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  • International Workplace
  • 6 May 2020
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COVID-19: Changing the way we learn forever?

Pre-Coronavirus, we were already seeing a movement away from traditional instructor-led (‘classroom’) training towards digital learning, but now it seems the COVID-19 pandemic is making some permanent changes to the way organisations learn.

Currently, a large amount of training is being cancelled, in line with the government’s recommendations for social distancing. It is not expected that this will change any time soon – it may be the autumn before rules are relaxed sufficiently to get back towards previous levels – but could it actually have a longer-term effect?

Research among HR and learning and development specialists reveals a feeling that corporate learning activities will be significantly more digital than before the pandemic, and that COVID-19 has led to a permanent trend towards working from home. This shift has increased employees’ freedom with regards to learning and encouraged a “learn from home culture” in companies.

“It is a challenging time for employees and companies, says Kristian Madsen, CEO of Bookboon Learning. “Agility and change will be the only constants. Companies are under a lot of pressure to adjust to the new reality.”

As a training provider, International Workplace has been on a journey from physical to digital for a number of years, with a stated ambition of delivering 80% of its learning services online. The distinction is an important one for Founder and CEO, David Sharp:

“I’ve been reading a lot during the pandemic about the divide between instructor-led and digital training, and the uncertainty among learning and development professionals. In reality, I think it’s dangerous to try and draw too many conclusions from what has ultimately so far proved to be a necessarily knee-jerk reaction to an enormously disruptive external event.

“Many in senior L&D roles have found themselves furloughed as the peak impact of the pandemic is felt by their employers. The current experiment of ‘working from home’ is a temporary one for many people – the circumstances they’re working in (including, for many, home-schooling) are exceptional. And it’s an emotional time for just about all of us. Taking all these factors into account, it’s not a time to try and draw any meaningful conclusions.

“Those things said, the trends before the pandemic were already pointing strongly to an increase in investment in and reliance on digital learning. The 2020 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn Learning found that 57% of survey respondents planned to spend more on digital learning than in the previous year, with artificial intelligence the leading technology that people think will impact on L&D in the coming five years. These findings are reflected in other surveys, which all point to the increasing benefits of digital learning in providing data that can be demonstrably linked to the performance of the organisation.

“Our feeling at International Workplace is that there will always be a need for instructor-led training, because there are some things that it does best that will never be replicated online. People will rightly celebrate when they can return to the classroom.

“But the experiment that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to take place has definitely challenged the inertia that had been stopping many organisations from moving from classroom to digital learning. A lot of those firms who’ve been Zooming, Teamsing and Adobe Connecting have not necessarily committed to digital, but I do certainly think that for many of them their eyes will have been opened to a new way of delivering, tracking and reporting on learning activities.”