Growing our L&D practice in response to COVID

Growing our L&D Practice
Growing our L&D Practice – Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

COVID has brought many changes to our lives and as L&D professionals, one change close to home is the dramatic shift in the way people learn.  When the pandemic hit, we found ourselves on a daunting (or exhilarating – depending on your point of view) roller-coaster ride! 

First – we had to deal with repeated training workshop cancellations.  Then, soon after, came the barrage of requests for online training. For many of us, this meant being forced to perform on an unfamiliar and daunting stage. 

At the same time, it gave us the greatest chance of our lives to practise what we preach, to learn, stretch and grow like our livelihoods depended on it!

At Affinity Health at Work, we spoke to a group of 14 independent L&D practitioners as they navigated their way through the early peak of the pandemic, dealing with the uncertainty and discovering new ways to adapt and thrive. 

ACCESS the CIPD report and read it online here:

This article summarises their key insights and tips which cover all four stages of the Learning Cycle.  

As an L&D professional, chances are that you’re passionate about people and enjoy connecting with others on a human level.  TWEET THIS

Challenges Encountered

  1. Lack of clarity and visibility of learner needs
  2. ‘Lift and shift’ doesn’t work
  3. A sense of lost human connection
  4. It can be exhausting!

1. Lack of Clarity and Visibility of Learner Needs

With organisations plunged into a sudden state of flux, capability plans appeared to get ripped up and replaced by a knee-jerk approach. 

Layered on top of that, sudden widespread remote working made employees and their learning needs less visible, with opportunities for us to get close and observe either limited or non-existent.

2. ‘Lift and shift’ doesn’t work

With little understanding of what it takes to design learning content, clients often expected us to simply convert in-person workshops to Zoom or MS Teams. 

It didn’t take long to discover that this approach would not work effectively, that content often needed to be drastically cut down and re-designed with thought and care to have impact in the digital environment.

3. A sense of lost human connection

As an L&D professional, chances are that you’re passionate about people and enjoy connecting with others on a human level. 

You may well rely on your ability to read the training room, spot the non-verbal cues and create a buzzing sense of rapport amongst learners. 

The online shift caused many of us to lament the change in dynamic and reduced sense of human connectivity. 

4. It can be exhausting!

Delivering online can be mentally and physically draining. 

Our brains must work harder to keep the energy going, whilst simultaneously keeping half an eye on the chat box and juggling other tech tools along the way. 

This cognitive overload has been taking its toll on us as facilitators, whilst the delegate experience of maintaining focus whilst learning through a screen can be equally exhausting!

Finding Solutions

By reframing the challenges and being bold in experimenting with new techniques, we have discovered creative solutions at every stage of the Learning Cycle.  Here are some of the tips highlighted through our research

  1. Needs Analysis
  2. Design
  3. Delivery
  4. Evaluation
Avoid direct conversion of in-person to digital learning content, but instead – reduce and simplify.   TWEET THIS

1. Needs Analysis

Help clients to increase their visibility of employee needs.  Everything can seem blurrier in the virtual world, so ask incisive questions that help to cut through the ambiguity, clarifying goals and needs as accurately as possible. 

Take a creative and flexible partnership approach.  Use your own experience and wider evidence (e.g., global or national benchmark data) to influence and help inform the right learning investments. 

Ask yourself:

  • How have your relationships with leaders/clients evolved throughout the pandemic?
  • What methods have you found most effective in diagnosing learner needs without relying on face-to-face interaction?
  • In what ways do you challenge or provoke clients to ensure they get to the nub of an issue and make sound learning investments versus ticking a box?

2. Design

Avoid direct conversion of in-person to digital learning content, but instead – reduce and simplify. 

Apply sound learning principles, for example, incorporating ample opportunities for social learning and connection before, during and after online programmes.

A blended, modular approach is becoming more and more suited to current and future ways of working, increasing opportunities for learner reflection, application, and reinforcement in between formal learning sessions. 

Ask yourself:

  • How have you adjusted your approach to learning design for the digital environment?
  • What methods have you found most and least effective, and why?
  • Which content topics or themes have worked well online, and which have been harder to convert?  Why is this?
But be sure to strike a good balance between using the whizzy tech tools available and keeping things simple TWEET THIS

3. Delivery

Identify opportunities to experiment and pilot new delivery approaches with supportive clients. 

But be sure to strike a good balance between using the whizzy tech tools available and keeping things simple with some fundamental facilitation skills and techniques.    

Challenge yourself to find new ways of quickly building rapport and interaction. 

The virtual classroom can be an intimate safe environment for courageous disclosure, insight-sharing, and positive connection.

Role model openness, promoting collaboration and participation for all.

Protect your energy before, during and after delivery. 

Remember to build in breaks and replace the old face-to-face training rituals (e.g., travelling to and from the venue, setting up the room, etc.) with other means of ‘getting in the zone’ and ‘winding down’. 

For example, creating a pre- and post-delivery buffer to exercise, practise meditation, move/stretch and shift gear.

Ask yourself:

  • What new skills have you learnt, or strengths have you identified through online delivery? 
  • What has been your biggest personal barrier, and what have you done to overcome it?
  • What strategies have you found most effective in generating rapport and interaction online?  What other strategies and activities could you use?


4. Evaluation

Regularly request in-the-moment feedback on how your online approach is working to engage learners and actively use this to adapt and improve.

At the same time, keep pushing clients to engage in longer-term evaluation.  Demonstrate how important it is to understand how effective all modes of learning – and particularly digital – are in supporting the health and sustainability of their organisation.

Ask yourself:

  • What feedback have you received from learners and stakeholders, and what aspects of your online learning have you changed as a result?
  • To what extent does the organisation value/carry out long-term planning and evaluation of learning? 
  • What could you do to utilise and shift this perception?
  • What has worked for you to support and influence the organisation proactively?  What could you do more of?

Conclusion

The changes we’ve had to make to ourselves and our L&D practice in response to COVID have been huge, and of course the transformation continues.

In this article, we have explored some of the common challenges faced and solutions identified so far. But what might the future hold?

As hybrid work becomes normalised, there is a place for all forms of learning, though safe to say we will see many more organisations embracing a blended approach.

They will want to hold on to the unexpected benefits of online learning discovered through our collective home-working experiment, integrated with high quality face-to-face interventions offering the social context where learning can thrive.

As L&D professionals, we must be ready and equipped for this. We must adopt a learning mindset towards our own L&D skills, showing courage, curiosity, humility and openness to new experiences.

We must keep our finger on the pulse with evolving learner needs and priorities. Digital induction and onboarding; supporting the management of hybrid teams; promoting health, wellbeing and inclusion are just some of the growing themes where we have a key role to play.

As tech-enablement continues to increase, we can role model ‘being human’ in the digital world by showing our vulnerabilities and encouraging others to be their true selves.

And finally – one big lesson COVID has taught us is the crucial importance of human connectivity.

Let’s be deliberate and purposeful in building relationships and rapport with learners, clients and peers. This is uncharted territory, and we are all on this giant learning curve together!

What additional thoughts and personal learnings would you share?

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