The Promise of E-Learning for L&D in a Post-COVID-19 World

While the pressure of COVID-19 has catapulted e-learning to the forefront, it shouldn’t be seen as a catch-all. Instead, use it as part of a blended strategy.

Late baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once remarked, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” With COVID-19 casting a dark cloud over 2020 and beyond, his wit seems more relatable than ever. As uncertainty mounts at companies everywhere, the time is now to bet big on the greatest resource we have—our people.

To do this, the million-dollar question for HR and Learning and Development (L&D) is whether the training trends brought on by COVID-19 will be blips on the radar, or become permanent. I tend to lean on the side of expecting many of the changes to have staying power.

Due to social distancing and travel barriers, face-to-face training has given way to online delivery. Our research at Elucidat suggests this shift is going to continue. We found that only 13 percent of organizations plan to fully revert to previous levels of face-to-face training.

A Rotating Door of Options

When COVID-19 blew the door shut on face-to-face training, it opened it to Webinars, conference calls, and virtual instructor-led training (VILT). It was an obvious move to make taking the same content and delivering it online in ways that accommodate the situation. And while it worked initially, the Band-Aids haven’t necessarily stuck.

We saw virtual instructor-led training (VILT) decrease from 67 percent of organizations as the pandemic hit to 40 percent a couple of months later (Brandon Hall 2020). So while the initial response to COVID-19 was to lean heavily on VILT, L&D teams were also smart to engage other approaches that might fit the bill. The use of e-learning for example, almost doubled between April and June (Brandon Hall Group), whereas Webinar delivery has dropped off.

During this, Training and Learning teams ran into a universal quandary: face-to-face training sessions don’t translate well into effective virtual experiences. Along with this, live virtual sessions can be logistically challenging and don’t scale well. For global employers, both face-to-face and VILT have the same Achilles heel: They eat up time and are difficult to run at scale. VILT especially declined after the immediate rush.

E-Learning’s Rise

Because of this, e-learning has taken the reins as the primary approach to training employees in the wake of COVID-19. But it’s important to note, any decision to take a digital approach to training and learning shouldn’t be because changing conditions dictate it. Instead, It should be done after considering the benefits.

From innovative ways of creating connections between learners to enabling on-demand training, online blended training programs offer wide-reaching opportunities for HR and Learning leaders to embrace. While the pressure of COVID-19 has catapulted e-learning to the forefront, it shouldn’t be seen as a catch-all. Instead, use it as part of a blended strategy. Within this scope, e-learning has the power to offer on-demand training, regular nudges, and ongoing support. This is critical to knowledge retention and behavior change.

Reimagining L&D

Of course, the increased demand for online training and e-learning doesn’t come without hurdles. For instance, learning design specialists can start to feel like order takers, having to beat back demand on their time from across the business. Also, there may be pushback to letting subject matter experts be given the keys to an authoring tool due to quality and consistency concerns

Traditionally, e-learning has been like a craft. Those making it love it, but it often fails to deliver against operational key performance indicators (KPIs). The challenge for e-learning now is showing it’s a good use of people’s time. And by people, I’m referring to the thousands of people in your organization who need to be trained. The solution? A platform and process that guarantees impact and is a good use of time.

So rather than viewing L&D as the order takers for training, turn them into a center of excellence. Think of L&D as the conductors. They should be driving best practices and crowdsourcing the best knowledge from across the business for targeted training where it’s needed.

This approach allows the L&D team to spend more time driving standards and identifying where training interventions can have the greatest impact on the organization. In this model, the L&D team leads on strategic flagship projects. These are the enterprise-wide, high-visibility trainings; for example, onboarding, leadership development, and core competencies. When it comes to the more targeted and personalized training for specific teams, departments, or regions, the L&D team can empower subject matter experts.

Whole Foods as a Model

There are models for this out there, such as natural foods grocery chain Whole Foods, which moved its L&D team to a more centralized model of training. On my podcast, Learning at Large, I spoke with Whole Foods Director of Learning Technology Tracie Cantu about just that. The L&D team still has ownership of quality, but they’re collaborating and acting as consultants to regional teams to raise standards and ensure consistency.

“Though we have centralized the production of the material, we have not centralized the input. We’re not in a silo. So it really is a collaborative product that is put out, but it’s a centralized team that is managing the project plan, the implementation, the communication, the rollout and the maintenance of the program,” Cantu shared.

Whether it is Whole Foods or any number of businesses that are soul-searching for answers right now, remember that it’s the strength of the people within an organization that will carry the day. Invest and support them whenever you can. Look toward delivering more training, where it’s most needed, in a more cost-effective and time-efficient way. This is the challenge that lies ahead for HR and L&D teams as we all do our part to get through this together.

Simon Greaney is a founder and chief product officer at Elucidat. His passion for digital learning stems from his 15 years of experience in the industry. In that time, he’s led numerous award-winning projects, run a successful agency, spoken at international events, and launched the Learning at Large podcast. He’s also the brains behind Elucidat’s people-centered learning vision and focuses on making this a reality for his customers and his team. For more information, visit:

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