Group Organisational Development Consultant Civica
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Reimagining blended learning in the new world of work

How can we take the skills and lessons we learned about virtual learning during lockdown, and blend it into our learning programmes going forward?

28th Sep 2020
Group Organisational Development Consultant Civica
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Businesspeople working and maintaining social distance on a sofa in a modern office
iStock/Orbon Alija

As teams have moved to remote working during the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for virtual learning and training has soared. The reliability of technology has improved, and people have become accustomed to virtual meetings and different ways of working. While the pandemic has altered priorities and needs for some, in learning and development we’ve long had an eye on what we wish to maintain, increase or remove from our so-called ‘future normal’.

The journey ahead will force us to keep experimenting with virtual and online training techniques. We now have a great opportunity to be boundlessly creative.

For now, it may be safe for groups to meet in a socially distanced setting, but we’re unlikely to completely revert to how things were in the workplace before the pandemic. Instead, we’re focusing on fast-tracking more digital learning, experimenting with virtual break-out ‘rooms’ and building interactive workshops.

The need for employee training hasn’t changed – just the manner in which we deliver it. Inevitably, some courses have become less relevant, but new courses will be introduced. There are still skills however, such as communication, resilience and innovation that will always be in demand in a post-pandemic world to support blended working. We’ve pulled together four benefits that virtual learning offers, and how it will help to organisations to overcome challenges and future-proof service delivery.

Employees can learn at their convenience

Virtual training can deliver learning and development to hundreds of employees at a time or, alternatively, at an individual time that works for multiple geographies. Colleagues can network on a much wider scale – across different time zones – to enrich their learning experience too. An hour-long webinar is easier to factor into a day when employees don’t need to travel to a specific office. Longer courses can be broken up into smaller, bite-sized, self-directed e-learning webinars, rather than day-long retreats. Added to this, no travel is required to harness e-learning opportunities, meaning companies can reduce their carbon footprint and redistribute costs to enhance other learning and development programmes.

learning culture hub link

Respond to individual employee needs

Garnering employee feedback through pulse surveys can help inform HR teams of potential areas for improvement and learning opportunities that they might not have previously considered. Particularly in the current circumstances, employees may need help switching off from work or improving their wellbeing. Sharing online resources or planning and executing a webinar are quick ways to help people when they need it. Plus, they’re easily repeated if the nature of the topic requires small groups of participants and can’t be recorded, such as mental health awareness training.

For some neurodivergent colleagues or those with social anxiety, being in large groups can be discomforting. Virtual learning can help as many people as possible benefit from courses without the onus of engaging with others or fear of speaking out. Those balancing other needs in their personal lives, such as parents or carers, or those working flexible hours can take advantage of course recordings and self-directed learning content at a time that suits them. Fitting around an individual’s own schedule makes them more efficient and doesn’t impact productivity. What’s more, employee learning styles vary and so does the speed in which they process information. Virtual delivery helps learners navigate courses at their own pace and properly reflect on what they’ve been taught between topics.

Overcome digital barriers

Nevertheless, removing the face-to-face, human contact element from learning does pose challenges. When colleagues register their attendance for a short course, some may think that their attendance isn’t as important as face-to-face training or can drop out halfway through because it’ll be repeated and/or recorded. Even short courses require a great deal of planning and preparation and are equally advantageous for people’s development, so it's important to find fun and creative means of keeping colleagues engaged.

There are many nuances associated with face-to-face delivery that you can’t replicate virtually. Even the side chats with colleagues sat next to you or during lunch breaks can help build rapport and lead to new ideas. Without the in-person dynamics, how can we help colleagues improve their interpersonal skills?  

Consultant and coach, Dr Maggi Evans has some great insight into how we can replicate face-to-face interactions and experiences. “We’re still learning, but we’re spreading the learning out into shorter events – a series of one to two-hour sessions rather than a whole day. We’re using technology to create smaller breakout rooms, setting real work challenges to take place beyond the learning event and making sure we give people space to reflect and share within the virtual learning event. We’re also making it easy for people to share their successes, to showcase how they’ve put the learning into practice,” she said.

Continuous learning and development

The journey ahead will force us to keep experimenting with virtual and online training techniques. We now have a great opportunity to be boundlessly creative. With the right blend of people, skills and immersive technology, we are at the tipping point of all the positive benefits that online training and development can offer employees, both now and in years to come.

Through a blend of virtual training, webinars, self-directed learning and – when we do go back to the office – face-to-face learning, we can provide training in a far more personalised way, to a larger, more diverse audience. This will be crucial for L&D teams to democratise training, whilst creating new possibilities to engage and develop employees.

Interested in this topic? Read Why there’s still a place for face-to-face training in the ‘new normal’.

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