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Learning & development in a post-coronavirus world


Workplace learning was one of the earliest and hardest-hit industries by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent piece by McKinsey. Several months into the crisis, many organizations have set up online learning tools as a substitute for those person-to-person interactions.

But what happens as travel picks up again and in-person learning becomes an opportunity once more?

For many, the crisis only accelerated a trend that was already underway. LinkedIn Learning’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report notes that learning and development budgets have been shifting online even before the lockdowns forced many people to start working remotely.  Fifty-seven percent of L&D professionals say they expect to spend more on online learning in the coming months, with less focus and fund allocation to in-person L&D options.

As the authors of the McKinsey article put it, “COVID-19 is a catalyst for this transition.”

Still, the L&D industry is facing its share of challenges amid the pandemic. Teams may be struggling to engage managers on the importance of learning amid a crisis. They may be swamped by efforts to retrain their instructors to teach through digital formats.

And like many, they may be worried about budget cuts amid the economic crisis. So far, the vast majority of L&D professionals have not had to contend with budget cuts, but many have dealt with staff being furloughed or laid off, writes Elizabeth Howlett in People Management.

In this moment, it is up to L&D professionals to champion learning across their organizations.

The good news is the case for learning has never been stronger. LinkedIn found a 159% increase in CEOs championing L&D amid the pandemic, and reported that employees were spending 130% more time on learning in March and April versus the two months prior.

“This is not the time to stop learning — it’s time to prioritize it,” writes Amy Borsetti on LinkedIn’s The Learning Blog.

Transitioning effectively to digital learning

Organizations that are having to rapidly adjust to online models should be agile in their approaches, Borsetti recommends. There are many tools and models for online learning, and organizations have to experiment to find out what works for their teams. Further, it’s essential to survey learners about their needs and meet them where they are.

Online courses must be short and to the point. Borsetti recommends modules that are no longer than 90 minutes to account for limited attention spans. Learners can be asked to complete activities prior to the virtual session to save the time together for discussion.

“This model helps increase engagement by cutting down on the amount of time learners are passively listening to a facilitator and increases active participation,” she says.

She recommends curating content into “playlists” and sharing it as part of broader company communication to keep the broader organization engaged with learning during this time.

Follow-up is essential to online learning as well, according to the McKinsey piece.

Participant experience should guide how the modules are structured, and technology should be utilized to enhance the experience — such as through breakout rooms or post-session feedback to engage learners. Discussion boards are another way to help learners interact in the absence of an in-person experience.

The most essential element is putting learners at the heart of the program. Organizations may be quickly ramping up their online learning efforts, but they must also remember that the structures they put in place today will likely be here to stay, even after the pandemic has passed. Take the time now to think through how your L&D program can have lasting effectiveness, Nigel Paine writes on Training Zone.

“Simply translating the face-to-face world into an online experience is inappropriate and ineffective,” he notes. “Look after people’s physical and mental health as well as their technology needs. The solutions you come up with will be vital over the long term.”

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