The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital learning and forced companies to rethink their learning programs. Edmund Tierbutt reveals the secret to proper hybrid learning and development
While virtual learning and development (L&D) practices were certainly evident before the lockdown, the sheer need left most companies no choice but to join them. So, whatever the industry, it is clear that we have already passed the point of no return.
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Face-to-face training is returning to some skills but will now typically be used in conjunction with virtual methods in a hybrid program.
The exact mix of old and new will depend on the requirements and culture of the respective company. And in any combination, the success of the program will depend on making the right decisions on issues such as technology, content, and engagement.
Laura Walker, Senior Consultant at Hemsley Fraser Education and Training says: “The trick is to understand that hybrid learning is not the same as a hybrid event and it’s about getting the right mix of elements and processes for the journey. It’s all about making the right use of time, place, and people, and measuring efficiency, productivity, and what the experience is like.”
On the one hand, some companies are finding they just need access to virtual classrooms through existing video conferencing systems like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. On the other hand, firms are investing in customized services provided by a learning management system (LMS), either on a stand-alone basis, as an add-on to a HR system, or in partnership with external organizations.
Guy Ellis, managing director of training company GenZ Insight, says: “Many video conferencing systems can offer breakout rooms, screen sharing and an interactive whiteboard and are typically used for one-time training sessions. The key difference is that an LMS is a repository of learning already completed.
“If you provide special training, investing in an LMS can be a waste of time. But if you want to provide an ongoing L&D program, it will allow you to store and replicate and will give you tremendous flexibility to deliver to your employees at their convenience, at the time and place that suits them, and from any device.”
Foster + Partners design architects simply use Teams. The fact that 300 of the company’s 1,700 employees are based outside the UK makes some virtual interaction essential, but face-to-face training is still highly valued where possible, especially for softer leadership and management skills where body language is most important.
“Distance learning is more of a necessity than a pleasure to have”
Luggie Diamandi, head of training and development at the company, says: “Remote learning is more of a necessity than a pleasant acquisition. This is more restrictive because, unlike face-to-face communication, the trainer cannot pick up the signal that it is time for someone to speak. The virtual environment is just two-dimensional and you don’t get eye contact, off-road conversations, intuition or intuition.”
Branko Bielobaba, managing director of insurance compliance consultancy Branko, also uses Teams and Zoom. “Many trainers I know are successfully taking the same approach and I would only need a platform if I wanted to record modules so people can buy them and watch them at their convenience.”
Caffè Nero, on the other hand, has found an offline LMS key to retrain, motivate and engage its 5,000 UK and 1,000 employees worldwide post-lockdown.
Andrea Cooper, group director of human resources at the coffee chain, says: “This can provide an onboarding system that means new hires can be put on a learning path right away and there are valuable practical aspects of administration such as people can climb up. for training or for an invitation.
“This gives us the ability to track our results and help us analyze whether they are aligned with business goals, and allows us to keep employees engaged by giving out badges as motivational rewards and providing access to modules, hands-on demos, films and quizzes. People need to feel like the online experience is just as good as the in-person experience.”
Elaine Hunt, head of learning and development at Apex Group, a global financial services provider, says her company’s standalone LMS is worth the investment. This was valuable in providing compliance information and urgent training to the company’s 10,000 employees, to monitor their performance, and to create a library of various training and development topics.
She says: “It was important to have a standalone system because we have a pretty advanced way of deploying training programs and our HR systems don’t. It can create modular courses and extend to softer skills such as time management, communication under pressure, personal effectiveness, and goal setting.”
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Insurance company RSA admits that telecommuting and hybrid L&D has so many benefits that it will never go back to the pre-pandemic situation, when it was the exception rather than the norm for its 5,200 employees in the UK.
Keith Heseltine, head of L&D, says: “This allows you to schedule training at a time that works for more people, have larger classes, and avoid travel costs and the practicalities of finding a space. Doing it virtually is more cost-effective and saves time for the individual.”
An internal L&D survey conducted in June indicated that many employees would like to return to the classroom for highly qualified courses.
Heseltine adds: “There will be a combination in the future and we are working on a pilot project to get the balance right. It’s about not making assumptions about what employees want.”
After the lockdown, the video conferencing provider switched from Webex to Teams, but still uses the same pre-lockdown LMS that Cornerstone uses. It hosts learning resources for everything from leadership, business skills and personal effectiveness to insurance technical content and regular mandatory eLearning.
Likewise, most external virtual providers are the same firms that used to provide face-to-face learning and development services.
Choosing the right supplier is critical, and most experts stress the importance of getting referrals from and talking to their existing customers. Awards given by industry bodies can also serve as useful indicators of quality.
Ellis says: “Content quality has to be a priority. The ROI of an LMS is typically 20%, but if you get people involved right, it can be as high as 60%. So you want relevant content, delivered in a tone of voice and in a way that suits your employees.”
Experts emphasize that the transfer of seminar materials intended for personal communication does not work in a virtual environment.
Nick Girvan, director of training at consulting firm PDT Global, says: “Virtual and distance learning is taking place at a shorter time and a full day is too much. When designing training interventions for hybrid and remote solutions, you need to break down topics and decide what can be labeled versus what requires the assistance of an instructor.
“Hybrid and remote learning design means you can get more out of your trainer’s professional experience and not just voice over slides. Use remote learning resources to provide basic and introductory shared content, then use a live virtual session to bring content to life with discussion, real-life experiences, stories, and breakout groups.”
It’s also important not to design in isolation, Girvan adds, but to bring educators and digital learning designers together to create paths. Remote modules should be based on live virtual sessions, and the live virtual session should be as creative as the remote modules.
Since adults only learn about what interests them, it’s important to explain why the event is relevant and keep employees interested in interesting facts and nuggets, perhaps using short videos to whet their appetites.
Finally, no matter how fun and useful the content you create is, never underestimate the importance of role modeling.
Walker says: “Employees will learn what their colleagues do, not say, so if senior leaders don’t learn themselves, nothing will happen.”
Full article above first appeared in the July/August 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to receive all of our latest articles straight to your desk.