With everything else that has been happening during the pandemic and the lockdowns, the impact on Learning and Development has been interesting. For some organisations this really has not been a focus and their people have just been muddling through, adapting to the situation as needed, for some it has been an opportunity to upskill people who are perhaps not out on site with customers as much. One thing is for sure, there have been some significant shifts in how we learn as a result of the pandemic, so we wanted to highlight some of the changes and their potential impact.
Less peer-to-peer learning
With many people working remotely we are cut off from our support networks. This naturally effects things like sense of connection, team cohesion and wellbeing, but it also impacts how we learn. Gone are the days when you could simply tap a colleague on the shoulder and ask for help; we can no longer rely on other experts in the room to offer us assistance in the moment. Instead, we either have to find a suitable formal training option, schedule a meeting with a knowledgeable colleague or hunt the internet to find the assistance we need.
This lack of instant peer-to-peer informal learning has wide-ranging effects as people cannot learn what they need when they need it, and experienced colleagues lose out on opportunities to share their knowledge. The organisation may also overlook the talents of those within the business, potentially resulting in unnecessary hires to cover gaps which could be filled internally.
However, there are also some positives that may result. For example, individuals may have the opportunity to receive more in-depth training via formal routes if they do not have access to peer support. This could provide them with skills they weren’t even aware they needed, or ensure they receive a deeper understanding of a topic.
If formal training isn’t available, then a lack of peer support might encourage individuals to seek the answers themselves, which could, in turn, boost their sense of self-reliance and ability to problem solve.
In response to safety measures, many learning events are now being conducted via digital platforms. This applies to all kinds of learning, whether formal training for external providers, or in-house sessions.
The most significant benefit for many companies and individuals is increased access. Face-to-face training sessions can be off-putting for some due to the time and travel commitments; video sessions mean that more people can typically attend, and it often means that location is no longer a barrier to accessing training. This is particularly valuable for global organisations. Sessions also tend to be shorter, so can fit more easily into a busy schedule.
Many individuals and organisations have also found that virtual training can prove to be highly engaging, and when conducted live still allows individuals to interact with other attendees and the facilitator. This interaction is hugely important to enable effective learning, and is why live, facilitator-led webinars tend to be more impactful than pre-recorded events.
However, the enforced digital approach also means that the preferences and needs of individuals cannot be taken into account. Those who prefer to interact face-to-face with others or who struggle with the technology may not find the virtual method as effective. It may even put them off from attending training and delay their development. It’s therefore important that line managers, HR, and L&D teams work with employees to understand how they can continue to support them in their learning during this unusual time.
Change in focus
Prior to the pandemic, many organisations were pushing for strategic learning and development programmes, focusing on topics such as leadership to help prepare for the future. However, in response to the crisis many organisations have shifted their focus onto more immediate development needs. This includes upskilling teams in the use of core technology, such as video conferencing software, and other essential online tools, as well as providing training on wellbeing to help employees manage the current situation and the uncertainty surrounding it.
However, now that the immediate pressures have been addressed, many individuals and organisations recognise that there are also additional development requirements related to the change in working practices. For example, there’s a big growth in areas such as assertiveness in the virtual environment, how to manage remotely, conducting performance appraisals remotely, and communications skills for digital teams.
With many companies confirming a more permanent move to remote working, these are topics that will remain relevant for a long time to come, and the shift in focus to these areas is understandable. However, as we begin to look at a future beyond the pandemic, it’s also becoming clear that a renewed focus on strategic learning needs and capability assessment is required. Though it’s early days, it’s encouraging to see a gradual movement towards reintegrating these issues into the learning and development plan, alongside urgent skills development.