The good, the bad and the ugly of learning and development in 2020
As 2020 draws to a close, Robin Hoyle reflects on some of the unexpected positives that arose for L&D in an otherwise terrible year, alongside less agreeable practices that deserve a place in the museum.
It is impossible to think about 2021 without thinking of how the world of L&D has changed in the last 12 months or so.
In many situations, face-to-face training programmes have been eliminated entirely in favour of Covid-safe alternatives. There has been a massive change to digital and virtual delivery and everyone I know in L&D has been working their socks off to ensure some kind of provision as teams deal with unforeseen circumstances and the challenges of working remotely or observing new protocols when they do go into the workplace.
Without being Pollyanna-ish – after all the number of people who have been very negatively affected having lost livelihoods or loved ones cannot be ignored – there have been some good things for L&D in the enforced adoption of new ways of working.
Not only that, but most L&D teams have really stepped up and accelerated the development of new programmes, embraced new delivery methods and generally responded with some energy – and not a little success – to the challenges they have faced. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ was never more true.
But what will endure assuming there is some kind of return to normality?
Here are the good things that deserve to last and become business as usual:
1. Just-in-time online learning
There has been an increase in wholly digital learning, including, in some circumstances, a focus on bite-sized learning. Often these mini-modules have been explicitly linked to workplace tasks – creating just-in-time learning and upskilling for people having to work in new ways.
2. Interactive virtual sessions
The use of virtual delivery has grown and most organisations have recognised that trying to simply replicate a day in the classroom via Zoom is not a great experience for those in attendance or the poor saps expected to deliver these sessions.
So short, focused interactive sessions making use of breakout rooms – supported by digital assets delivered before and between short sessions – has been pretty successful. Yes there has been some push back – working from the spare bedroom or kitchen table loses its appeal after a while and when a learning event becomes ‘just another meeting’, then we’ve lost something. Which leads to the next good thing…
3. A reduction in event-based learning
As a training and learning activity, the short course has always been of questionable benefit. Of course, a day out of the office or the day-to-day work environment is often attractive and having the space to think about something else and discuss it with colleagues you don’t see every day is good, but does it change behaviour? Does it help people to work differently? Does it improve performance? Does it pay for itself? Let’s be honest, not often.
The offsite course or the assembly of a group in a training room has been our default option for decades because we couldn’t think what else to do – or we couldn’t convince our organisations to do something else. Now people have seen that there are alternatives which are at least no worse and often better. Maybe we can finally move away from being an event-based travel agency towards being performance development consultants.
The best activities have seen small groups, facilitated to work together on a specific issue. They gather for short periods, interspersed with asynchronous collaboration – across time zones and geography. It has had the major benefit that the work and learning environments have been pretty similar and therefore the transfer of what has been learned into action on the job has been accelerated. A silver lining to a lowering cloud.
What about the things which don’t deserve to continue?
1. Virtual lectures
It is often said that if your input can be replaced by a video, it probably should be. At its worst, virtual delivery has transferred dull, PowerPoint heavy presentations from the real classroom to the virtual equivalent. They were dull in person, but at least you got biscuits. Without the biscuits these sessions become a chance to switch off the video, go on mute and catch up on your emails or your online shopping.
2. Hours of generic e-learning
Some companies took the chance of lockdown and enforced working from home to impose a whole series of online modules on compliance issues or company policies. Because they can be monitored by the LMS, those who don’t trust their team to actually work while at home have found that this gives them some chance to check up that people are doing something.
The end of module quizzes have provided management information on ‘impact and effectiveness’ which bears so little resemblance to actual skills required on the job that their existence is an affront to all who care about learning as a route to improved performance.
By now everyone knows that the right answer is either C or the longest option and everyone is sick of being tested on their recollection of factoids contained in the text rather than anything we might find useful. If you’re doing this, please stop. Working from home actually increased productivity in countless businesses.
If you have employed people who are feckless wasters who can’t be trusted to work from home, then review your recruitment processes. If you haven’t hired feckless wasters – stop treating people like you think they are!
Looking ahead to 2021
While there's certainly been a few practices I hope we'll be placing in the museum of 2020, there's also been many successes which deserve to continue into the new year.
Watch out for my upcoming piece in which I'll be tentatively sharing my predictions for the year ahead.
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...