Before the devastating impact of COVID-19, many businesses were already looking to move more face-to-face training to remote learning formats for cost and efficiency reasons. Then 2020 arrived, bringing with it the disastrous pandemic. Almost overnight, Learning and Development (L&D) teams were forced to slash face-to-face trainings to nearly zero, while they raced to restructure courses to an online format or cancelled them completely.
But with some employees tentatively returning to offices, will there be an immediate shift back to face-to-face learning?
Positive Impacts of Online Learning
The shift online has brought about an even greater recognition of the benefits of remote learning. From a management perspective, one major plus is a cut in costs, with no travel or accommodations to pay for. As a huge economic contraction inevitably takes place around the world post-COVID 19, L&D teams will be reluctant to return to high-cost training again.
In interviewing L&D professionals from GSK, Merck, and other multinationals, I uncovered some distinct advantages of remote learning:
- Decreased L&D costs: In particular, travel-related expenditure is lowered when offering training remotely.
- Greater accessibility: Since geographical distance is not a factor in remote training, training becomes more accessible to a wider range of employees from across different regions.
- Environmental benefit: There is no need to fly around the world to meet colleagues for training.
- Less disruption to employee workflow: Continuous remote learning or bite-size remote learning programs are easier to incorporate into employees’ daily or weekly routine with minimal disruption.
- Creation of new communities: By bringing a wider range of employees together, potentially across departments and continents, online training can create new communities and new connections between employees who might not have met before.
The Pitfalls of Online Learning
There are, of course, also pitfalls and challenges to remote working and training. Most L&D experts interviewed agreed that it was harder to build connections between colleagues, with non-verbal communication such as body language harder to decipher via a camera than in person.
It’s also challenging to make online learning go beyond information sharing without practice opportunities. If the online experience is too passive, learners may switch off and be tempted to catch up on e-mail, news, and social media. But if learners have an immersive and interactive experience, chances are their engagement is good and that benefits the learning outcomes.
Another thing to keep in mind is that learners need the opportunity to evaluate the outcomes of their learning efforts. They need succinct and practical feedback. Therefore, despite technological possibilities and cost considerations, audiences in remote learning sessions should not be too large, so learners feel they belong.
Distinct challenges of remote learning that surfaced during the interviews include:
- Difficulty creating learner engagement: If remote learning is simply seen as passive information sharing, people may disengage.
- Challenging to create social interactions: It is more challenging to encourage social learning interaction via online platforms, which could impact learning goals and retention of material.
- Impersonal learning sessions: Technology and costs per user may be drivers to create large sessions; however, this may cause learners to miss personal attention.
- Family responsibilities and technology issues: Family members at home and technology that is less sophisticated than in the office need to be taken into consideration.
- Certain personality types may struggle with remote learning: More extroverted employees may struggle without seeing colleagues in the training session– which is even more challenging in the pandemic lockdown environment.
Developing Long-term Best Practices
It is unlikely there will be an immediate return to “normal,” with the legacy of social distancing continuing to influence the way we socialize, shop, and work. L&D teams will have observed the cost savings of training conducted online and will be reluctant to reinstate expensive training regimes. Given that the “new normal” will include more remote working and training, what best practices are starting to emerge?
- Boost learner engagement: Engagement promotes both learning and retention, as does immersion. They prevent people from switching off.
- Gamify remote training: This can either be through using formal game-based online training or encouraging more informal company challenges or competitions.
- Go with blended delivery: Consider the use of online options, so people can self-pace or self-lead (parts of) their training program.
- Foster team-based learning: Encouraging collaboration between different departments helps break down silos. Making use of videoconferencing breakout rooms and other tools that allow employees to work in small groups can support teambuilding efforts and social interaction.
- Adjust the difficulty levels: Being able to ensure training is not too easy maintains interest. Regular feedback ensures employees are valued and learning from their experiences.
- Acknowledge and recognize: Create badges and leaderboards learners can share with colleagues and on social media.
- Create safe and inclusive online spaces: Ensure all employees feel comfortable sharing views in an online environment.
- Utilize Webinars and online community spaces: Use Webinar series to train staff on new initiatives, accompanied by online community spaces to encourage the sharing of ideas.
While many benefits have surfaced from the sudden need to switch to remote learning, the transition has not been without challenges—in particular, the urgency with which adaption had to occur posed a significant obstacle. Keeping employees engaged is crucial for the success of digital learning programs.
To learn more about how to adapt learning and development programs to a new, increasingly digital, world, download Inchainge’s complete whitepaper for free at: https://inchainge.com/for-professionals/remote-learning-post-covid/
Hans Kremer is a business partner at Inchainge, a leading company in value chain serious gaming based in The Netherlands. It has been grappling with questions of digital, remote, and experiential learning for more than a decade. Inchainge’s business simulation games train teams to successfully drive the value chains of their organizations through experiential learning tools that can be used online and help to create virtual lifelike experiences. More than 40 percent of the world’s top 100 manufacturing companies (Forbes) train(ed) their employees using Inchainge’s business simulations. Find out more at: https://inchainge.com/