Frank Snowden’s thesis that “infectious diseases have shaped social evolution no less powerfully than have wars, revolutions and economic crises” could not have rung truer than in the current times as paradigm shifts take place in the world of work and doing businesses.
One of the most vivid shifts taking place in these times has been in the Learning and Development patterns across all spectrums from schools, universities, vocational trainings to workplaces.
This is validated by the fact that MOOC providers such as Coursera and edX recorded 67% and 52% increase in the number of sessions accessed respectively, according to data from SimilarWeb for February and March 2020 (Shah, 2020).
It is in this backdrop and the fact that this mode of learning is not going to go away too soon, fueled by the persistent pandemic and the new found comfort with the distance learning mode, that a study was felt necessary to understand the experience of learners in organizations and find out gaps in the online learning mode that could be filled to improve the delivery of online trainings.
About 60 employees from various types of organizations in India and across functions were contacted to find out their experience with online learning. The increased online learning and development initiatives were supported by most of these respondents who reported an increase in training hours during the first three months of nationwide lockdown in comparison to normal working days. In some cases, the training hours spent going up by more than double. The most commonly provided training programmes were technical trainings.
Not unexpectedly, the most common challenge faced by those who underwent training was the presence of distractions with network issues being just one of them. Lack of engagement with not just trainers but also other trainees and peers was the next highest recurring issue.
While the first one is a contextual issue that would need resolution by learners at their end and needs to be factored in by trainers when designing the programmes, the second challenge has more direct implications for design and delivery of online learning. The second challenge is in fact the bigger of the two challenges. It is to be noted that those who reported lack of engagement with trainers also reported presence of distractions!!! The underlying link between the absence of one leading to the preponderance of others should not be missed.
The whole effort therefore needs to be towards increasing the levels of learner engagement. In the situation of missing eye contact which many claim to be a driver of engagement, it needs to be seen what can be done to fuel learner engagement.
Training mix and scheduling
Following steps can be followed for higher effectiveness:
- Make the L&D initiatives a mix of self-paced and Virtual Instructor Led Trainings (VILT) trainings as we found this blend to be the most effective through our research.
- Completion of the self-paced trainings should be on the employees’ terms. A rushed deadline is not conducive to effective learning as it simply forces them to go through the motions of completing it without assimilating the information.
- Ensure that the timetables for the VILT are sent out well in advance and are cognizant of employees’ deadlines and meetings. If it is to be a series of training sessions, keep them at more or less the same time. All this would ensure that employees plan their workday accordingly.
- Allow them the flexibility to reschedule with a limit and provide assistance in rescheduling the work day as well if that is more feasible. A comprehensive mapping of the employee to that particular training that can be presented to, say the Resource Management team could be a way to provide said assistance.
- Most corporate employees have to balance their deliverables with the trainings. Keeping the training sessions in the morning can be an effective way of avoiding employee fatigue and deliverable worry out of the way.
These steps can help peer to peer learning that usually suffers in online learning:
- Take the help of platforms like virtual whiteboards, Miro, Mural etc. to solicit suggestions and foster brainstorming in real time.
- Break out rooms can be used to encourage collaboration. However, simply inviting them into breakout rooms might not be enough. Trainers can map out a framework (like a game, a set of questions etc.) that can be distributed in the breakout rooms to break the ice and induce discussions.
- Various activities like simulations, role play, polls etc. can be used throughout the trainings, which have not been used as per a majority of the respondents of the study.
- Allow the formation of knowledge networks offline to encourage community support and better learning.
For involving the shy and reticent trainees
Designate learning partners on the basis of prior experience or any other shared aspect of profile to encourage healthy discussions. Gradually integrate these pairs into larger groups to increase the shared perspectives.
Use a ‘pass the baton’ method during discussions to ensure every participant is touched upon.
It is expected that a mix of these initiatives judiciously applied at the pre-training, training and post-training stages can increase learner involvement and engagement for effective online learning.
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