.

As Lori-Niles Hoffman says in her excellent e-book ‘Data-Driven Learning Design: How to Decode Learner Digital Body Language’, “we can no longer push out content that we believe learners must digest – not when there is evidence that tells us what learners are willing to consume as digital content. Instead, it is time to give learners what they want.”

In summary…

As learning migrates from classroom to digital, L&D practitioners of today must be ready to accept a changing role in order to stay relevant. No longer can we ‘spoon-feed’ content to the learner or give them what we think they want. Modern learners demand learning that’s empowered and engaging, and to accommodate this we have to do less enforcing and more observing. What are they engaging with? What’s their appetite for learning? How can we meet them at their point of need?

DBL is more than just the buzz of a few extra clicks or shares. It’s a seriously useful tool to help us plan, create and release the right content to our learners, in the right format, at the right time.

Your learners are clicking. Listen.


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