Remote work is here to stay and L&D can rise to the challenge.

Paul Harrison

Welcome to 2021.

Much of the conversation last year around the state of the world was a hopefulness that things might return to normal. Yet most of us (here in the UK anyway) are still working from home as we wait our turn for a jab, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Flexible working is likely to remain a part of the “new normal” even after the pandemic ends with large corporations like Google and Microsoft announcing short-term and even permanent extensions to their work from home schemes late last year.

Continued flexible working will present ongoing challenges and organisational learning and development are not immune.

We are all now missing the human factor in our work and are working even harder to connect to one another’s emotional states as we adjust to remote workplaces. For learning and development, maintaining engagement will continue to be a struggle with online training. Having the ability to read participants body language, eye contact will affect our ability to pick up on attention levels and attitude. We perhaps need to consider other means of engaging learners in order to pinpoint where they are struggling.

With this in mind Heads of Learning will now be asking; how do we continue to develop our people and ensure our learning remains effective? Is digital and virtual learning now going to be the only way forward?

We asked our own Head of Learning and eLearning Network Board Member, Luke Merrick, for his thoughts:

"Regardless of the format for learning - in-person, digital, or virtual - some of the biggest influences on effectiveness are and will continue to be:

  • the alignment of programmes to real business problems;
  • a focus on equipping employees to overcome real challenges that relate to the business problems; and
  • the use of effective methods to design and develop solutions.

Neither in-person, digital, nor virtual learning is inherently more or less effective than the others. What counts is the approach taken and the methods used. Poor methods lead to ineffective training in all three formats, and quality methods lead to effective training in all.

In terms of the way forward, organisations need to see workplace learning as fully digital or virtual in 2021 and focus on how to improve the fast-yet-messy solutions that were put in place in 2020. Got a big annual training weekend planned for September that was postponed last year? Reimagine it as a series of smaller events online. Replaced 2 days of in-person training with 2 days of Zoom meetings? Think about how to break it up into resources and experiences so that learners don’t hate you and their jobs.

As a member of the board, this is a challenge that we’ve been facing at the eLearning Network over the last year. As a non-profit network, a strong part of our member offering was in-person events, meetings, and workshops. For 2021, we’re reimagining what the cancelled events from last year can look like online, and how we can improve on the rapid - but often ad hoc and less-than-ideal - solutions that we had to roll out in a hurry in 2020."

Storytelling at a pace to engage learners

What makes digital and virtual learning effective is greatly influenced by certain key factors that make this learning environment unique.

The isolation factor can play a key role with participants. As we are now working remotely, learning from home has many advantages like greater accessibility and a decreased carbon output, but it also poses significant challenges in terms of engagement.

Engagement of learners is critical for creating lasting outcomes. Junction-18 understand the importance here and we believe that one way you can achieve this with proper pacing. Classroom environments tend to move in a casual way while virtual learning moves much more quickly, think podcast.

The use of technology in creative ways to enhance the learning experience is now of paramount importance and for e-learning that has to be engaging and has high uptake levels.

Here are 6 tips from our team on how to achieve this:

Junction-18 quick guide

 1. Think differently by starting with “Why?”

Why will the learner be motivated to pay attention? Are we explaining the benefit to them before or during the training? Why should we have different tasks and activities?

To ensure engagement levels remain high to consider the benefits of the technology at your disposal. Encourage them to make the most of it by asking for user participation by raising a virtual hand and carving out time for a live Q&A section. Ask individuals to contribute, then use chat/whiteboard functions for debate and discussions, and surveys to generate a real-time response. Breakout rooms are a great way to enable groups to work collectively, while a Twitter hashtag encourages comments to be shared.

If your learning and development department has the budget for short videos, consider creating some to introduce activities in order to break up the typical Zoom format.

With all of these suggestions, it's important that your learners and trainers understand how to use the technology available to them. If your business has primarily relied on face-to-face training in the past, don't presume that everyone has the technical literacy required to fully participate. When deploying a new online or digital learning programme, be patient and ensure learners and trainers have sufficient training on how to make it work.

I know anecdotally of one oil and gas trading firm that pushed their employees onto Teams last year without offering any resources or training as to how to use it. Deployment was predictably messy and the platform remained ineffective for months as employees were forced to learn on the job.

2. Keep your communications clear and to the point

How do you keep learners engaged throughout? Challenge at pace. Keep your main points "on point." Make presentations, questions, and directions clear and concise. Don't information dump or give learners more than they need to know. Training doesn't need to turn them into subject matter experts, just make them effective enough to understand and accomplish well-defined outcomes.

When appropriate, use digital storytelling with lively visuals to create impact. A film, video, animation, and gamification are massively useful and important to virtual learning now more than ever. But don't throw the kitchen sink at learners in terms of format without a reason. In other words: No gamification for gamification's sake.

3. Keep it real

As we are now working from home for the foreseeable future learners are in their own workspace. Provide access to real-time information in live exercises: deploy a tool that can be immediately applied. Ask learners to share internally with colleagues and externally share what they did with others, especially if the learning will evolve and cover multiple sessions.

4. Are we sitting comfortably

We all love online learning (well, maybe not, depending on past training traumas...). For those of us who prefer traditional methods of learning, what is your L&D team doing to ensure you get the results from your online learning? Adequate planning and forethought will help remove the barriers of distraction and delays. Address any issues ahead of time and test your technology and communication tools i.e. Zoom, Teams etc. Technology is a wonderful thing as long as it works, but be sure to ask “what do we have in place if it fails?”

5. Cuppa?

We are a nation of tea lovers, so take a break! Short breaks are proven to increase concentration and engagement levels. Whether it's a self-paced module or live online learning event, encourage short breaks at regular intervals to decrease boredom and distraction. Maybe pose a question or suggestion for the learner to think of whilst they put the kettle on to keep the focus on the task at hand.

6. Lasting impressions

The support we offer learners during and after learning events plays a massive role in whether long-lasting business outcomes are achieved.

Ensure lasting change by integrating learning into personal development plans and encourage the use of the new knowledge into daily work routines aligning to your company values. Create supportive resources to facilitate ongoing learning in the flow of work. These can be simple resources like PDFs, brief video refreshers following the event.

Whatever is created we know that it has to be impactful and it has to be delivered quickly. Junction-18 creates engaging and effective solutions that make a difference, best-in-class user experiences, design, messaging, and seamless use of storytelling that will help you shape the future of learning in your organisation.

This year we're expanding our products and services to accommodate changing customer needs. For more information, don't hesitate to contact me.