Stack of books with laptop on wooden table for training and development.
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Covid-19 may have sped up our pivot to online learning by five to seven years

21 Jul 2020

NovoEd’s Charlie Chung explains why employers must adapt to the accelerated adoption of online learning and development.

How should companies be focusing their upskilling and training efforts right now? Charlie Chung, VP of solutions consulting and business development at online collaborative learning company NovoEd, shares his thoughts.

‘‘Band-aid online solutions that were put in place aren’t going to cut it long term. Employers must rethink digital training programmes’

Charlie Chung of NovoEd is smiling into the camera.

Charlie Chung. Image: NovoEd

Why should employers still prioritise learning and upskilling for staff while operating remotely?

Just a few months ago, organisations were scrambling to equip their workforces to effectively work from home for a temporary period of time. By this point, many organisations have made these adjustments but are now facing a new reality that their employees may not be returning to the office anytime soon.

Now that we’re in it for the long haul, these band-aid online solutions that were put in place aren’t going to cut it long term. Employers must rethink the digital training programmes they put into place. This may seem like a daunting task, but there are now many learning technology tools and platforms that can help.

With the right learning platforms, organisations can contextualise the online training programme for their unique employee and business needs. This not only enables high-quality training during a period of remote work, but also provides the flexibility to offer digital and blended (digital and face-to-face) programmes that will become more common training modalities in the future. The pandemic likely accelerated the trend towards online learning by five to seven years.

Where do you recommend companies start?

For some organisations, the pandemic has served as an impetus for organisational transformation and they need to examine the capabilities needed for a new business model or strategy. For others, it might be leadership skills, innovation, agility or design thinking. And for a whole other set of businesses, it might involve developing a more inclusive workplace culture.

Once clarified, organisations must consider their audiences and the types of learning experiences that will have the greatest impact.

Will a collaborative environment where learners can explain what they’re learning to a colleague or manager help them learn the material better? Should you direct learners to a content library to learn the information or is a more guided learning experience needed? Are there ways to get coaches and mentors involved in the learning process to see how practice and application is trending for the learner?

Does diversity and inclusion in learning and development need to be improved?

With ongoing conversations around social justice and equality permeating our consciousness as a society, it’s more important than ever that organisations address issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion head-on. We have known for some time that diversity is crucial to creating an inclusive workforce, and that an inclusive workforce generates greater engagement with the organisation and more innovation.

Unfortunately, since Covid-19 has forced employees into their homes, most of these programmes and discussions that typically took place in person are now taking place remotely. Yet we know that the best diversity and inclusion training programmes rely on people interacting with and learning from one another and their experiences, not just from static PowerPoint content. Thus, organisations need to create a scalable learning environment that is social and collaborative, even while online.

Organisations are also finding that they must go deeper than they have before. The measures they have taken previously – such as unconscious bias training – only scratch the surface of the scale of changes in thinking and behaviours that need to be made.

Organisations need to find sustainable, substantive and holistic learning solutions that educate employees, facilitate critical thinking and conversations and shape culture. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach: what works for one organisation doesn’t necessarily work for the next, so it is not simply a matter of finding an off-the-shelf solution and scheduling a training programme.

Organisations must define what diversity and inclusion means to them and their employees, as well as what it looks like in action within their organisation, using their own people and their experiences to create this framework. Only after establishing this can an organisation develop an appropriate development programme that fully supports the broader diversity and inclusion initiative.

Are there any online tools you recommend for learning and development in particular?

With online training, my recommendations always hinge on what an organisation is trying to accomplish. If your top priority is ensuring every employee is in accordance with your compliance requirements, then a simple, self-paced video-based training course that is run on your learning management system will fit the bill.

However, if you need that deeper level of interaction – for diversity and inclusion, for example – then a platform that simply serves up training is not going to cut it. These programmes need to provide the opportunity for employees to learn and apply newly acquired skills, enable and encourage collaboration and connections among learners and allow for authentic practice and application within the organisation.

For any organisations looking to build deep capabilities across their workforce and to transform their business, I recommend using online tools that allow for an interactive learning experience and go beyond the typical Zoom web conferences and PowerPoint presentations.

Tying your online training to synchronous events that can be long and have to be coordinated across schedules is a non-starter for substantial training programmes. Thus, organisations need to design asynchronous activities that include group assignments, breakout discussions and peer feedback.

There are two main approaches to accommodating this from a tools perspective: mix-and-match of existing tools versus a comprehensive collaborative learning platform. The advantage of mixing and matching tools is that the organisation likely already has many of these, and employees are used to using them.

The advantage of a collaborative learning platform is that you can create a seamless, coherent experience that keeps people focused on the topic at hand, which can greatly boost participants’ persistence and the effectiveness of the programme. The challenge with this is making the case to the organisation that bringing on another platform would be worth the effort.

What are the biggest mistakes you have seen organisations make in rolling out learning and development programmes?

First, there is a tendency to rely too much on content and the dynamic presentations of it in various forms, like videos and simulations, to stimulate learning. Instead, learning should be focused on the social aspect, where learners respond to the content and share insights and experiences with each other.

A second mistake organisations make is not taking advantage of ways to implement and practice behavioural change in learners’ lives. One of the benefits of online learning is that it can be spaced out over time, giving programme designers the opportunity to get people to practice new techniques in the real world, report back what they’ve done and get feedback from others.

Lastly, HR leaders and learning and development professionals do not provide enough facilitation. The norm is to have extremes, where face-to-face training is highly facilitated, with a seasoned instructor providing continual effort with a small group of 20 to 25 individuals, or an online learning programme with no facilitation whatsoever. There are so many possibilities in between that can be of high value.

For example, a programme on unconscious bias could start and end on specific days, thus allowing for a cohort experience. There might be a one-hour live webinar Q&A session partway through to reinforce the learning topics. Then a facilitator might give feedback to specific key assignments or follow discussions in order to correct misconceptions or reinforce good points.

Until 10 or 20 years ago, it was a given that training budgets were the first to be cut in times of trouble. We are not seeing that today, and that is a testament to the importance of employees and their knowledge, skills and capabilities, as they are the fuel that help drive organisational performance during these turbulent times. That is a good sign for those of us concerned about employees, careers and human development.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

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