“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage” - Jack Welch
Over the last few weeks, what now feels like almost overnight, our lives, the way we live and work transformed, bringing us to a new phase where working from home has become the ‘new normal’.
The pandemic has affected people across organizations, leaving them in a state of panic and uncertainty of how times to come will unfold. This makes it even more crucial for leaders to maintain the trust of employees. It requires them to proactively respond to the existing and new needs of the employees.
Learning and development has come up as one of the key aspects that displays security in this ever-dynamic work environment. Moreover, the current competition in the market requires employees to be skilled more than ever to be able to handle the situation better and succeed in their roles, also being open to new skills.
The concept of transactional distance
According to a study by Gallup on ‘What Millennials want from work and life?’ 87% of millennials consider development prospects as a key factor when accepting a job offer.
This means that employees are on the look out for a culture that has career models with enriching assignments and continuous learning instead of a more static career progression. In the current situation, this may seem daunting to the learning professionals who have been tasked to set the learning agenda for a massive remote workforce.
Dr. Michael G. Moore, a distance education theorist, in 1970 began to develop the ‘Theory of Transactional Distance’. The crux of the theory was that physical distance between the learner and instructor leads to psychological distance as well. This is called the “transactional distance”.
According to the theory, the three key aspects of learning from a distance are:
- Learning independence
- The rate of dialogue between learner and instructor
- Structure of course being taught
Transactional distance can be managed by controlling these aspects. According to Moore, the goal shouldn’t be to lower the transactional distance; it should be to ensure that the distance being created is manageable and comfortable on both ends.
How to manage remote learning
With remote working taking over the traditional office space, face-to face conversations, and learning sessions, here are 4 strategies that will help leaders build a culture of continuous learning irrespective of where the employee is based.
- Reimagining the content: Managers need to understand that a mere transformation of a classroom based learning material into a virtual classroom would not be beneficial for the learners.
Content is the core of any learning experience. It should stimulate a cognitive process for employees, enabling them to transfer the concepts from something virtual into a real-world business context.
A collaboration of experts and learners while curating content may ease this process.
- Learner engagement: Learners tend to zone out more frequently in a virtual learning space as compared to an in-person program. Remember that teacher who would go on and on? Virtual learning without any engagement may turn out to be like that. It is important for managers to learn to keep their audience engaged by incorporating activities such as live polls, engaging in chats or conducting the class like a focus group in order to drive discussions and encourage ideas.
- Learning in collaboration: Learning remotely shouldn’t necessarily mean learning in isolation. It can be done by incorporating the virtual sessions with group activities or projects. These could be working on a case study in a group or reviewing each other’s assignments. Gamification can also be used in training to bridge the distance between learners. For example, learners can be divided into teams, tasks assigned and the progress tracked on the leaderboard.
- Use technology to enhance learning: Technology makes it easier to connect with each other when working remotely. Various video based collaborative tools available today can be used to make learning impactful. It is also important that the learning material is readily available and accessible to all employees. Managers can create an online vault/repository of content to ensure the same. This would encourage an on-the-go learning attitude among employees.
Learning and development has always been critical, but it matters even more now. As we pave our way through these uncertain times, we also have an opportunity at hand to build a learning response that would shape the future of work amid crisis and thereafter, in a post-crisis world which again would require agile and skilled talent to lead the way.