Insights|Overcoming the COVID-19 Learning Curve

Overcoming the COVID-19 Learning Curve

The continued impact of coronavirus on businesses around the globe has put traditional approaches to professional learning and development (L&D) - and their inbuilt limitations – firmly in the spotlight.

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by Sitel Staff October 8, 2020 - 4 MIN READ

The continued impact of coronavirus on businesses around the globe has put traditional approaches to professional learning and development (L&D) – and their inbuilt limitations – firmly in the spotlight. Seven months into a global pandemic being declared, what have L&D leaders learned about training in a crisis and how COVID-19 has helped shape the future of workplace learning?  

When COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic, all non-essential business activities were suspended as companies rallied to find new ways of operating in the face of an unprecedented challenge.

One of the first activities put on hold was workplace L&D. As governments around the world took action to minimize the spread of the virus, businesses were forced to postpone or cancel all in-person training in line with social distancing or all-out lockdown measures.

Closing down classrooms

Research by Learning Solutions magazine of learning and development leaders found that during the first three months of the pandemic, 41% of organizations were forced to cancel all in-person training due to coronavirus-imposed restrictions and just 4.5% of organizations were in a position where face-to-face classes were still at all possible.

However, as we move from the initial disruption of this spring and into the fall, and as businesses are still trying to evolve operations and reevaluate their strategies in line with the continued impact of COVID-19, what has become abundantly clear is that continued professional training and development is an absolute necessity for transitioning to the new normal.

How do you train for transition?

This has, in many cases, presented a monumental challenge to organizations whose existing learning and development content and approaches to deployment were too rigid to respond. Learning Solutions magazine research highlighted that less than 10% of organizations were reliant – pre-COVID-19 – on physical face-to-face classes as part of their L&D programs insulating them from the impact of social distancing or a move to remote working.

According to Gartner, at the end of April, 65% of U.S. organizations had already transitioned at least 60% of their employees to remote working; this presented a huge logistical challenge for most companies.

A PwC study reveals that the majority of office workers (83%) want to work from home at least one day a week, and half of employers (55%) anticipate that most of their workers will do so long after COVID-19 has ceased to be a concern.

But, increased home working offers benefits but also poses new challenges for organizations. A recent IBM study highlights a need for employers to dig deeper to understand and effectively deliver the support their employees need to be successful in a remote work environment. While three-quarters of executives report successfully helping their employees learn the skills they need to operate in the new way, only a third of employees agree.

The same research also found that just 22% of Americans were already accustomed to regular home working before coronavirus-related movement restrictions were imposed. Therefore, it’s little surprise that a poll conducted by Thrive Global in the same month reported 85% of American working adults were demanding more support from their employers in making the transition to remote work.

Rethinking training delivery

To attempt to deliver continuity for existing training programs while also trying to solve the new problems newly remote employees were experiencing, Institute of Corporate Productivity research found that 60% of businesses had pivoted to platforms such as Zoom and Skype for deploying face-to-face training.

But, adapting to these new challenges meant more than simply digitizing instructor-led training or substituting face-to-face interviews with phone calls. It has demanded a complete rethink on training and development content, its method of deployment and how it will be received and absorbed by learners. And, unfortunately for many HR and learning professionals, they found themselves hamstrung – trying to innovate and to be responsive to constantly changing needs while operating within budget constraints.

Little wonder that, when faced with the task of creating courses to address IT security and common tech issues for remote workers, or in helping people to effectively manage their time when off-site, 75% of L&D leaders told IBM they have struggled to align their existing approaches, tools and strategies with the challenges to professional training and development caused by COVID-19.

New tools for new times

Fortunately, as well as highlighting the limitations in existing systems and approaches, the impact of COVID-19 has also shown which technologies, tools and processes are making a positive difference to employees.

Data from Fosway Group, which surveyed L&D leaders, shows that to date, video content (18.2%), curated content and materials (17.1%) and blended learning – which applies the best elements of e-learning and instructor, or virtual instructor-led sessions – (14.1%) are proving the best methods for engaging with and educating an increasingly dispersed workforce.

There is already sufficient data available in support of the benefits of digital learning and development tools – from Learning Management Platforms to mobile-friendly micro courses and social learning and gamification. As a result, uptake and investment in these technologies continues to grow at a steady state. However, thanks to the unprecedented challenges presented over the course of this year, the adoption of digital approaches and blended solutions is expected to accelerate exponentially in 2021. Even when operating within budget constraints, organizations are having to think of different modalities and different content elements for the development of their employees.

Finding the right blend

Just like having an active social media presence, technology-driven learning and development is no longer a nice to have but is proving itself a necessity and this new necessity is forcing organizations to reconsider the adequacy of their learning infrastructure and delivery plans. There is a spotlight on workplace learning and development like never before. Research from LinkedIn that canvased 864 development professionals and 3,155 workplace learners shows that for 66% of learning and development leaders, their role has grown substantially as a result of coronavirus. As for organizational approaches to training, 60% of organizations are going to prioritize spending on online courses and two-thirds are planning to invest more in 2021 than in 2020 in virtual instructor-led training because the growing consensus is that blended learning is the essential ingredient for moving comfortably into the new normal. 

There has never been a wider choice of tools, technologies or approaches for addressing learning needs via digital channels. However without a clear assessment, such as Sitel® Learning Needs Analysis, of the current state and the steps necessary to meet an organization’s future state, companies are going to fail to identify areas of weakness and opportunities for a greater return on investment. 

Learn more about how Sitel Group® ‘s EXP+™ Engage solutions can help with your L&D needs. 

written by Sitel Staff
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