L&D in Lockdown: What’s taking place?

There’s been a lot written about schools having to adapt almost overnight to a digital world when lockdown was thrust upon them. And from conversations with family and friends, schools seem to have taken very different approaches to this.  For some it has involved setting up online classrooms on established education technology platforms that involve pupils downloading lessons and uploading work as well as video sessions with the class teacher and other pupils using Zoom.  Other schools, however, have taken a different approach, by providing a series of resources and activities for their students to choose to do (supported by Web resources) and sending their work back to their teachers. This latter approach has inspired pupils to be creative and imaginative.

So when in comes to workplace learning, how have organisational L&D teams responded to the situation? I decided to find out a bit more about what L&D teams were thinking and doing in times of lockdown.  I wanted to know whether they

  • were they just carrying on as before – perhaps believing that he pandemic was just a blip on the landscape and things would be back to normal pretty soon
  • putting everything online – as schools had been doing – i.e providing all their content digitally or putting all their live training into Zoom
  • doing different things – recognising that things had to change and this was a good opportunity to try out new approaches
  • preparing for a postCovid world – when, if some are to be believed the workplace won’t be the same as it was before; there will a “new normal”

I set up a quick Twitter poll, Unfortunately due to character restrictions I could only use limited options, so was therefore not able to clarify exactly what I was looking for. It also meant that respondents could only choose one option, so I asked for comments or messages to give more detail. I also posted a link to my poll on LinkedIn, and asked for comments there too. 256 people voted in the poll whilst others left informative responses on Twitter and LinkedIn, so I thank everybody who contributed in some way or other. Here is the original tweet with the results of the poll.

From an analysis of these results, I can see that there is a clear blurring of the (responses to the) options. So, bearing all that in mind here are some general observations together with links to some relevant articles. Please note I also have not personally named any respondents in this article as some of the responses came to me in private messages.

There are clearly some L&D people who are doing the same as before – either because their work has already been digitised or because they are just sitting out the lockdown. Others have clearly had a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic and pretty much put everything online overnight. This is confirmed by a Deloitte report cited in an article in CMS Wire

“84% of L&D functions have cancelled in-person trainings due to COVID-19, and 83% of L&D functions have decided to shift in-person training to virtual”

In many ways this is quite ironic because some organisations have resisted digitisation for a long time; but needs must. Certainly Covid-19 has had a much bigger impact on change than anything or anyone else, as this witty tweet suggests.

The use of Zoom, in particular, has escalated as it is regularly employed for web meetings as well as virtual training. At the beginning of April Venturebeat reported that Zoom’s daily active users jumped from 10 million to over 200 million in 3 months.

But it’s now being used so much that workers are suffering from Zoom fatigue – when all the sessions blur together – and people are becoming “Zoombies”, as Anthony Silard calls them! And there other drawbacks with delivering training on Zoom, as the CMS Wire article (mentioned above) reports

“ensuring L&D programs remain effective when delivered solely online involves a lot more than just putting trainers and employees on camera. It may require a whole new approach to training.

“You can’t just take an in-person program and deliver it virtually,” explained Sari Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner’s HR practice. “To make it work, you may need to rethink the content, facilitator, delivery approach, and possibly even change expectations for learning objectives.”

In fact, the key to good virtual meetings – and indeed virtual training sessions – is to avoid replicating what you do in real life. Stephen Shapiro in Inc, puts it like this

“Don’t replicate or automate, innovate”

One respondent to my Twitter reiterated this point

“Transferring workshops from analogue to digital is no added value for all participants. Or meetings – these must be conducted differently. Teamwork must be redesigned.”

So what are L&D doing differently?

Zoom is still being used to power virtual sessions, but L&D folk are using different formats than traditional training, e.g.

  • leaders’ talk shows
  • virtual interactive sessions for staff to share how they are doing, what has inspired them, energised them, what they are learning and they will take into the future.
  • virtual coaching to support people managing change and virtual working.
  • 30-min “pop up” trainings on simple, urgent topics like MS Teams

Others in L&D are experimenting with new (for them) formats, e.g.

  • book summaries and podcasts
  • weekly newsletters on key topics, mostly to create faster distribution channels
  • converting face to face items to virtual offerings in various forms, accelerating online access and remote learning campaigns
  • curation of internal and external content
  • experimenting with creative practice via an online platform (eg simple drawing exercises designed to help people learn, engage, relax, talk, draw, experiment)
  • taking the time to reflect and make a better learning experience? Running things online that people said couldn’t be done virtually.

Some in L&D are also looking for new areas of work to support the business, e.g. shifting their strategic focus towards things like “innovation skills” as there’s a need for new revenue streams. Also there is a bigger emphasis on managers with focus on communication, leadership, empathy to help steer their teams through the crisis.

But this response on LinkedIn summarises it up well.

“Time for Smart Learning, Jane. Many opportunities…. here are two key ones: 1) working with leaders and teams to quickly define new business outcomes needed and supporting the different thinking, learning and coaching that can accelerate performance 2) coaching leaders how to infuse learning into day to day agile work needed right now. We assume leaders know how to be a catalyst/ booster shot here and that assumption is often not true. If there was ever a time for different thinking about learning and doing, this is it.”

And when it comes to preparing for a post-Covid return to work, here are some further ways that L&D are planning for the future

  • putting programs online that have always been delivered in person (like onboarding)
  • developing blended programs, e.g. developing online elements now and in-person for post-Covid
  • fundamentally re-designing their programs
  • observing how other L&D teams are responding, leveraging progress made in terms of embracing technologies

However, it does seem to me that the focus is still largely on designing and delivering training in the belief/hope that things will return to normal. But the reality may not be quite like that. Remote workers have been enjoying levels of autonomy and flexibility they have not experienced before, and they will likely be looking to retain these benefits in the future. Diana Mulcay writes in Forbes

“The battle for remote work has been ongoing. Employees want the choice and flexibility to work outside the office at least some of the time, but many companies and even more managers resist it. Will this short-term (at minimum) and large-scale experiment in remote work change that? It’s hard to argue any other outcome. Once companies have the processes and tools in place, and the results of weeks, or even months, of remote working, it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle

Many people are now doing a lot more for themselves, and this includes addressing their own learning and development needs. So, I think it will be important that future L&D activities consider how autonomy can be supported in the new normal? Wouldn’t it make sense for there to be more focus on helping people to learn for themselves in the ways that suits them best, rather than forcing old-school programs upon them – even if they are dressed up in new clothes?

Furthermore, as the future is still unclear, with the possibility that we may move in and out out of lockdown over the next few years, is your organisation agile, adaptable and resilient to the changing situation?  So where should your L&D priorities lie? This is the question that Paul Jocelyn asked in a recent tweet.

In summary, many L&D practitioners are using lockdown time to do things differently and plan ahead to a post-Covid era, but I believe that there needs to be a fundamental shift from re-designing programs to supporting the very different needs, interests and working practices of their people as they emerge from lockdown.

UPDATE: 1 – 5 June 2020 – One-week pop-up workshop – Preparing for workplace learning in the new normal

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Jane Hart

Jane Hart helps organisations and learning professionals modernise their approaches to workplace learning - through public workshops and bespoke consultancy. She is the Editor of the Modern Workplace Learning Magazine, and is the author of a number of books including Modern Workplace Learning 2020 as well as the resource for individuals A Professional's Guide to Modern Learning. Jane was the 2018 recipient of the ATD Distinguished Contribution to Talent Development award. You can contact Jane at Jane.Hart@C4LPT.co.uk.