#DigitalScholar: How learning leaders can survive and thrive in the Digital Age

Reda Sadki, president of The Geneva Learning Foundation, shares some of the remarkable outcomes from a decade of research and practice with new digital learning approaches – together with practical examples of how learning innovation can help trainers, learning specialists, coaches, and other learning leaders to harness digital transformation.

Reda Sadki
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I believe that the biggest change in learning is not about scale, medium, or technology.

It is about the relevance of learning interventions to accelerate the progress of individuals, organizations, and networks (not necessarily in that order) to impact. More than performance. Change. Results. Value. (What it is called depends on where you work and learn.)

This is about more than the classic training dilemma of applicability or knowledge transfer. Nor is it about "lifelong learning" that sounds like we are stuck in school forever.

Why learning technologists are obsolete

The learning landscape is changing fast. How can we keep up?

Even the most jurassic face-to-face trainers I know are now embracing the digital transformation or at least trying to.

Ephemeral fads proliferate alongside newer, more sustainable and productive approaches that match the learning contexts and support the development of capabilities required to survive and thrive in a volatile world.

Everyone in learning is having to learn to use new tools.

But rethinking our roles, I believe, is going to be far more important than learning to run a webinar.

  • Are we service providers?
  • Are we a support service (like HR, security, and finance)?
  • Who are really our clients, when those who pay may not be those who learn?
  • Can the business models of the past sustain us in the future?

Are you or your organization wrestling with these changes?

Yes, I am facing these challenges

There are reasons why change is hard in learning, education, and training.

Education is the science of learning (and, of course, teaching). Its subject is how people come to know. […] It teaches what has been learned and can be learned using these methods. In this sense, education is privileged to be the science of sciences.

Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., 2012. New learning: elements of a science of education, Second edition. ed. Cambridge University
This is why there is no Napster (or Uber) for learning

This is why there is no Napster (or Uber) for learning.

International organizations and governments face ‘wicked problems’ that resist conventional approaches. 

Too often, the default response to such seemingly intractable problems remains investment in conventional methods of learning, education and training – whether face-to-face workshops or digital e-learning modules.

  • What are the approaches and interventions that can support, foster, and accelerate change?
  • How do we make effective use of learning technologies to support change?
  • Can learning-driven change initiatives be anything other than a ‘sunk cost’?
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“Education can lead to impact when learning leaders connect the dots between the intervention, the  individuals and their contexts.”

Karen Watkins, Co-founder of the Geneva Learning Foundation

How could the role of education for the future be limited to providing better tools, in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution or Second Machine Age, in which a range of new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds?

We need to be bold and brave to try doing new things in new ways.

In 2016, we launched our first #DigitalScholar programme

We sought to offer new ways for:

  • learning leaders to adapt and augment their practices for the Digital Age.
  • organizations tackling complex challenges to harness the new digital economy of effort to better and faster.

Over 1,000 participants from 97 countries joined.

Some programme graduates with no prior experience have since become digital learning leaders.

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“It’s been exactly 3  years since I took the #DigitalScholar programme and here I am today in charge of digital learning and education with an ambitious start up… Who would have known!”

“Most of my business is now digital. I do not miss the travel, hassle, or constraints of face-to-face training!"

"I used to feel scared by all these new tools. Now they are just part of life – and they save me time and money."

While digital formats lower cost and enable scale, they do not, on their own, lead to strategic relevance, sustainability, or results. 

Digital learning often replicates the worst of face-to-face training, typically relying on top-down, one-way transmission of knowledge often too abstract to be useful – and fails to recognize local knowledge and expertise.

Poor-quality training can now be transmitted to thousands of individuals at marginal cost, rather than being limited by the economy of effort required to carry out face to face training. Few results, little change, and no impact are likely to be observed.

Even when based on sound thinking and grounded in evidence, execution can still lead to failure.  

In just three years, the Geneva Learning Foundation developed and applied the #DigitalScholar package of interventions to very different challenges  to successfully:

  • Adapt global recommendations to tackle problems faced in their local settings, from the district level up.
  • Innovate and share discoveries and successes to inspire others.
  • Augment country problem-solving through peer networks.
  • Scale peer support in ways that are low‑cost and community-driven.
  • Strengthen individual leadership capacities and informal shared leadership within systems.
  • Forge a shared identity among individuals focused on impact across different countries and organisations.

Such outcomes were attained by pure digital learning initiatives.

How did we do it?

We assembled the Scholar package of interventions that anyone can use to:

  • Drive value by building explicit pathways that lead from the intervention to impact on the ground.
  • Combine high volume and low cost, achieving learning outcomes beyond those achievable through low-volume, high-cost face-to-face approaches.
  • Focus participants beyond knowledge retention to practice the digital, analytical, and leadership capabilities that are the most difficult to achieve in any medium.
  • Beyond learning outcomes, support the development of context-specific projects and their field implementation to exercise these capabilities, augmented by networked learning, thinking, and action.

We now stand ready to offer the Scholar package to learning leaders, organizations, and networks that need to mobilize people at scale for change.

During this Special Event, I will share:

  1. the remarkable outcomes from three years of research and practice piloting new digital learning approaches to lead change; and
  2. practical examples of new, sustainable business models that can help an organization build sustainable programmes to drive change, not just train people.
  3. How you and your organization can use the #DigitalScholar programme.

Many training providers (and, in fact, any organization that offers training) are increasingly using digital formats to deliver training. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the opportunities created by the digital transformation of learning, education, and training.

An important part of the Geneva Learning Foundation's mission is to help organizations harness these opportunities.

This is not only about scaling up learning and improving efficacy, but also choosing the right business models that will ensure your organisation can recover training costs (grow revenue) and invest more in its people and those they serve.

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