Moving from managing in a crisis to planning for the long term success of workplace learning

Earlier this year when the pandemic struck, many practitioners in the training industry were faced with a stark choice – adapt all your training programs and survive, or fall by the wayside. Many of us received urgent requests from clients to immediately shift all learning online. The industry generally faced up to the challenge and achieved the goal of implementing everything online in a short time frame. After having made it through the initial trial by fire, we have to recognise that throwing all our classroom training online isn’t a sustainable strategy and accept that we need a long term plan to cope with the changes that are coming to our industry.

To ensure your long-term workplace learning strategy is designed to adapt to coming changes you should focus on these three areas: where people will interact with training in the future, how to balance learning for the new environment and how to maintain the application of learning using learning transfer.

How will people work and interact with training in the future?

The quick answer is that people and companies are still trying to figure out what the right balance of office and home work should be. We all know people who like working at home and others can’t wait to get back into the office. People do still value face to face interactions, and although no-one has a crystal ball, it could be that routine office work can be done at home, whereas more collaborative or innovative work might be better done in a workplace designed specifically for those kind of interactions.

Although, the new environment is talked about a lot, there isn’t a concrete example of what that looks like yet, but as the picture emerges we in L&D need to be ready to adapt our design strategies to accommodate it. Most commentators think that there won’t be a return to full-time office working. For us as learning designers, balancing how to create training for mixed environments will be important and we should start by asking ourselves a few key questions as a first step to creating learning for application.

  • Location: Where will people in the company or client’s company work two years from now? Where people are influences not just the type of learning they can do but also how effective the learning will be.
  • Time: How much time will people spend in different locations? This will influence the quantity of learning they can do in any one space.
  • Access: How will learners want to access learning if they have to move between spaces? This will influence delivery options.

How to balance learning for the new working environment

In design it shouldn’t be assumed that one solution fits all, whether it’s for town planning, workspaces or learning programs. Virtual meeting platforms have been great for hosting online learning sessions, but the concept of doing everything virtually will probably need to be rethought once it’s clear how and where people will work in the future. In other words, using virtual meeting platforms to host training during a crisis is a great short term fix, but won’t work long term. Try thinking about making learning programs along these four lines.

  • Large groups: Use large groups for program kick offs with the C-suite or significant touchstone sessions, etc. Getting large groups together will be rare, needs to be done safely, and should have a big impact on the rest of the program. The main point is to ensure that learners recognise this as a special opportunity to meet each other, feel highly motivated and acquire the impetus to complete the whole program.
  • Small groups: Use small groups for peer learning or collaborative learning. In other words, learning together to achieve a shared outcome. These sessions can be done in remote teams and in small face to face groups where it’s safe. Getting people together to work in teams has several benefits, but the main goals here are to complete group tasks, share ideas in real time and move forward at the same pace throughout the program.
  • Individuals: This is where remote and digital learning shine. Use asynchronous learning for most training points along the program, especially knowledge training so long as it’s backed up with feedback or coaching points using existing channels and software.
  • Blended learning: In many situations, your programs will combine several elements to capitalise on the strength of each style. Note however, that not all learning programs require multiple elements. The idea of blended learning has been around for a long time, but technology now makes it practical to achieve at scale. To be successful, learning designs have to consider business goals, learning and content type, work locations, and access to determine what the blend of learning should be.

Apart from creating great blended learning programs, learning designers have to ensure that the learning will get used. That’s why learning transfer should also be central to design planning.

How learning transfer fits into the new work environment and learning design

Learning transfer is commonly seen as a support system for classroom training. That’s why people use the expression ‘transferring learning from the classroom to the workplace’. However, the future blended style lends itself very well to learning transfer strategies that can be used to make sure learning gets applied – at home or in the office. Here’s how.

  • Balance: How people use training, where it’s done and how people interact improves application when the blend of ideas, we suggested above, are all considered.
  • Flexibility: There is much more freedom to try new things. This allows designers to create innovative approaches to solving transfer problems.
  • Effectiveness: Training and workplace application are much more effective when the process of learning is designed rather than left to facilitators or storyboard animators.
  • Work-based: The majority of blended learning can be close to work and for the first time live happily with performance strategies that can be implemented remotely.
  • Self-paced: If most learning is self-paced, people feel like they have some control over what they do and can follow through better on the programs designed for them.

Final thoughts

Don’t expect all the changes to how we work and learn to come at once. However, the planning for change begins now. Start by integrating pieces of blended learning with learning transfer into your designs and back up the expected outcomes with evidence that it gets used in real work. In the end, this ‘Designed for application’ approach is the way forward and represents a positive change for the organisation, the learners and most importantly for you as a learning designer. Try these three things to get started:

  1. Think about where and how learning will occur and what is the best way to optimise the locations to serve the learner’s needs
  2. Understand what the problems will be when applying learning and plan how to overcome those problems using learning transfer
  3. Create a fully blended program approach that combines the other two elements and can be easily justified to the business and the learners

Good luck

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