For some, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lockdown it has enforced has irreversibly changed the way that learning services are delivered, for others the jury is still out. Many have leapt to new ways of working (delivering training), whilst others have adjusted in increments. Despite the uncertainty that still remains, now is a strategic time to reflect on what we have learned so far, and the opportunities that have arisen. Here are our thoughts on where the learning industry finds itself and some practical steps you should consider:
The world of work has changed, possibly irrevocably. Much of the world’s population continues to be subject to restrictions in some way, as governments attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19; a public health emergency that has already claimed many thousands of lives and sparked fears of a deep and lengthy global recession.
Unsurprisingly, many businesses have been caught short by the unforeseeable shock of this pandemic. Business strategies have been thrown into disarray and swift operational changes have been necessary to thrive in the new normal.
Organisations are having to adapt quickly to ensure the safety of their staff, whilst grappling with the fiscal challenges that come hand-in-hand with a global health emergency. With the wholesale move to home-working, many leaders have taken the opportunity to give their employees more control over their own schedules, providing them with tools and technology to enable them to work effectively. Where practical, organisations are accepting (and even embracing) home-working for the long-term, and reports suggest many will experiment with different ways of working once the immediate crisis is over.
From the perspective of learning, attention has turned to how organisations can offer effective learning and development (L&D) both today, and also longer-term. For example whilst L&D teams may in the past have worked with rigid annual calendars (this happens in January, this in February and so on), the principles of flexibility and adaptability have now come to the fore. Forward-thinking organisations see learning as a continuum rather than a series of events (courses) and are focussing two key principles:
What are the required outcomes?
How can we develop (inspire!) individuals to take responsibility for their own learning
Along the path of this journey are some short-terms challenges; Do workers grappling with remote working have the capacity to commit to L&D? Are L&D strategies able to withstand fast-changing, unpredictable circumstances? Does the reduction in face-to-face training (skills acquisition) at the present time mean that the overall quality of learning is likely to suffer?
Most companies providing learning services have had to adapt quickly. Whilst the pandemic has undoubtedly proven to be a spur, in truth the shift to digital or remote delivery of learning is indicative of a longer-term trend. A recent McKinsey report suggests, “Based on our observations as of early March, roughly one-half of in-person programs through June 30, 2020, have been postponed or cancelled in North America; in parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100 percent.”
As organisations fight for survival, for some learning and training has dropped off the radar, but the truth is that now it is more important than ever.
Some questions and considerations for your business:
- While so many workers are still based at home (and will be for the foreseeable future) perhaps there are opportunities for L&D to bring teams together like never before. Colleagues from different geographical territories, markets and time zones can work together on specific topics, sharing different experiences, perspectives and reflections
- In a time of survival did your company consider learning wisely – the topics to address, the right forms of delivery, the content to be presented, the most appropriate suppliers to meet your need? This situation is not going away for some time, therefore it’s imperative for your business that you consider learning needs and supporting services for the long-term.
- Now that learning services are not bound by physical space or location to determine capacity, how do I deliver the highest quality learning experience?
The future of learning services
For learning services to be effective in the new working world they need to engage effectively with the audience. Whilst the volume of attendees has increased without a physical audience, it is much harder to measure engagement and skills and knowledge retention.
Adapting in-person material is one answer to increasing this engagement. And, this doesn’t mean turning learning content into eLearning – some learning content simply isn’t appropriate for eLearning. One proven way to adapt in-person material is to use digitised delivery, which is interactive and can be used as a revision resource. Or alternatively keep it physical and get the material in front of your audience, by posting it to their home address (the fact that no-one is travelling to a central location and staying on site more than mitigates the cost).
Learning services can be implemented in a variety of forms to support knowledge acquisition, skills acquisition, compliance requirements, practice, assessment, personal development, mindset shift or just good old-fashioned understanding; and the truth is that most of these methods are relevant, the key is to deploy whichever is the most appropriate for the needs of the specific training.
Whichever mode is selected, practice and preparation is key. The audience will be able to clearly identify if the facilitator or deliverer is not accomplished, and this risks distraction, lack of engagement, and ultimately failure to be effective.
Turning theory into action in five steps:
- Evaluate the choices you made during crisis – were the decisions taken under extreme pressure the right ones? Has your business chosen the correct delivery and process for you content? Take this time to fully understand what has worked and what hasn’t, the options available from the market and which ones best align with your (and your customers’) needs.
- Consider your business and its processes – which are “core” activities (you must do) and which are “critical” (you need, but can be outsourced)? Where does your focus lie? Do you spend too much time on administration (as opposed to learning content creation for example)? Could you reduce the amount of resources (especially time), spent on administration and free up time to focus on the activities that generate revenue.
- How can you increase attendance and engagement? – Do you use industry standard technology to schedule and book training, does it automate the process of notifying your attendees then issuing the right learning support material (digital and/or physical)?
- What delivery method best suits your needs? – what is the desired outcome, is the content confidential, does it need to be secured? Is it interactive? What size is your audience? If you have a large audience webcasts, video and audio conferencing are recommended as these provide control over the audience and have Q&A features to generate engagement.
- How do you achieve (and measure) knowledge retention? – what interaction is there with the material? What follow-up steps are taken? If using digital delivery, do you record the session so attendees can review and revise it after the session. Do you embed a follow up process after each session and send out emails and social notes inviting questions?
Our industry has experienced a dramatic change during 2020, switching in the main from physical delivery to virtual. However, in this time it is important to reflect on how those changes have fared, whether they could be improved with tweaks of process, technology or practice, or indeed whether the decisions made in crisis are the best for the organisation. Start with the outcome in mind – what is it you want to achieve!
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