How COVID Will Change The Future Of Learning And Development

image attribution flickr user Tulane Public Relations

How COVID Will Change The Future Of Learning And Development

contributed by Gal Raviv

COVID has proved to be far more of a shock to our working and home lives than anyone could have possibly predicted in January 2020 and the Learning and Development sector has been as affected as any.

As the year draws slowly to a close it’s natural to think about what the future holds, and whilst nobody has a crystal ball, we can see some very clear trends emerging that point the way towards our post-COVID L&D environment.

These aren’t predictions, after all, if anyone could tell what was going to happen in the short-term then we’d all be lottery winners. Instead, our points are more discussion points intended to establish what appears to be the ‘direction of travel’ for the next few years.

Attitude to eLearning will change

There seems to have been largely two responses to the COVID situation in 2020; either close shop or move entirely online.

For many, the restriction imposed by a purely online approach has proved too much but others have seized the opportunity to take their customers on a journey. With eLearning forecast to reach $350bn by 2025, we already know that the future is substantially online and this presents L&D professionals with an excellent opportunity.

From anecdotal evidence, we can see that the attitude of clients has changed. Whereas before many managers were reluctant to engage with a purely online offering, now we see a softening of this mindset.

Pre-COVID we saw a general feeling that an online support package was in some way inferior however that has now changed as executives see the training delivered effectively during lockdown making a real difference.

According to a survey in training magazine People Management, 75% of L&D managers said they had changed the way some or all training was delivered as a result of coronavirus, with 50% saying they had made training available online. 

Interestingly, only 15 percent already offered online courses before the crisis, proving the virus’s role in forcing organisations to quickly adapt.

Training needs to reflect a different attitude to work-life balance

Have you noticed how it is now perfectly acceptable to see an employee’s family members walking about in the background of a zoom call? Or children being invited to say hello to a Microsoft Teams meeting?

There’s a totally new attitude towards working from home and this has extended to other aspects of the work-life balance.

Employees are quite rightly asking whether they wish to suffer the hours spent commuting every day and employers are similarly wondering if it is right to keep a desk for every member of staff in an increasingly expensive office setting.

This shift in emphasis has been happening slowly over time but, as with many of our points here, it has been massively accelerated due to the almost instantaneous nature of the crisis.

If people are now questioning how they manage their working lives then our training output needs to reflect that and we may well need to review all of our content and understand whether it is still as relevant today as when it was first written.

Employers need to make the best use of staff

During the lockdown, many employers have had to adopt some fairly extreme coping methods with regards to staff and it hasn’t been unusual to see large scale redundancies or people laid off for long periods of time.

However, business still needs to go on and employers need to ensure that they retain top-quality talent and make the best use of it that they can. Development programs are likely to become more of a focus with companies looking to retain highly-skilled individuals rather than having a large workforce of less productive people.

Accelerating the development of tech outreach

It is no secret that there has been a definite swing as to how students like to engage with trainers over the last few years.

As millennials start to make up a larger proportion of the workforce so it becomes more normalised to engage using social media style methods.

Students prefer to identify training and then access this on a variety of platforms whereas previously online learning has been done at the workplace computer.

As Ruben Resendez, CEO of online lead generation company Adhere explains, “The shift to online learning has forced those that were not up to date with the technology of today to learn new skills that push them light years ahead of where they would have been had the pandemic not happened. It has also allowed people to engage with each other in a way that opens up the doors of communication.” 

This means that L&D professionals need to make sure that their systems are attractive to all demographics and use methods of affirmation that make sense to younger staff such as likes, upticks and emojis.

Increasing self-directed learning

There has been a general trend towards self-directed learning (see TeachThought’s self-directed learning model for schools) but as late as 2017 only a quarter of L&D professionals felt that they had successfully promoted the method.

That having been said, in many cases, companies have had to adopt a less directed, hands-off approach to employee development as people work from home.

This is a trend that is sure to continue into the near future as businesses start to choose more flexible working patterns and it is to be hoped that industry begins to fully embrace a more modern outcomes-based, self-directed learning pattern.

Moving to Learning & Development curation rather than creation

One of the most interesting developments has been the move towards a ‘curated’ style of learning provision.

With so much information now available online, employers are starting to ask why they are creating original material at great cost when it is possible to buy reasonably priced subscriptions for their workforce.

In this instance the L&D professional becomes more of a curator, signposting people towards awesome resources rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and create original content.

A new emphasis on well-being and soft skills

Very early in the pandemic, it was recognized that people who were furloughed or working entirely from home would face mental health challenges exacerbated by isolation. This resulted in L&D managers searching for resources that would enable people to maintain their mental health when working away from their colleagues.

Similarly, there was an increased requirement on management to show understanding and empathy for workers who had faced serious changes in their home life such as children being off school and a need to isolate and care for elderly relatives.

This has meant that there is an acceleration in the need for good quality soft-skills training that will equip managers with the tools they need to chart what have become uncertain waters.

“We’ve seen a large increase in demand from prospective students looking to study online psychology and counselling programs as of late. More people are starting to realize that the health of a company is dependent on the health of the team that is moving the company forward.”

Learning & Development teams need to stay agile

Perhaps the main message for the 2020s is that now, more than ever L&D teams need to remain agile.

We’ve seen that the pandemic has totally transformed the way that many people work and this brings with it both opportunities and challenges. The future of training appears to be largely online with on-demand and curated learning providing the backbone of the offering.

Promoting a truly agile L&D department that is able to offer directed and self-directed training whether that be online or in-person is likely to put any business at the forefront of staff development.