Every great crisis in history has led to a new way of life and innovations. This pandemic has made the beermakers and distilleries to shift their production to hand sanitizers. In Italy, an engineering startup began using 3D printers to create the valves used in ventilators.
COVID-19 is changing the way people learn and work across the world. As organisations have shifted to working remotely, to sustain learning during the pandemic, they have adapted to newer learning tools. COVID-19 has indeed forced us to relook at workplace learning offered by corporates. As the world copes with the COVID-19 crisis, the Learning and Development function across companies is adapting to lead with innovative digital solutions, to engage a remote workforce and influence their working.
How has the Learning and Development function in organisations responded to the crisis? Organisations that utilised digital learning platforms have transitioned easily to virtual learning. Professional services firms, IT/ITES, and global firms across all sectors fall in this category. Firms with a bigger national footprint, or those that have recently expanded, are making a slower transition from the traditional instructor-led formats to virtual learning. Initially, most organizations tried to create a substitute for classroom learning on virtual platforms. Once this was achieved, organisations also tried to reinforce engagement and make productive use of spare time, through online courses and webinars. A Mckinsey report, Adapting workplace learning in the time of coronavirus, reaffirms organisations cannot push the pause button on capability building. Organizations will now have to adapt their approach to L&D in order to protect its status as the core aspect of their culture.
Josh Bersin Academy reports that there has been an increase in the consumption of online learning in most organizations. Companies have rapidly deployed work-at-home programmes, well-being, and mental health programmes to build positive thinking and alignment. With people forced to stay at home, they want to make use of this time to learn about the crisis, their jobs, and what they can do to stay ahead. Experts from the learning community believe that today's way of learning will not be the only way to learn in the future. This period of experimentation and collaborative creativity will likely shape some lasting changes. Josh Bersin firmly believes that the pandemic has accelerated one of the biggest business transformations for many organisations. It is an economic and health crisis, but for many organisations, it is also an incredible opportunity to transform. As Josh Bersin has emphatically stated, "L&D is one of the heroes of this crisis."
Learning In the New Normal
One of the most prominent changes that can be anticipated is that Virtual Learning may become the norm. Research conducted by the Training Industry reflects this clearly, showing that 29% of organizations (Total =400) had planned to increase their investment in e-learning during the 2019-20 financial year. With remote working having become part of the new normal, and many organizations not planning to return to office space until 2021, this investment in e-learning can only be set to rise across the board.
The need to reskill and upskill workforces is accelerated by the onset of the pandemic. The greater reliance on technologies means that employees must be trained to operate them correctly and work efficiently. What’s more, with the size of teams shrinking as a result of financial difficulty for organizations , a culture of project-based, collaborative working will become more common. With this being the case, a new culture of continual training and learning will be reinforced.
Another key L&D trend that has emerged as a result of the pandemic, is greater emphasis on social learning methods. In a nutshell, social learning abandons the traditional framework of learning models , and is founded on new behaviours being acquired by observing or imitating others. We can expect to see many organizations adopting social learning methods throughout the remote working period, monitoring their effectiveness and progress and adjusting their approach to L&D.
Looks like the crisis presents us with unique conditions that allows innovators to think and move freely to create impactful change. How should the learning community respond to this change?
New language is Digital
Success in the new environment depends on being extremely comfortable playing in the new digital sandbox, no matter what your industry. Even if you are a digital native, it is imperative to set your goals for improving digital fluency across the workforce. Future oriented organizations like Amazon, had announced $700 Mn investment to upskill 100,000 members. Not all technologies will be relevant to a business, so it is important for leaders to identify the emerging digital technologies they should investigate.
Rethink Learning Strategy
Experts in the Learning Community believe that there is need to transform learning for working effectively in the ‘new normal’. Several learning leaders see this as an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and approaches to people development. For instance, traditional companies who earlier had rejected the idea of virtual learning, digitally enabled learning journeys are now seeing a window of opportunity to now experiment with these tools because it addresses the constraints we are under today. In a research study by Degreed, How the Workforce Learns ( 2019) the learning profile of the new workforce is that they know their learning gaps , they are learning all the times and they expect the organization to provide guidance and support to get the learning experience they need to grow. The results of the study re-emphasise the need to rethink their learning strategies to support the changing expectations of the workforce.
From Cost Centre to Organizational Value Creator
Also, the crisis is pushing the L&D function to rethink and reframe its true value and relevance to the business. It makes us ask, "why do we do what we do? As L&D experts we need to ask questions as to the outcome that we are trying to achieve. For long, the Learning and Development function has been activity-oriented, instead of looking at metrics around business outcomes. L&D needs to get aligned to what the business and people require. In essence, the proof of impact will become a hard, inescapable requirement.
To summarize, there is no certainty of when this crisis will slow down or end. If we use this opportunity for innovating , learning and growing, we will come out better than ever. We need to decide the manner in which L&D will change owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has created an environment which can either be viewed as terrifying or thrilling. The way forward for us is completely dependent on what we do with what we have learned. L&D will have to reflect, rethink and re-engineer.