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Three factors L&D must seed for success in virtual and hybrid learning

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As the demand for virtual and hybrid learning increases, it’s critical for L&D to assess the experience of learning in these mediums and allow learners room to grow.

3rd Mar 2022
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In a new study conducted by Jo Cook from Lightbulb moment and Jane Daly of PeopleStar, less than 10% of participants said that the virtual and hybrid learning sessions they had attended exceeded their expectations. 

Respondents were asked how much of their learning offer is now virtual/hybrid and half of the participants said that between 25-75% of their offer was now available in these formats. There are plans to continue to invest in this direction too, with 23% planning to invest more budget and 15% looking to increase the insight they gather to increase their impact. 

There are clear signs that L&D and the workforce are still transitioning to these learning mediums and that there is much more ground to break. Only 6% of participants report that they are evidence-based and can consistently prove the value and impact of behavioural change as a result of their virtual & hybrid learning approach and interventions. 

Facilitators who enhance learners' experience have a guiding and coaching style, creating a safe space to learn

The barriers that people are experiencing are diverse, with many challenges being related to the performance and use of technology; problems with sound (44%), attendees not knowing how to use the platform (43%), and facilitators not understanding the technology (29%).

Design also features as a significant barrier, with over a third (37%) reporting that their design has not been updated for virtual delivery, suggesting many L&D professionals are allowing a ‘lift and shift’ approach to let them down, rather than adapting their design and content so it is fit for purpose for virtual/hybrid delivery. 

The learning experience is enhanced when guided to be more human

The study also revealed several factors that enhance the experience. The dominant factor is the facilitator (70%), this is followed by the opportunity to interact (67%), a well-designed session (66%) and a good balance of interactivity (53%). All these factors require human input and therefore the facilitator’s role needs to significantly shift to fulfil the needs of the digital learners.

Facilitators who enhance learners' experience have a guiding and coaching style, creating a safe space to learn, and constantly adapting to the needs of participants, rather than being rigidly led by the content. 

As L&D dial up the use of technology, they must also dial up the humanness to rebalance the dynamics and create the conditions where learning can thrive. Facilitators who were experts in face-to-face learning will need support to adapt and become experts in virtual and hybrid learning mediums.

Facilitators who lack impact online usually fail to create the right balance when it comes to the conditions for learning, with the facilitator talking too much (31%), attendees using chat too much (20%) and facilitator attitude to virtual not being as good as face-to-face (18%) featuring highly in the list of barriers that disrupt the experience. 

In order to empathise with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it, and not how you imagine their experience to be"  Brené Brown

One major factor of enhancing the experience is designing and delivering learning that delivers tangible results for people and therefore allows them to fully buy-in as well as value the time and energy they invest. With less than 4% of participants in our study reporting that the virtual/hybrid learning they attended added sustainable impact, L&D have a long way to go.

Successful virtual & hybrid learning requires a dynamic approach by designing with the human end in mind, by including facilitators and learners in the design process. L&D often say they do this, but our study suggest that the evidence they gather is not related to listening to all parties involved in the learning ‘contract’ or that they passionately focus on sustainable impact e.g. the ability to prove that what I learnt increased my performance, my employability, my wellbeing etc.

Three factors for success

The disruptions caused by the increase in demand for virtual & hybrid learning offer L&D a wonderful opportunity to turn this friction to their advantage. Like planting a garden, L&D need to be clear on the overall long-term vision before they start seeding ideas and laying down roots that are costly and hard to undo if they don’t fit.

Co-creation is key because this type of learning can cause the right ripples or the wrong waves. L&D must also be prepared to nurture and adapt as the conditions that are in and outside of their control change. The art is doing enough to move forward but not too much until people are ready. 

1. Visualise the vision

It’s challenging for people to buy-in to a vision that they can’t see. By creating a simple vision that is underpinned by clear principles, allows people to engage with the concept more effectively and understand their role and responsibility. It also allows people to feedback on what’s not working for them and needs to be amended before they support. 

In a digital first world, visions need to be adapted as the evidence / needs suggests. The best visions allow for growth by assessing readiness and revealing a little more when the time is right so that people are not overwhelmed, but instead feel empowered to be involved. 

A simple way to get started to top and tail every virtual and hybrid session with the vision and expectations, using this opportunity as a chance to seed the direction of travel but to gather insights on how people are feeling about learning in this way. 

2. Support stakeholders 

The reputation of L&D and virtual and hybrid learning are both being assessed. Organisational learning that is fit for the future is not controlled by L&D, it is guided by L&D. it is not possible to deliver the quality of learning required and close capability gaps without co-creating robust and trusted partnerships with key stakeholders who can represent the L&D brand in a way that delivers the value and impact required. 

In a self-serving and self-organising world, stakeholders need valuable on-demand resources that can support them to thrive. They will also need feedback and quality measures in place, so they know they are on track. Learning how to Learn in the 21st is key and targeted stakeholder resources should be prioritised.

L&D must play a different role than pre digital. Their aim is to now support all of the main stakeholders involved e.g. L&D, Producers, Designers, SME’s, Facilitators and Learners who urgently need to shift their ability so that transformative learning happens in a virtual and in a hybrid way. 

An effective way to get started is to ask all stakeholders involved in L&D services each week to feedback on 3-6 key questions that relate to ability to thrive in virtual and hybrid learning. Successful people set this up in a simple and way using free online tools such as sli.do or Microsoft teams, it’s a 5-minute commitment and people are automatically rewarded for doing by receiving an update on the L&D weekly story of achievements. 

Only a build, test and learn approach will drive the levels of capability required and proving this in turn will lead to advocation

3. Advance advocation 

The most successful organisations and teams today are led by evidence. Evidence that reveals the level of advocation is key for L&D if they want to thrive in a virtual and hybrid world. Advocation levels are key if L&D are to drive a more self-determined approach where everyone take ownership and responsibility for learning, a critical principle of successful virtual & hybrid learning approaches.  

L&D must embrace the use of evidence by gathering insights from multiple sources. In virtual and hybrid world of learning, this means observing learning sessions, feeding back to facilitators, asking more advanced facilitators to also observe and feedback, listening to learners, listening to leaders as they assess what’s different now their teams are more capable and how has this added value.

Only a build, test and learn approach will drive the levels of capability required and proving this in turn will lead to advocation. An engaging way to do this is to partner with the people/HR team to see how the organisation is coping with virtual and hybrid working. Although there are many differences between working and learning digitally, the existing insight is a valuable resource for L&D to build on and has the advantage of not starting from scratch.

High impact learning professionals who have successfully managed to drive advocation have learnt much more by taking small steps such as supporting accessibility and digital literacy which must be in place before people are able to advance to transformative learning where avocation thrives. 

L&D have an amazing opportunity to co-create dynamic conditions where learning happens, and growth is unlocked. Seeding these factors is less about one off action and more about integrating these factors to continually nourish their thinking. The more L&D nurtures, the more successful they will be with virtual and hybrid learning. 

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