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New Strategies for Learning and Development in an Increasingly Virtual World

For companies that want to stay ahead of the pack, now is the time to rethink how they train and empower their employees.

Q3 2020
Newly dispersed work teams are facing new challenges. During the early months of the global pandemic, more than three-quarters of organizations reported 80 percent or more of their employees were working from home, according to a global survey on workplace re-entry.

While workplace mobility isn’t new, the scale of remote work has accelerated digital transformation, with rollout timelines shrinking from years to weeks. Workflows have also been upended as employees try to adopt new tools as part of their daily routines.

These trends compound and create a renewed focus on training and development to give employees the skills and knowledge they need to flourish throughout and beyond the pandemic. As we are already starting to see from companies in areas of the world stepping into the “next normal,” speed, agility, and a commitment to lifelong learning will separate those organizations that merely survive the pandemic from the ones that grow and thrive.

Training and development must keep pace with innovation that’s happening throughout the rest of the organization, while adhering to the principles of learning, to help employees meet emerging demands.

Rethink Training for the Short- and Long-Term
Training and development that focuses only on short-term needs and not long-term goals will put organizations at a severe disadvantage. These programs must focus on the skills employees can learn today that will help them operate in an increasingly digital, dispersed environment. What technology systems might create further efficiencies?

Fast-tracking solutions to common digital bottlenecks and implementing robust training now will solve the problem and ensure employees don’t revert to the “old ways” for lack of a better alternative.

Even where there aren’t new approaches to consider, training documents and programs likely need to be updated. Real-world examples that made sense a few months ago suddenly feel out of touch when work is primarily digital. Look at how workflows have evolved and adapt trainings to address the way employees work today, which is likely to last into the future.

Combine the Best of Tech and Socialization to Power Remote Learning
With new and updated trainings in place, it’s time to evolve how learning happens. Companies are becoming more aware of the need to incorporate diversity and inclusion into every aspect of their business, and training is no different. While learning styles are largely unchanged, there is a greater emphasis on cultural and neurological differences of participants, which require new approaches be considered and explored.

The scale of remote work has accelerated digital transformation, with rollout timelines shrinking from years to weeks. Live, virtual trainings appeal to visual and auditory learners, with the added benefit of bringing individuals together in a shared organizational purpose. To navigate the stilted nature of online discussion and address users from every skill level, solicit audience feedback through online features like polling, chat boxes, and leader boards or separate feedback apps like Slido.

Next-level robotics technologies can help replicate the classroom environment. Some solutions, already on the market, enable users to remotely control their robotic “heads” — aka a tablet — to swivel around for different perspectives. These capabilities can support multiple virtual learning scenarios, from training users on intricate equipment updates to enabling colleagues to connect with each other more fully through rotational staffing and social distancing requirements.

There are even new tools to help determine if your trainees are still following along when the trainer and trainees are virtually connected. “Attention indicators” embedded in many conferencing platforms send an alert to the presenter when individuals have opened new windows or been away from the conference for too long. It’s a useful reminder for presenters to solicit feedback and participation in the moment, keeping people engaged in the subject at hand.

Lifelong Learning Doesn’t Stop in the Virtual Classroom
More than ever, training and learning needs to be an “always on” function for organizations. If a new person joins tomorrow, how will you share with them the information you presented weeks before?

More than ever, training and learning needs to be an “always on” function for organizations. Many companies are investing in rich training programs the lay out a clear curriculum on diverse topics from leadership training to data management. These programs (offered through platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Udemy and more) not only save organizations from having to create this content themselves, they are available 24/7. Employees can simply sign on, select their program, and start learning new skills on their own timeframe. They are also an excellent tool for self-motivated learners who may not want to wait for the next virtual classroom experience.

Another approach is to create digital content “trails,” guiding employees through different training programs in reward-driven ways. As the user reads more and does more online activities, they can earn merits and badges, and compete against their cohorts. This gamification not only helps keep employees motivated to stay focused on the training, it helps them retain information by immediately using it in real-world scenarios.

Ultimately, one of the most powerful learning methods is to have trainees teach someone else. Informal knowledge-sharing programs and communications platforms like the ones above can work together to help expand learning and “train the trainer.”

Accelerating Change Is Here to Stay

The enduring lesson of the pandemic is that innovation isn’t stopping; it’s only getting faster. Continuous learning, training, and development will become more critical in the months and years ahead.

Now is the time to bring transformative thinking to the ways we train and empower teams, both those who are remote and those stationed in the office. It may be the difference between leading the market and struggling to catch up.

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