Recently, I’ve been asked the question: “Elliot, what lessons about learning are you discovering during the coronavirus pandemic?”
The answer? A lot. Here are 10 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned so far.
1. Digital learning is exploding. I had 86 global early adopters for the start of e-learning at a meeting in the early 1990s. The pandemic expanded that number to more than 1.8 billion workers, students and patients globally who had to suddenly become digital learners.
2. Learning tools must be simple. We watched Zoom meetings become the dominant connection, collaboration and knowledge-sharing video tool around the world. Zoom became dominant because it is an easy-to-use tool. While there are few learning-focused features in Zoom, its simplicity made its use viral. Watch for redesign from WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Facebook and Google’s Meet. They will “zoomify” their interfaces rapidly in the coming months.
3. Learning deserves design. Connecting to learners is just the first step. The design process is essential but predictably ignored in the pandemic crisis reaction. Teachers poorly ported their classroom lesson plans to online delivery, without creative design. College students forced to learn online were often bored. Home-based workers were flooded with webinars galore. Design is even more important with distributed and digitally connected learners and expertise.
4. They want to be supported workers, not students. Your workers, at home or in changed workplaces, want to be supported. But they don’t want to be students. They want expertise, advice and feedback in order to be more effective; yet, they don’t want to be placed in the student role. Organizations have changed online courses to become more focused interactive briefings, lectures have been shifted to Q&A sessions and webinars have been overscheduled.
5. Empathy is a key “E” in e-learning. Your workers are under stress, with uncertainty and unclear pathways to the future. They are often sharing home offices. They are balancing changes in every aspect of their lives: work, home, community and family. The key word that’s emerged is empathy. Our workers need empathy: connection, communication and authenticity. Empathy is not counseling or coaching. It is respect for the different realities of your workforce. Give them content, context, collaboration and empathy.
6. Digital learners need breaks. Learning from home requires more breaks. I watched people drop off at about 45 minutes into a multi-hour-long session. They want bio breaks, or just mental breaks — time to get up and walk around. Breaks also give learners opportunities to process new content and frame up questions.
7. Online learners want office hours. Think about a teacher’s behavior in a face-to-face classroom session. Some of the best conversations with teachers happen when there is a coffee or lunch break. Learners come up and ask questions or share stories. Online learners need the same one-to-one conversations. Consider a time when learners can sign up for 10-minute slots in digital office hours with experts or teachers.
8. Digital learners need support and job aids. Make sure there are job aids, infographics and workflow support for your digital learners. They will need reminders, refreshers and “moment of need” support as they transfer new knowledge into workplace action.
9. Social issues matter. The pandemic intersected with the racial injustice that has surged during these unprecedented times. I believe the pandemic “tenderized” society to watch/react to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and large-scale demonstrations. Social issues will be part of the conversations our learners and workers are having now.
10. Let’s get data from pandemic learning. Much of our recent digital learning did not “hit” the LMS, but we need to gather data about those formal, informal and collaborative learning activities. Let’s look at what we are collectively “learning about learning” from almost 2 billion learners.
On a personal note, I turned the fun age of 70 in May. This birthday was more of a virtual celebration with hundreds of friends and colleagues online. Turning 70 has triggered my need to be a more active learner and learning advocate. I look forward to the next decade of learning innovation with you.