We've dealt with the emergency - now the work starts

We've dealt with the emergency - now the work starts

In the last year or so, most of us have had to deal with a rising demand for L&D programmes which are Covid safe. The go to solution for many was virtual – using video conference technology to deliver virtual classrooms and webinars to meet demand, and help workers adapt to a changed world of work.

Some of those programmes were, inevitably, short term. They existed to fix an immediate problem of working from home or adapting to C-19 restrictions; using unfamiliar technology; or protecting our mental wellbeing in a world of work to which we were unaccustomed.

Some of those programmes will need to endure. Either because the new needs remain and our capability to navigate this new hybrid world requires further attention; or because the programmes we redesigned were meeting ongoing and long term requirements.

Which means that as we emerge from lockdown, it seems now is a good time to take stock of what’s worked, what do we want to keep (and what do we want to jettison) and what work remains.

1: Virtual worked

Those L&D teams who saw the lockdown as an opportunity to learn how virtual sessions can support team and individual capability have – for the most part – been pleasantly surprised that the results were pretty good. I have certainly heard both participants and facilitators say that they prefer them. There are two key factors here:

  • Short more numerous sessions work better than trying to replicate whole days in the classroom with whole days on a video conference. However much we use breakouts and other interaction tools, virtual makes demands on concentration and focus which is different from being in a classroom where you are able/required to physically move as you engage.
  • Replacing days in a classroom with short sessions provides the opportunity to intersperse these sessions with just in time access to resources and activities – delivered online and asynchronously. This development of traditional blended solutions has led to another thing we want to keep hold of…

2: Learning Journeys

Having escaped the tyranny of the 2-day classroom event, we can now create meaningful learning journeys which support integration of learning into work and provide a coherent flow of new content with practice and application activities integral to the learning process. Having set up an application activity, the subsequent virtual sessions are much richer - based on a shared experience of trying something new and reflecting on what this means for each individual. This also means that…

3: 'Peer to Peer’ and ‘Manager to learner’ support

became more of a reality. When there are clear workplace activities to support, and points where engagement with your line manager or others going through the learning journey, adds value, this seems like a complete no-brainer to me.

Let’s be honest. Previous attempts to utilise learning teams or managers as coaches was an uphill struggle. Organisations said their managers didn’t have time and – at least tacitly – expected training to happen independently of anything in the workplace. The experience of the last year or so has made countering these arguments much easier. It’s not perfect – managers still seem reluctant to get involved in supporting team members’ capability and the organisation of work doesn’t routinely enable people to try new things and learn from their mistakes – but we have made progress and need to push on.

By contrast, the things we need to jettison are pretty simple to figure out.  Get rid of:

  • Long lecture based virtual sessions. They are dull and – worse – ineffective.
  • Training which ‘cures’ performance problems. It’s rare that being in a workshop or classroom session solves much on its own. Be honest that change may be accelerated or initiated by a course, but, on their own, most courses achieve very little by way of improved performance.
  • Learning which is exclusively knowledge based. Without a clear link to people being able to do things differently and do different things we shouldn’t be designing a learning intervention at all. Delivering virtually doesn’t change the reality that learning for the workplace requires experience in the workplace.

Which brings me to work we need to do:

A phrase much used and abused in recent times is Agile Development. This is an iterative process of build, test, refine and repeat. It’s basis is the minimum viable product (MVP) where we get something out there which is OK – it meets a need – but it isn’t the final version. MVP is tech-speak for ‘not quite finished yet’.

When we look at things we have created – whether designs for virtual sessions, supporting digital modules and resources or work-place tasks – it’s neither unexpected nor unrealistic to think that these are MVPs. The need for a rapid and emergency response has meant that perfect was not expected and we have produced things which are OK but which now need the wrinkles removing to make them good enough to remain as a long-term solution.

Work-flow working has been boosted by the pandemic, but we’ve all learned that its much trickier than the advocates of 70:20:10 or other simplistic overviews would admit to. Getting it right and getting it done will require much more work with the business to get everyone on board and to create the expectation that we provide inputs but you need to do the learning. We have been guilty of comforting people in the assumption that we can do it all for them. We can’t, we never could and we shouldn’t allow the belief that we can to endure.

What about face to face?

There is some evidence that demand for face to face courses is re-emerging. We need to be realistic. There is a growing demand for home based or ‘hybrid’ working. If we accept that most office workers who were able to work at home want to continue doing so at least part of the time, then why should we expect them to return to the classroom?

And let’s not forget that more than half the UK workforce was not able to work from home. They’ve either been adapting what they do to be Covid safe or they’ve been furloughed. When furloughed, a lack of clarity about the rules meant that, although they could be trained, many weren’t. And of course, in the UK government’s mind, training is separate from work. Yeah, I know!

Like those who will return to the workplace one or two days per week, we need to reframe our approaches to include some face to face activity. But only where we can show a definite value (because it costs a fortune in travel, accommodation, venue hire and catering – it needs to offer a return).

How about a learning journey which kicks off with a face to face session and ends with one? The bits in the middle can include virtual sessions, digital modules and resources and work-based tasks. We have shown it works, so let’s be flexible, adaptable and pragmatic.

Overall, the L&D profession have stepped up to the mark during the pandemic. Now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal, but to build on the sound foundations we have laid in extreme circumstances.

First published in Training Zone

About the Author
Robin Hoyle

Written by Robin Hoyle

Robin has spent almost three decades as a strategic L&D leader, trainer and consultant. As a writer and blogger he focuses on workforce development policies, learning strategies, tools and techniques. He has written two books, ‘Informal Learning in Organizations: How to Create a Continuous Learning Culture’ and ‘Complete Training: From Recruitment to Retirement’, both published by Kogan Page. Robin is a Fellow of the Learning and Performance Institute and the Chair of the World of Learning Conference. In his role as Head of Learning Innovation at Huthwaite International, he is exploring routes to enhancing the learning experience and the impact of all Huthwaite’s training and learning interventions.