Why 2021 Is a Golden Opportunity to Break the Training Mold

We need to take what we have learned from last year’s social needs, geographical restrictions, and the human desire to own something we can control and talk about the factors that will truly inform strategies in 2021.

Well, they say change requires a burning platform—and what better blaze than that of 2020? A year that prompted us to reconsider not only our ways of working, but also our ways of socializing and connecting. Being thrust into the unknown meant that all those “we’ve always done it this way” beliefs were thrown well and truly out of the lexicon. All of a sudden, the “norm” was no more, and the “new norm” was up for grabs.

The global pandemic meant our steadfast face-to-face methodology was shut down almost overnight. That reliable rollout, so heavily invested in humans coming together in one room, was suddenly a risk far greater than the “what if they don’t like it?” fear of virtual learning.

The spotlight has well and truly shifted, and it is time to recognize that learning must change. Research already has revealed that learning priorities, and learning and development (L&D) strategies, have changed for 94 percent of organizations in response to the 2020 pandemic—meaning we can’t be reliant on a classroom. So we need to take what we have learned from last year’s social needs, geographical restrictions, and the human desire to own something we can control and talk about the factors that will truly inform strategies in 2021.

Brilliant Opportunities but Worrying Realities

Trends, by definition, are a general direction in which something is developing or changing. We can safely say that the natural move from instructor-led classroom training was to shift to live virtual approaches. And, of course, many would contribute to that exact trend formation.

But for those organizations that did not make that move, eLearning became an alternate option. This provided brilliant opportunities, but worrying realities. Non-digital training teams suddenly became tasked with converting their face-to-face classrooms to eLearning experiences. Now, it’s safe to say that, during times of crisis, you get two behaviors—those who get creative and those who stick with what they know. The creative teams started to dip their toes into user-generated video and gamified approaches—neither of which are new trends, but are new to those not previously au fait with technology-enabled learning. Both offered the potential of increased compliance rates in mandatory training and exciting alternatives to break away from the “knowledge download” approach of the classroom. The traditional teams, however, took their classroom slides, added a little extra narrative and a few next buttons, and called it eLearning…and although the trend formed, this is simply not the movement we in the learning industry should follow. Especially as prior to COVID-19’s rapid revolution, traditional eLearning was experiencing a decline in both uptake and perceived success.

Bite the Budget

Before we go any further, we need to address the elephant in the room. This year is going to be tough for many organizations, and during times of financial difficulty, L&D budgets are traditionally among the first to be cut. However, right now, the world is changing at such a pace that the reduction in budget simply cannot be matched with a reduction in development offerings. So what do we do? We get smarter.

Savings are easily achievable with the conversion from classroom to computer—we know that venue hire, travel costs, and time away from the day job are all reduced or eradicated. But being smarter with the budget isn’t just about watching the cents and focusing on the return on investment, it’s also about challenging the return on expectation—and that expectation continues to be that learning will stick and behaviors will change.

Flip that Classroom

Live virtual training provides learners with the opportunity to engage with team dialogue rather than content monologue. Breakout groups and polled activities are common features in a well-designed live virtual session, but let’s talk “added” value. When bringing people together in a live virtual manner, don’t tell them what they could have found out themselves; use that connected time to get social. As much as we trainers love to hold the mic, pass it around instead. Provide discussion opportunities for participants to share what they have learned from pre-shared resources, rather than just talking about a concept you have introduced in the last five minutes. Facilitate openings for cohorts to question each other and truly socialize a topic among themselves—in their own narratives.

Screen Fatigue Is Real

Now let’s take a moment to recognize that screen fatigue is a real problem—and although we can’t get away from those glowing rectangles, we can be resourceful with their use. Microlearning modules already have been flying high in terms of training expectations for many years now, and continue to be pretty high rankers when it comes to our new virtual workplace, but let’s talk about when and what people need to learn. If you are seeking to train on a process change, don’t spend hours agonizing over a 45-minute eLearning piece that no one will thank you for. Instead, keep it simple. Short microcapsules of 3 to 4 minutes showcasing the “need to knows” will make navigation manageable, repeatable, and actionable—and you don’t need a Hollywood budget to make them happen. By creating a library of user-generated content, your production costs can be low, but your saturation high. Engage your early adopters out there in the business and get them to invigorate others.

This keep-it-simple approach works for behavioral training, too. Don’t tell people how to behave with an hour-long dictatorship; just provide short, sharp nudges as and when needed. Nudge learning can be anything from a sentence pop-up through to a 60-second video reminder. We are all used to notifications on our phones and apps, so translate this approach to employees’ workday prompts or WhatsApp groups.

Training Outside the Checkbox

While we are talking about shaking up the training agenda, let’s get training outside of the checkbox. During lockdown, we suddenly found ourselves thirsting to spend our time productively; uptake in personal development was notably observed in furloughed workers. Training shouldn’t be limited to compliance. Let’s think about the people working for us and what they really need right now, whether it be new skills to adapt to the changed business world, or well-being and mindfulness courses to help them cope with the transition. Spend time considering what will make a difference, rather than what will check the box. McKinsey has reported that 90 percent of executives currently are experiencing a skills gap, or will be soon…let’s not get caught out again!

None of us truly know what 2021 will bring, but virtual learning opportunities have a real opportunity to take center stage right now, paving the way for a new set of learning methodologies. Admittedly, change is never easy—we over-estimate what we have lost and under-estimate what we will gain. But if we get this right, there is so much to gain. So whatever happens this year, embrace the diversion, challenge the norm, and do something different—by choice, rather than chance.

Nic Girvan is global head of Digital Training at diversity and inclusion training consultancy PDT Global.