Digital transformation has left an indelible mark on our work life. With the onset of COVID-19, organizations are even more compelled to move their work to digital platforms. Organizational goals have to be met and ensure uninterrupted business continuity. The current uncertainty is pushing us to experiment and reconsider the role of L&D in creating new work dynamics.
Businesses are being forced now more than ever to make decisions quickly, often in days or weeks, which would otherwise have taken months or maybe even years. A recent statement by Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, accurately sums up the current state of affairs: “We saw two years of digital transformation in two months.” Applying this notion to L&D, we have upskilled ourselves and our teams on virtual delivery and trained employees in how to learn and work remotely. This trend toward remote working, communicating and learning is persistent across the globe, spanning industries.
Following, we share a three-step model to switch to working online while avoiding potential pitfalls.
Backstory and research
It’s not just about remote working as before, and it isn’t simply about moving training online. As Elliot Masie puts it, “We need to reinvent learning, as old models of learning may not apply to this novel situation.”
There is an immense scope for experimentation here, where we can neither replicate the past nor predict the future. The primary difference between pre-COVID and now is that the focus has shifted to employee well-being and the effects of mental isolation as employees are forced to stay locked down and work while managing families at home.
Hence, it is vital for organizations to consider empathy and context in their HR strategy while moving things online — be it working or learning together.
As a first step of inquiry, we spoke to a number of instructional designers, teachers and L&D professionals to uncover the top challenges they face while switching to digital learning. Here’s a snapshot of issues identified in our research:
As you can see, there is a lot of emphasis on the psychological and social segments, which were hardly acknowledged before this pandemic. We are to unlearn and learn new ways of living while coping with the mental side effects and communicating through new methods — and working alongside learning is somewhere at the bottom of the pile.
The key then lies in ensuring a virtual safe place for employees to connect and start working — the first step for any organization of any size before moving L&D online.
At Easygenerator, for example, we were already using Slack as our main internal communications channel. The importance of this grew significantly during the first lockdown. And we extended it. We have company values that we live by, and we give each other postcards with quotes if someone behaves in a way that supports one of those values. We moved this initiative online and now give praise to people with the digital version of the cards via Slack.
A 3-step model: mindset — delivery — content
Following is an interesting model that emerged out of our experience with working and connecting remotely.
1. Mindset: Good is good enough.
It all begins with a thought in the mind, and it is vital to just try and get started!
It doesn’t matter if the idea fails, because employees and employers alike tend to be more forgiving during the current upheaval. Employees are not expecting perfection during this crisis: They want the L&D team to help them with solutions and quick answers, not fancy interactive courses. Just dive in with quick and easy experiments.
We are all in one huge global experiment together; people are in a different mindset:
- Try things out.
- Don’t aim for perfection.
- Just do it.
For instance, if you have a piece of useful content to share with your employees, just send it right away through Skype, email or Slack instead of waiting to finalize on that perfect LMS or LXP solution. Don’t spend a long time preparing to deliver a perfect piece of content; instead, provide quick workarounds that can deliver 90 percent of the job.
2. Delivery: Pick your actionable bits.
This second part of the model is more relatable to current circumstances of moving learning online.
First, don’t formatize your PowerPoint. Often we hear from customers and prospects that the first step to moving learning online is to work with their existing content by swapping their face-to-face PowerPoint presentations with a virtual mode. The pitfall here could be that learning strategies that worked in a face-to-face classroom setup may not be effective in a digital environment and vice versa. It’s fair enough to leverage existing learning resources, but a blind scaling to digital mode isn’t going to work.
Let’s then look at some ideas for a warm-up:
Moving PowerPoint online: Don’t import the slideshow as is:
- Think about your learners and their needs and goals.
- Select the slides that most support these needs.
- Create a page for each slide — in a course or document.
- Go beyond the bullets (images, video, audio, questions, key points).
When it comes to moving lectures online, don’t swap your classroom to a pure virtual training session without any adaptations. In this case, we advise you to chop it and flip it around to try the flipped classroom approach. Digitize only a few selective bits of your lecture as a course, resource, video or document and then follow it up with a short virtual interactive session.
Moving lectures online: Flip your sessions.
- Filter out the knowledge parts of your lecture.
- Put them in a simple resource/course and, if possible, add a short video where you explain each part.
- Let your learners refer to this resource/course.
- Then, organize a virtual meeting with small groups and invite learners to work on assignments together, allowing reflection and discussion to happen.
In both of the examples above, the crux is to equip your employees to apply the knowledge in business and not simply train them to know the concepts. This is critical now because employees are operating in a high-speed work-life balance mode with very little time for pure learning. Hence, actionable learning content on the lines of performance support is your best bet to enable them to start applying the knowledge.
3. Content: Support learners in the flow.
This logically brings us to the final segment of our model — content.
- Avoid fancy e-learning courses — employees don’t have time.
- Avoid virtual live sessions — employees disengage quickly.
- Avoid PowerPoint dumping — employees don’t find value soon enough.
So, what exactly are we left with? A sure formula is to allow the informal and social learning to happen organically in your virtual environments.
Observe how employees are already sharing resources with each other and from your own personal experience. This behavior is more regular now with our own employees sharing multiple articles, links, videos and files every day on our tools. These artifacts contain work-related content that can help increase an employee’s effectiveness; for instance, a pre-sales checklist or products upgrade procedure or a curation of a handful of links to help understand a concept quickly. What this means is sharing simple job aids that can help their colleagues perform better, thus opening up a great avenue for L&D to start a knowledge-sharing culture in the lens of performance support.
Create or curate: Leverage existing content as resources.
- Curate and bundle links on a topic.
- Share simple procedures or checklists as job aids.
- Give knowledge sharing a performance support structure.
What is the role of L&D in this new informal equation of learners who are connecting and collaborating more than ever while struggling with new norms of life?
To us, this calls for some experimentation among those in L&D to explore new roles — as a coach to inquire and inspire the employees, as a community moderator to bring experts together, as an empathy advocate to fight for employees’ mental well-being, and as a person who people can trust.
One may wonder what a good method is to measure the impact of these fresh methods and experiments. The obvious answer is to look at performance improvements. A slightly more practical method is to ask employees to teach back or to report their informal learning journey, allowing you to evaluate the success of the strategy.
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