How learning and development can prepare for the post-pandemic world
The overnight shift to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in necessary (and often hasty) innovation from L&D teams. Once the panic has subsided and we emerge into the post-lockdown world, which new practices will we keep and which will be thrown away?
Singing Happy Birthday while washing your hands and embarrassed elbow bumps to greet colleagues seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? A lot has changed in the past few weeks. Some of that change will become the stuff of reminiscence – future generations will ask, ‘what did you do during the great coronavirus pandemic, Grandad?’ as part of their year six history project. Some things, however, are changed forever – and not all for the worst.
It is becoming clear that whatever world we return to when the lockdown properly ends, it won’t be the world we inhabited at its commencement. That is especially true for those of us in learning and development.
The sense of being ‘alone, together’ has unlocked some impressive examples of knowledge sharing and connection that I hope persists post-lockdown.
Over the past few weeks, interest in alternative forms of training delivery has been super-charged. From increased rapid production of online modules, to growing use of webinars and virtual classrooms, people have shared insights from spare rooms and kitchen tables via video conference, blogs and hastily assembled e-learning. Those who previously had little interest in or time for the world of synchronous and asynchronous learning and collaboration have become overnight experts.
It’s worth thinking about what might endure from this forced period of panicked innovation and what the drivers may be for continued exponential change.
Online and virtual learning are here to stay
If the virus didn’t get you, the recession surely will. To put it mildly, most economies that experienced lockdown are going to require something of a readjustment. As ever, in straitened times, L&D is considered an avoidable expense and will be reduced – and this won’t just apply to spending. Many companies will lose workers, and those that stay will be required to fill the gaps of missing colleagues. Travel and/or days out of the workplace will be an unthinkable luxury for those rebuilding the finances of revenue-depleted businesses.
Though while normal working has necessarily been suspended, quite a lot of learning activity has gone on. However makeshift the resulting video conferences, webinars and online access to content has been, it hasn’t actually been all that bad. For some of the organisations, they’ve been sufficiently impressed to consider sticking with learning journeys that combine e-learning, curated content and virtual classrooms. They have recognised that in the past they’ve organised classroom courses because – well – just because that’s what training involved. Now that they’ve seen that this ‘truism’ isn’t universally true, the other options have achieved a certain primacy.
We will need to get better at this stuff, though. The organisations that have succeeded and those that have simply muddled by have one defining difference. The ‘muddlers’ asked the question: ‘how can we convert this course to being delivered online? Meanwhile, the successful group asked the question: ‘how do we ensure our people can learn this valuable content/these essential skills, in the current circumstances?’
Those who believed that a video conference could ever be a facsimile of a face-to-face classroom event have been banging their collective heads against what the technology doesn’t allow them to do. Those who have thought about the problem differently have been amazed about the previously unknown capability that the technology provides.
Organisations and L&D teams simply haven’t had time to create all new content to support those newly remote from the workplace. As budgets continue to be constrained, there won’t be additional resources anytime soon.
One of the specific outcomes of increased and increasingly rapid online materials development is that curation does actually work. This isn’t about shares or likes of things that performative social media junkies think show they are one of the in-crowd or in touch with the zeitgeist. Rather, it’s about sharing tools, sources, reports, research and insights that are genuinely beneficial and which they themselves have used.
Throwing everyone into their own, similar – but fundamentally unsatisfactory – boats has resulted in many more people wanting to help each other. The sense of being ‘alone, together’ has unlocked some impressive examples of knowledge sharing and connection that I hope persists post-lockdown.
Unfortunately, there has also been a significant mushrooming of unfounded conspiracy theories. The fact that this trend has been noticed and has prompted a backlash is important. It suggests to me that (most) people are being a little more skeptical, asking for proof, and are unlikely to accept any old tosh without checking out the credentials of the purveyor of the information.
Yes, there will always be those with a large dose of confirmatory bias. If someone believes Bill Gates is the root of all evil, then they will happily believe the worst of him and post the video of their destruction of a 5G mast via their smartphone. (Yeah, go figure! Nobody said twisted logic had to be joined up).
Caution is required for curated information and insights. Not everything found on the internet is true, but I think people marooned on the end of their broadband have had a pretty rapid object lesson in skepticism. It is no bad thing.
Those who have used curation well have also adapted the information they have shared to their audience and their means of consumption. If people are using hand-held devices, there’s little point in sending them a link to a PDF of an academic report, regardless of how good the content is. Items designed for print are rarely easy to read and navigate via a screen, and especially not one which is 14cm x 7cm.
Collaboration using specific platforms
Individuals who have previously relied on email and face-to-face meetings have, by necessity, embraced a range of collaboration platforms. Whether it’s Teams, Slack, SharePoint, OneDrive, Google Docs or similar – individuals have suddenly been forced into using platforms and shared drives which were previously the preserve of a few, tech savvy groups.
There are two things that will endure here:
1. Multiple platforms with specific capabilities for each
We have previously been told that we need one platform to do everything. As a result we have tended to shoehorn all our learning materials onto a learning management system designed to ensure compliance, completion and check-box observance of the bare minimum.
Although some of these systems are a bit more sophisticated in the third decade of the 21st century, at their heart they are designed to check that you have passed an online test. The deign of what’s on there follows that functionality – whether that is useful or not.
Sometimes we may use the LMS, but on other occasions we will use a learning experience platform, or a collaboration site, or a WhatsApp group, or a telephone, or video conference. I’m sure many of you use several of these platforms each day, or even each hour. Guess what? It’s not a disaster. The sky didn’t fall down. Sure, some folk get a little bit antsy about things being on one platform and not on another. Some people will always struggle to remember passwords, but for the majority this has become business as usual – it is the new way we do things around here.
I think this will endure, not just because we’ll see a lot more working from home, but because knowledge sharing is central to this kind of collaboration. Repositories of expertise – people as well as policies and procedures – have proved useful. Although most of us have multiple social media presences and platforms and seem to manage to use Facebook differently from LinkedIn, which is different from Twitter and Instagram (other social media platforms are available) corporate IT teams have seemed to assume we could never handle the complexity of different systems.
Well, so long as each one does something different, and we don’t need to enter the same data in 20 different places, we can manage and they do all work together because of the unrivalled knowledge repository that exists between our ears!
2. Collaboration platforms for specific learning requirements
With the absence of the physical classroom, teams and individuals still want to talk about capability issues. They still want to discuss how to do things better. Now, untrammelled by time and distance we can do this, not just with the cohort in the hotel meeting room, but with a whole bunch of our colleagues from Sao Paolo, Singapore and Southampton.
Having experienced that, why would anyone want to go back to a smaller pool of ideas, insights and experience? Let’s be honest, no one is going to fly around – or even get on the train – as much as before (if at all), so we need new ways to engage in collective endeavour and problem solving.
These are just a few of the things I’ve noticed happening that I think bode well for the future. There’s no doubt that post Covid-19 (if indeed any such epoch ever arises) things are going to be difficult for all of us, with unique difficulties for L&D. If we embrace these ideas, however, then we can continue to thrive and – I think – our services, experiences and skills may be more needed than ever. After all, if we can’t help people to manage change, who will?
Interested in this topic? Read Viva la revolution! Why L&D must fight for its future in this time of change and uncertainty.
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Robin Hoyle is a writer and consultant working with organisations large and small to implement change through people development. He has a long track record of strategic L&D leadership and materials development and design - working for a wide range of organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors in the UK and throughout the world...