Chief Insight Officer Peoplestar, partner of Emerald Works.
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L&D uprooted: How to transition to best practice virtual and hybrid learning

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Virtual and hybrid learning are rapidly becoming the most dominant forms of learning in many organisations, but how well are we transitioning, and are our investments paying off? Jane Daly of PeopleStar and Jo Cook of Lightbulb Moment conducted a research study at the end of 2021 to find out.

5th Jan 2022
Chief Insight Officer Peoplestar, partner of Emerald Works.
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Over 88% of participants in a new research study conducted by Jo Cook, Lightbulb Moment and Jane Daly, PeopleStar, said their organisation has increased the amount of virtual and hybrid learning they offer. 

The rapid transition to these formats includes investments in a range of technology and investments in upskilling and supporting people. From a technology perspective, there is still a long way to go with only 58% of participants saying the tech they use performs well. Microsoft Teams and Zoom are now the most popular platforms, and 77% of respondents said they also compliment their platforms by using applications such as Slido, Mentimeter and Miro as part of their virtual and hybrid learning ecosystem. 

From a people perspective, we must be mindful of driving quality and not just quantity. Now that we have easier access to the tools and technology needed to deliver learning online, it does not mean we are creating spaces to ‘learn’ as opposed to work. There lies a fantastic opportunity for L&D to showcase excellence in learning, but with only 33% of respondents in our study aware of best practice principles, we risk creating the wrong impression that could leave people with lukewarm experiences.

L&D professionals and teams who are managing to ground themselves well, re-rooting fast and sustainably all shared three traits... 

People feel uprooted if they are not supported to transition and learn well 

Organisations are providing a range of options to support people with the transition such as self-help guides, videos and guided support but only 14% are gathering evidence to assess whether the level of support they are providing is appropriate and, more importantly, making the right difference to enable people to learn and grow effectively. 

Learning virtually and in a hybrid format is significantly different to working in these formats because learning requires a different mental state. Learning requires us to be productively confused and curious (not clever). It requires a desire to be challenged – either self-challenged or thought provoked by a guide or a coach. Learning also requires us to be able to cope with a range of emotions and for us to be willing to show our vulnerabilities and to risk failure. 

Adding the challenges of using technology that are needed to learn in a virtual and hybrid way and you’ve got a recipe for potentially increasing stress and anxiety, which people often  describe as a feeling of being uprooted.

Feeling uprooted is a feeling of loss or connection and not something we should ignore. When you observe a plant that’s uprooted, for a time it loses its luster and looks limp, until it's replanted. 

A growing range of physiological and psychological signals are being reported by participants in our study. Over half (57%) reported feeling tired and nearly a third (28%) feelings of frustration if they experience challenges with the technology.  Others reported wellbeing challenges including impact on concentration (27%), feeling tired or eye strain (25%), and also musculoskeletal impact due to a lack of movement (18%). 

Virtual learning survey
 

Grounding facilitators and learners with best practice experiences 

There is growing awareness of the range of learning and wellbeing challenges that people are facing as they learn virtually and in a hybrid format. Yet, concerningly, the study revealed little evidence that L&D, learners or other organisational stakeholders are clear about what to do to mitigate the challenges and therefore are not taking any sustainable action to support people with these growing issues. 

L&D often say they are learner centric but when it comes to virtual and hybrid learning there is little evidence L&D are delivering this.

As L&D are trying to keep up with the pace of change while supporting facilitators, subject matter experts and learners to do the same, there are several elements that are critical for L&D to incorporate into their practice.

L&D professionals and teams who are managing to ground themselves well, re-rooting fast and sustainably all shared three traits: 

1.  They are being guided by best practice.

Only 33% of respondents in our study were clear on the best practice principles for virtual and hybrid learning. It is therefore not surprising that L&D professionals are struggling to transition well and sustain value and impact.

Best practice can be found in evidence-based empirical research and in leading sources of insight such as TrainingZone, The Learning Guild and Lightbulb Moment.

2. They are evidence-based.

Only 18% of respondents assess, track and trace oragnisational need and impact. This is an easy win for L&D and we must become more comfortable with data and insights that lead us to make evidence-based decisions.

Once organisations switch, they leap further than they ever believed they could and they stop imagining what it’s like to report on value and impact. Instead they build a reputation for it.

3.  They are focusing on their design skills.

Lifting and shifting face to face content to online does not work. Designing for virtual and hybrid learning requires a different approach. One which is evidence based and learner centric.

L&D often say they are learner centric but when it comes to virtual and hybrid learning there is little evidence L&D are delivering this. When they are, the key ingredients are setting learners and facilitators up to use the tech pre joining a live session. In addition, they are designing self-determined and heutagogic sessions where interactivity, engagement and wellbeing are carefully crafted and integrated to create learning experiences that allow learning to be applied as quickly as possible. 

Growing new roots

The key to making your virtual and hybrid learning investments add value and impact in the long term is to make sure that you take this in flux opportunity to question, listen and change many of the frustrations with learning impact and advocacy that have and still hold the profession back from gaining the recognition deserved.

To make sure that the right roots are being laid, don’t be afraid to build and learn with smaller user groups and then scale up once you have proven that transformational change is happening. If you only see transactional conversations happening, analyse why, and iterate with stakeholders and learners until you see a shift in mindset, capability and behaviour.

The most important thing is to stay observant, objective and to nurture these dominant types of learning by taking an evidence-based approach based on building best practice that works in your organisational context. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, therefore every organisation should take influences from external best practice but create their own principles once they prove what works in their ecosystem.

This is an exciting and incredible opportunity to lay new solid foundations that flourish in self-serving and self-determined ways so that learning professionals can build a better future fit for learning to thrive in a digital first world of work.

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