Learning actually happens within an individual so, while distribution systems are, and will be, massive and global, learning actually happens individually and thus locally. That is why the design of the interface of that last mile needs to fit the local and individual contexts rather than only satisfy the global and collective ones. In distribution systems, the last mile often accounts for 28 percent of the whole cost to move goods, even though those goods might move thousands of miles. The last mile is always disproportionately expensive compared to the rest of the journey. The main reasons for this is that the last mile is also disproportionately complex, rich in multiple transit connections and the systemic elegance of economies of scale runs full throttle into the reality and nuances of delivery, acceptance and application requirements. Of course, any distribution system needs robust long-distance infrastructure or it is a moot point, but the last mile is where much of the value is gained and/or lost.

The problem with past and most current digital learning and development journeys is that we do not do enough to recognize that the last mile is significantly different than the rest of the journey. We treat the local, individual, last mile much like the rest of the journey, and we fail in helping the learner make proper contextual connections to the content that the system has carried. The rich and individualized local human requirements of the ideas disseminated are not taken into account or designed to work easily and seamlessly.

This paper examines the challenges and opportunities for digital learning. It identifies and focuses on the most significant hurdle to finally cross – the last mile of the digital learning journey. It considers the radical difference between the last nuanced rich mile and the thousands of mass transit miles that have preceded it, and the different skill sets and perspectives that are needed for the effective design of both. It breaks apart the journey as seen by the different actors within it. It lays out the principles that can be applied to target limited resources to specific areas of the digital learning journey for most positive impact. Finally, it makes the case that technology itself is no longer the barrier to deep, meaningful, emotionally rich, intellectually challenging learning experiences – it’s design. The costs and capacities of technology are such that we have enough, and we will soon have access to even more. But now the solution is in our hands to build the human nuances of a learner’s digital ‘acceptance’ and ‘application’ in consort with the technology architecture, rather than on top of it.

The Last Mile of Learning makes the case that the integration of technology and human design across the three stages of the last mile: delivery, acceptance and application, facilitated through the initial act of creation, hold the keys to unlocking the almost unlimited human and digital potential that lies within the present and future of learning. The solution requires a design aesthetic that integrates the perspectives and aspirations of both art and science. We have everything we need within our grasp and our team’s design experience shows us that it is not only possible; it’s inevitable…

By Don Jones