Business Development

Market-leading firms collaborate to reimagine digital learning

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What if members of some of the world’s largest firms, Learning & Development industry leaders and top academic institutions banded together to make upskilling and career acceleration a delightful experience for professionals? This question was asked by IBM to some of the key players in the industry. In a matter of months, it was answered by the Digital Learning Consortium (DLC) launch.

In this article, Sarah Siegel IBM Enterprise Learning Design Manager and DLC moderator talks about how an idea led to the formation of the DLC.

The Digital Learning Consortium’s inaugural meeting at the IBM THINK Lab in NYC, July 2017

How might peers in a range of industries, academia and learning providers form a powerhouse that made professionals’ learning lives painless? And not just painless, but delightful! Guillermo Miranda, IBM CLO, enlisted my help to see whether joining forces for such a cause appealed to his peers, and it did.

In part, DLC members came together because as Intuit Vice President of Talent Development Heather Kirkby put it pragmatically:

“We have to get together to make workplace learning better.”

The DLC is chartered to advance more consistently engaging digital learning experiences, along with skills that professionals gain more quickly and more portably.

As we share in About us on the DLC portal, “For consumers of learning, the experience is the product. It needs to be relevant, fast, aesthetically appealing and a joy to use. Learners also tend to want journeys that they, not we, determine. Learners benefit from having a record of their learning; a comprehensive, easy-to-update learning portfolio helps them track not only learning experiences, but the competencies embedded in those learning experiences.”

What do we mean by digital learning?

What do we mean by digital learning? We’re referring to learning done through technology, which can include anything from classic e-learning to virtual reality immersion. And our focus is on professionals’ digital learning.

Ahead of starting up the consortium during the summer of 2017, Guillermo and I hopped on individual video meetings with nearly two dozen of his peers. Considering our collective number of learners, revenue, and reach, they agreed that together, we could make the world of digital learning much more innovative and interoperable, and as appealing as a consumer brand. After they agreed to join, we co-sponsored an informal survey of our constituent learners. We learned that the respondents’ highest priority was a consistently compelling user experience.

Our next early accomplishment was co-creating the manifesto, including these messages: “The Digital Learning Consortium was created to strengthen digital learning opportunities for professionals, enhancing the skills they need to succeed in a global economy. It promotes a vision of connected silos between all organizations, big and small, in which shared approaches drive broad adoption of digital learning solutions and enhance innovative thinking on a global scale.

Many of the world’s largest firms, platform providers, and top academic institutions have joined forces around a unified vision built on three pillars: a multi-platform lifelong learning ecosystem, a consistent protocol for learner credentials, and a growing body of research supporting the most effective methods for building learner skills and behaviors.”

Why hadn’t it happened already? Because companies, including IBM, Unilever, Google, and others never before had teamed up to this extent, collectively commanding consumer-grade digital learning. Together, DLC founding members represent more than 39 million direct learners, more than a million digital credential completions and more than US $.5 trillion of annual revenue.

Nina Huntemann, Academic Director of, said, “The focus on lifelong learning that can help upskill and reskill learners is an incredibly important piece of the work the DLC is doing together.” She added, “As the online learning platform founded by Harvard and MIT, edX is thrilled to participate in this initiative, as it echoes the edX mission to provide access to high quality education that delivers meaningful career outcomes that fit the needs of today’s modern work workplace.”

After the working group meeting at Google in Mountain View, Guillermo reaffirmed the vision, “The DLC can help to enable anything that is digital learning – anything that goes beyond the traditional face-to-face – to achieve the same level of accreditation, credibility, and acceptability in the marketplace.”

Guillermo continued, “Maybe it’s good if one of my kids never sets foot in a university and still manages to get into an executive role at IBM. I think that we see specific pockets [in the digital learning arena] that are already working. Coming together as a group of top leadership among enterprises, providers, and academia we want to facilitate these pockets becoming bigger and more integrated.”

“The way that I see our collective work here,” Guillermo said, “is that the advocacy goes beyond the nitty-gritty technology. The Digital Learning Consortium will stand out from other groups moving in these directions.”

“We’re working on how the ecosystem operates and how we can influence the business leaders that make the decisions.”

“For instance,” Guillermo added, “we’re working on advocacy in IBM with much more visibility for exponential learning. That’s a concept you’ll see more from us early in 2018. IBM is advocating for something beyond the technology – how society will work with this infusion of artificial intelligence if we’re willing to understand that this is the era of exponential learning. It’s this sort of advocacy that we’ll try to drive, and I hope, as members of the DLC, too.”

Recently, the Portable credentials and Interoperability working groups met at edX and MIT. DLC member Tony Sheehan Associate Dean, Digital Learning at London Business School remarked, “I’m instantly struck by the expertise in the room and by our addressing some critical issues for the digital learning sector. One is about how we understand individual experience. Another – when we start talking about credentials – is extending that to some validation of expertise. And there’s an underlying theme in all of these sessions for me which is about employability …. I think we’re getting to the point where we’re coming out with some very powerful answers to these issues.”

The consortium is meaningful from my perspective as the DLC moderator and in my day-job, too: In parallel to the moderator role, I lead multi-disciplinary squads who design and deploy scalable and engaging digital learning offerings that professionals gobble up inside and beyond IBM.

I’m committed to helping my team offer, and earn, credentials for digital courses. This credentialing is coupled with voracious learning. This isn’t just at IBM or even only among DLC members. It’s what upskilling looks like in the 21st century. Having started up the Digital Learning Consortium and through inviting great organizations to join, IBM is at the vanguard of reinventing learning.

Sarah Siegel (left) with late IBM alumna and human rights champion Edie Windsor at NYC’s 2017 LGBT Pride March

Keep up with the consortium’s progress at:

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