“Disruption” is the word of the year for 2020, in no small part because of the disruption brought about by the novel Coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The Coronavirus has spread to every continent but Antarctica, completely changed lives around the globe, and sickened millions.
While the national economy suffers, businesses have taken steps to keep workers healthy, including halting non-essential meeting gatherings and travel as much as possible. Many organizations have made such measures into corporate directives that have led to cancellations and postponements of physical conferences, meetings, and training.
In response, many organizations have shifted to fully or partially remote work. While some businesses had a steeper learning curve than others, and some made the transition pretty easily, we know one thing for sure: No one can know when we can get back to business as usual. This is our new normal, at least for now.
Working and Training Remotely
As the reality of the ongoing disruptions caused by the pandemic sinks in, corporations are realizing that mission-critical capability development cannot be postponed until the end of the crisis and are looking to find and implement sustainable alternatives to in-person training. Leadership development, sales training, onboarding, diversity and inclusion, digital transformation, and many other programs that are critical for the health of a business have been either postponed or hastily adapted to online formats. The result has been a patchwork of training solutions that cannot scale to meet the needs of learners or provide businesses with the organizational capabilities they need to emerge from the current crisis.
For some forward-looking organizations, the pandemic has only accelerated a transition to online learning that was already well underway, driven by cost savings, effectiveness, and environmental concerns associated with business travel. Now, health and safety issues have made digital learning an urgent imperative across the board.
Online corporate training alone won’t solve all the world’s challenges, but it’s a necessary part of business this year. Online learning is a way to sustain key learning and development (L&D) initiatives even when workers are away from the office. However, to be successful, organizations will need to shift to a new model of digital-first experiences—just as other areas of business are going digital.
From Video Conferences to Digital-First Experiences
Some companies turned initially to videoconferencing as the next best alternative when transitioning from in-person to online learning. What many discovered, however, is that engagement fizzled out as “Zoom fatigue” set in for learners and instructors focused on the mechanics and instructions instead of empowering employees to learn effectively.
More successful efforts move learners from pure consumption to “hands-on” experiences that enable practice and application, and also allow learners to interact with each other, as well as with instructors and mentors. Conference calls have given way to virtual instructor-led workshops, group discussions, team projects, and virtual mentoring and coaching—experiences all designed to scale culture and behavior change.
Constraints imposed by the pandemic also have challenged long-held assumptions about what online learning is good for. The traditional thinking that social-emotional and higher-order thinking skills must be developed in person has given way to new approaches that leverage technology to build these critical capabilities at scale. Furthermore, as organizations design digital-first experiences, they are finding new ways to enable learning that is more inclusive and aligned to the needs to the learner and the specific culture of the organization.
4 Strategies for Digital-First Learning Experiences
No matter where an organization is on its path to digital transformation of learning, four simple strategies can be adopted that make learning more learner-centric, collaborative, and connected to business outcomes.
1. Spread the Learning Out
Learners can retain more if they learn over an extended period of time. Even before the pandemic, it was already known that long-term learning rarely happens as a result of one-off events. Everyone learns at their own pace, and as learners already have to cope with the stress of juggling remote work and real-life responsibilities, flexibility is key. Instead of replicating a one- or two-day in-person course online, you can space the learning over three to six weeks online in the form of weekly two-hour commitments.
2. Design Learning for Application
To stay engaged, learners need to know that what they learn will make a meaningful difference to their lives and how they contribute at work. Learning experiences should be designed so learners can use authentic work situations to move beyond content checks and demonstrate how they plan to apply their learning to the job.
3. Create and Curate Content
Carefully choose the content for your learning experience. Using a combination of new and existing content can enrich and add context to learning. Consider a wide range of content, including off-the-shelf resources, videos of internal leaders, presentations, infographics, podcasts, and so on.
4. Preserve Social Learning Experiences and Connections
Connection is important, especially in a socially distanced world. Online learning doesn’t have to be isolated: Group connections and accountability can be maintained through collaboration and shared deadlines. Discussions, assignments, and formal and informal feedback are all ways to stay connected, and teams can complete projects more effectively than individuals can.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a world where organizations need to quickly change how they do business. The business world was already moving online. The pandemic has only accelerated that trend and created a new urgency for L&D organizations to think digital-first. To recover and innovate, businesses will need to activate new organizational capabilities at an unprecedented speed and scale. To do that will require a new sense of innovation and collaboration in learning that drives engagement and critical business outcomes.
Declan Fox is director of Product and Content Marketing at NovoEd. NovoEd’s collaborative learning platform empowers organizations to design and deliver experiential learning that accelerates business performance on a global scale. Contact NovoEd for a demo of its online learning platform.