As the calendar turns to another year, it’s time to take stock. Last year I predicted that there would be some lessons learned from the rapid shift to virtual sessions and an uptick in distributed videos and use of digital apps. Certainly the rapid (and slightly panicked) shift to digital/virtual hybrids was followed by some more sober reflection and in many cases lessons were learned and virtual 2.0 was better as a result.
Not only were virtual sessions improved but the lessons learned fed into our return to the face to face classroom – shorter sessions, more activity before and between sessions and resources to support ‘levelling up’ (sorry) prior to the group being brought together. These are good things – were always good things – and only really gained traction amongst learning and development teams because we were forced to experiment and re-design. Necessity is not only the mother of invention but also the favoured Auntie of improvement.
The rush back to the classroom sort of happened for many of us. However, tempered with the debate about home/office hybrid working and natural concerns about enclosed spaces with groups of relative strangers, it wasn’t as immediate as I expected. Mostly this was because of uncertainty about R rates and transmission of Covid-19, but also because planning face to face courses requires some assurance that new restrictions won’t be suddenly reintroduced and planned events cancelled or postponed at the last minute. Better to be virtually certain than take the risk of ordering more flipchart pens.
One area I got wrong, was that senior staff would see face to face networking as being a perk of their position and would return to face to face events while their teams were left to the isolation of Zoom. The exact opposite seems to have happened. Senior teams appear happy to retain their virtual presence while herding staff back into conference rooms to be trained. Partly this is a symptom of the unhelpful discourse about in-person activity being more ‘real’ than virtual, and partly it is a response to the unfettered joy some in learning and development have about the return to the classroom. It seems the trainer as performer – the ‘sage on the stage’ – is very much alive and (high?) kicking their way through the old routines.
Unquestionably, however, the desire to return to Face to Face learning events is real from both course participants and those organising and running events. Whether that desire continues in the face of Omicron surges, and the potential for further work from home advice, remains to be seen. Certainly, I’m advising people that if their learning activity is time critical for the first half of 2022, then they should plan for virtual implementation.
So what else in 2022? Well, I don’t have a crystal ball nor do I pretend to know the future course of the pandemic which is still dominating the discussion, but here’s some potential light at the end of the tunnel. Happily, for those who like a bit of alliteration, the trends I highlight are the 3 P’s.
I can’t claim the credit for this, nor is it a new trend, but according to the Fosway Group there has been a growing use of multiple channels for learning and a welcome focus on supporting workplace learning as part of a hybrid approach to addressing skills gaps. In plain English, this means that
Learning and development teams are identifying priority gaps in employee capability
They are designing and distributing resources alongside digital and virtual courses
These activities naturally lead to a process of workplace application – supported by planned tasks designed to sustain the learning and support people as they implement new ways of working in their day to day role.
Not ground-breaking, perhaps – I and many would say “what took us so long?” - but the Covid premium for learning and development has been a real acceleration towards activities which rely less on off-the-job, group work and include more individual and individualised learning around real tasks and real work.
I think this will need to accelerate and be sustained into 2022. Not least because – as the Fosway research and others such as LinkedIn Learning have identified – we have major skills gaps and a need for upskilling people to perform new roles and old roles in new ways. The world of work has changed in most – if not all - sectors, and the old solutions are no longer fit for purpose. No urging to ‘return to normal’ by those with a vested interest in things being the same as they were pre-pandemic, is going to change that.
This may seem an extension of the pathway idea, but I see more focus on programmes which allow individuals to branch away from the pre-defined track and head off in directions of most relevance to them and their role. These programmes – sometimes called Academies or similar – create a common foundation on which future personalised learning activities can be built.
I’m certainly seeing more demand for programmes which create a common language and common vision of the future and then facilitate an exploration of what individuals need to do to enable them to respond effectively to the changed demands made of them.
Again, not before time. Many have advocated this kind of approach in the past, but the rhetoric and the reality have been somewhat different on the ground. Whereas everyone acknowledged that ‘one size does not fit all’, most corporate training initiatives had more in common with the sheep dip than we would care to admit. Is this changing? I hope so. Will rhetoric and reality finally match in 2022? I’m not so sure, but I’d like to think that organisations realise that addressing the skills gaps they now face cannot be done if we are wasting time trying to hammer round pegs into square holes. Especially, if the shape of the hole doesn’t accurately reflect the shape of the job folks need to do.
In other areas of our lives – from shopping, to arranging our booster jabs to communicating with those with like minds – we use platforms. One major boost to the digital economy – and the digital transformation which it requires – has been the increased use of platforms in our daily work.
What’s more, our people have shown us that they understand that different platforms have different functions. Individuals accept that they will use multiple platforms to access different resources, job aids or formal learning activities.
Once again, the Fosway research shows that over half of the respondents said that
digital learning fatigue was an issue and
they didn’t have a learning platform that was fit for purpose.
This raises a couple of issues for us in learning and development
First, we need to up our game. Yes, we’ve had to learn quickly how to create digital learning assets and run virtual classrooms. Many have still retained an ‘event-based’ mindset – still requiring classrooms (whether virtual or face to face) to deliver key content to groups of staff with different and differing needs. We need to think again about the purpose and importance of getting folks together in groups. I don’t believe we shouldn’t use group based learning, but I also believe we deploy the classroom when there are much better alternatives to enabling the change we – and our people – want to see.
Will it be hard to change those entrenched attitudes that training = classrooms? Yup. Should we shy away from the challenge? Nope.
Second, we need to investigate the potential for multiple platforms to achieve different results. Online collaboration is part of the very warp and weft of our working lives. How do we facilitate that collaboration between programme participants, between learners and facilitators and learners and subject matter experts? It might be one super-duper, all singing, all dancing platform, but - despite the claims of their creators and vendors - I think it unlikely. Choose the platforms (multiple) which meet the learning needs and the requirements of those whose behaviour needs to change and who need to develop new skills. Lets not allow some misguided pursuit for simplicity be the enemy of a pursuit of excellence.
As usual, I’ll review these claims towards the end of 2022 and amaze myself about how naïve, blind or limited my insights have been. But until then, I wish you all the best for a year in which the speed of change will challenge, uplift and dash down in despair.
It’ll be a helluva ride – enjoy it!
This article was first published in Training Zone