Learning and development is a discipline focused on helping people prepare for the future. That remit becomes very complicated when the future is as murky and opaque as it is right now.
How can we help people grow their careers, continue their professional development and build their understanding of next-wave topics when all of public life is at a standstill? How can we help learners connect with one another when live learning will be impossible for a long time to come? How can we deliver meaningful learning experiences right now but also set ourselves up for continued success long after this public health crisis has passed?
It feels like an impossible problem, but it’s not. We just need to adjust our focus.
Great L&D in the age of the pandemic will be about agility, quality and resilience. Our challenge will be helping to cultivate that mindset across everything we do. From marketing to management, all of the learning we lead must be oriented around one truth: In an unpredictable landscape, the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances — to bounce back — is the only professional skill that really matters.
We will be faced with a bewildering array of learning decisions — and unprecedented pressure from organizational stakeholders — over the coming months. In the midst of all of this uncertainty, it is vital to keep some bedrock principles in mind.
Technology is Secondary
By urgent necessity, the digital transformation of L&D has accelerated rapidly. We’re figuring out how to run our entire function online, more or less overnight. In all likelihood, the experience has been messy, but it also has reinforced something we’ve always known: Learning requires the right alchemy between instruction, content and learner. No platform or digital tool is a silver bullet for that experience. Digital learning platforms are only ever as good as the materials they deliver and the principals they are built on.
Less is More
Now is not the time for infinite choice and flexibility, or the “Netflix of learning”; now is the time for extremely focused learning experiences that speak directly to the anxieties and goals of employees — both over the short and long terms. Our audiences are distracted and worried about the global health situation, the economy, adjusting to remote work and a million other things. Our job is to choose a more limited number of learning experiences that can help provide a sense of progress, hope and productivity.
Social Connection is a Learning Goal
Now more than ever, employees are hungry for connection. They may be physically isolated from their teams but they’re interacting with them every day in sometimes unfamiliar ways. Learning can and should connect people around engaging content and interesting ideas; it should enable vital debates and practical discussions. It should help employees find a way forward together and help leaders facilitate this progress more effectively and compassionately.
Learn as a Team
The most impactful learning experiences are typically the result of intense interactions with groups of people, whether in classes, informally or online. And within organizations, the social nature of learning is even more apparent. Almost nothing we do in an enterprise is accomplished alone, and our effectiveness is determined by our ability to achieve in team settings. Learning experiences ought to reflect this reality while still leaving room for self-motivated skills development. This is especially true during times of disruption. Think about your organization’s greatest challenges right now. How can learning help you solve them?
Make it Real
The challenges our learners confront today are not theoretical; they are urgent and they are real. More than ever, we need learning that reflects the realities individual learners and teams are facing. The key is matching our learning approaches to specific learning goals and the needs of given groups of learners. No single approach will get the job done. And it’s vitally important in this fluid environment not to make large investments that limit future flexibility or require complex software implementations.
As leaders, we know that in the midst of any crisis it’s difficult — but essential — to pause and take a breath. And above all, make every decision according to two standards: the quality of the learning experiences and the potential to help your team and organization accomplish its most urgent goals.