At the start of 2020, many of us kicked off the year with annual meetings where we carefully planned out the year ahead, filling up our calendars with team meetings, events, conferences, and holidays. Unfortunately for the planning types, as Robert Burns so poignantly observed, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley” (go oft astray). Many had indeed heard of the new coronavirus spreading in Wuhan, China, but for them the disease was far away and seemed to pose little risk to daily life. In many parts of the world people went about business as usual, and even those who accurately assessed the magnitude of the risk knew little of what was in store in the coming months.
As much of the world then went into lockdown, the L&D function faced a critical challenge: how can we inspire teams to learn and grow in this time of acute crisis, and how do we adapt our tried-and-tested onsite programs so that we continue to deliver value to our people? To their credit, many organisations chose not to cancel L&D initiatives and risk creating a learning gap in their workforce, and instead went about adapting or creating new programs, rolled out virtually, that would meet the needs of their learners during this challenging time. Here are some lessons we’ve learned from 2020:
Online learning is fantastic, if it is well adapted…
2020 was the year of success for virtual learning. In addition to e-learning and other asynchronous formats, lots of companies sought to recreate the engagement and connection created in onsite seminars through synchronous, group-based activities. In our work with clients, we have found that this works best when programs are redesigned with virtual in mind rather than copy-pasted from onsite programs. This entails breaking up learning events into shorter chunks over a longer time period, as concentrating for 8 hours a day in front of a screen is just not feasible for most, no matter how enjoyable the training content may be. Extra care also needs to be taken that activities actively engage participants, such as with experiential learning, rather than relegating them to the role of passive observers, as might be the case with top-down lecture-style sessions for example. Done right, online learning has proven to be highly effective and enjoyable, to the surprise of many!
…But face-to-face learning cannot be abandoned
There is one thing that online seminars struggle to replicate, and that is creating strong connections between participants. This can be a problem when networking is one of the key objectives of a training program, for example a leadership initiative that aims to create links between leaders in different regions, functions, or business units. There are certainly ways to go about doing this online—group work in small teams helps participants connect, and virtual coffee breaks can help them discuss topics other than the training activities. However, in our view, this still pales in comparison to what a face-to-face program can achieve in terms of creating links, boosting collaboration, and building trust between participants. Once onsite programs are back on the menu, organisations would do well to remember that although they are typically more expensive, they retain distinct advantages.
The courage to continue
Most of all, 2020 has taught us to keep on going in times of difficulty, and has challenged us all to be more creative, adaptive and resilient than we were before. As we move into a new year sure to be full of new challenges but also possibilities, we need to move beyond ingrained orthodoxies and continue to innovate for the new post-Covid world.
To learn more about how we support our clients during the pandemic, including converting face-to-face programs into fully online virtual experiences, get in touch today.