Too Much Screen Time Kills Productivity, Morale and Training. Here Are 5 Ways to Prevent It.
With so much of our world online, is digital fatigue inevitable for employees? Here's how to see if digital fatigue is negatively affecting your corporate training initiatives — and how to take steps to minimize the impact and make training more engaging.
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Today's employees spend a lot of time in front of screens, which is undoubtedly necessary but can also lead to digital fatigue. This mental exhaustion can affect not only performance, but also the capacity to absorb and apply new knowledge, which can lead to training failure.
To drive productivity, results and morale, it's up to companies and learning and development teams to design training programs that reduce digital fatigue.
How does digital fatigue affect training?
Digital fatigue can affect any professional sphere, including training. There are several telltale signs of digital fatigue, so you can take action to mitigate and even prevent it from spoiling training outcomes. For example, when employees frequently put off training or have higher-than-usual rates of poor training results, those can be indicators of digital fatigue.
According to a study by Deloitte, about a third of Americans say that since the Covid-19 pandemic began, they've felt overwhelmed by the number of devices and subscriptions they need to handle. The pandemic may be waning, but digital fatigue is here to stay and take its toll. Research shows that 22% of remote workers want to leave their jobs because they're inundated with email; in fact, half would rather scrub their bathrooms than clear an overflowing inbox!
What can learning specialists do to prevent digital fatigue from derailing training in particular? Here are five best practices.
1. Offer more communication opportunities online and offline
While on-demand digital training is highly convenient, a constant lack of face-to-face communication can sometimes make employees feel disconnected and tired in front of their screens.
But with the right tools, training designers can prevent this and encourage learners to connect and communicate. Social learning — where employees connect, often informally, and learn collaboratively and through real-life scenarios — remains a priority, even if training is more digitized than ever. In 2021, 28% of organizations relied on social learning, compared to 19% the year before.
Some e-learning features that streamline communication are:
- Chats that allow employees to quickly get instructions, feedback and support;
- Forums that enable group communication on specific training topics;
- Groups that keep everyone in the loop and allow users to easily share learning resources.
Communication and collaboration tools are vital to making online training more engaging. However, employees also need some time away from screens to mitigate the effects of digital fatigue. Occasionally organizing in-person training sessions for people working in the same office, area or country can counteract digital fatigue. This provides employees the chance to connect, learn together and test their knowledge in a more traditional learning environment — adding some variety into the predominantly digital routine.
2. Tap into learners' competitive spirit
Training shouldn't be perceived as boring or useless — but when employees feel like that, engagement suffers. For example, a recent survey about cybersecurity awareness training found that boring training caused employees to disengage — and, as a result, persist in risky behaviors.
At the same time, when 70% of employees say they lack the skills needed to do their jobs, training is, of course, crucial. How can L&D specialists motivate people to learn? One answer lies in gamification.
Learners are often eager to know there's something waiting for them at the end of their training (and along the way), aside from meeting their company's requirements. Challenges and incentives, such as certificates, badges, leaderboards and group games (where two or more teams compete for points), can provide motivation. The prizes' utility goes beyond their symbolic value. Knowing they've done well in an online course stimulates employees to keep up the good work.
3. Make training more "snackable"
Microlearning — or short learning activities with single objectives — doesn't only help employees acquire and retain knowledge more easily, but it also feels less overwhelming.
By providing short courses and multimedia content to help employees with their tasks at hand, instructors can easily squeeze learning into employees' schedules. L&D professionals need flexible technologies that support different training formats (like videos) and can streamline assessments, i.e. through automated quizzes.
4. Tailor training to employees' skills and preferences
It's the instructors' responsibility to design training programs that address necessary skills and goals for their workforce, but these should also focus on employees' specific needs and preferences.
Technology makes it possible to personalize training at scale by creating individualized learning paths. Some learning systems choose the steps in learners' journeys based on learners' skills, aptitudes, goals, roles, competencies demonstrated, interests and more — automatically recommending, for example, whether someone needs a refresher in a certain area or can move on to the next learning activity. They might suggest course modules, videos, Q&A forums, articles or more for individualized skills development.
5. Use different training models
A combination of live and on-demand learning also optimizes training and makes it more engaging. Although live training (whether in-person or online) is often harder to organize, especially for large teams working across time zones, it offers undeniable benefits — especially when interactive components (e.g., role plays, Q&As, brainstorming) are involved. Live training sessions allow employees to engage with others, get feedback in real time and put names to faces. Social interaction can motivate learners to engage in training they perceive as more meaningful.
On-demand training provides many benefits too, including the ability for learners to consume (and review, as necessary) materials when it fits into their schedules. And when training isn't highly interactive, on-demand e-learning is both convenient and cost-effective.
Taking a blended approach benefits learners and companies. Instructors can kick off a training program with a live call to explain its scope and goals, and take questions. Afterward, trainees can learn at their own pace, when time allows — consuming articles, course modules and videos, posting questions in forums, etc. Periodic group calls and a closing live session, where trainees put their skills in action, can wrap up the initiative.
Avoiding digital fatigue
Nowadays, employees are increasingly prone to suffering from digital fatigue. Uncontrolled, it can lead to burnout. Instructors need to catch the early signs of digital fatigue and design training programs that are engaging, rewarding, concise and flexible so that employees find the motivation to spend more quality time in the digital workplace learning environment.