When the Covid-19 crisis hit, most learning & development (L&D) professionals had to make a sharp pivot in the way they carried out training, harnessing virtual technologies to deliver courses online. Many succeeded during a difficult period, and found that, by providing training opportunities throughout the crisis, they could boost productivity and increase morale – at a time when employees needed it most.
Now, more than a year later, it’s clear that many of these changes are here to stay. Companies of all sizes and from all sectors have realised that online L&D brings significant benefits, allowing more frequent training to be delivered at a time and at a pace that better suits their employees and fits around their day-to-day commitments. It has also allowed L&D professionals to scale up their training endeavours, offering learning opportunities to more people than would be possible face-to-face.
However, despite these successes, significant challenges remain. Initial teething problems with technology have morphed into broader concerns about the shortcomings of basic video conferencing – and its lack of functionality – resulting in a lower quality experience for delegates. And there’s an engagement issue to be tackled too – in an online world with the exit just a mouse click away, companies are having to fight hard to keep staff interested and involved.
So, how do companies make the best of an online-first approach to L&D, reaping the benefits while addressing the challenges that persist?
Treat every training session like it’s an event
Firstly, it’s crucial for businesses to invest in delivering a quality online experience. If you’re thinking about building your online L&D programme using technology like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the chances are you’ll have a troublesome time. While video conferencing is an essential part of the online training experience, video alone is not enough to enable ongoing and transparent collaboration between all participants. Instead, employers need more robust and sophisticated technology, to fuel engagement and allow on-screen delegates to participate fully and effectively – just as they would in person.
Adopting bespoke event technology can help here. Although initially designed to support companies hosting large scale corporate events online, the same tech is today being used to allow L&D teams to deliver more engaging, impactful learning experiences.
Event technology platforms aim to replicate the core components of an in-person experience in the digital domain: from virtual lobbies, conference facilities and breakout rooms, to helpdesks, support, downloadable course material and on-demand content. The idea is to give online attendees the same sort of experience that they would expect when attending a physical event – but there are additional benefits to be had too. For example, the savviest firms are using interactive quizzes and analytics tools during training to measure which delegates are developing and which are not, and when and how participants are engaging with material. This insight allows trainers to intervene in a timely manner, and to better support or guide delegates if they’re struggling – before they become disengaged and switch off.
Powering a hybrid approach
With the right technology in place, companies can deliver online sessions to more people, with more flexibility, while maintaining an engaging and impactful experience. But the truth is that online training is unlikely to replace face-to-face interaction altogether. The business leaders who extol the virtue of being together, in-person, are right to the extent that many people do prefer interacting with trainers and their learning peers when they’re in the same room.
We think that a ‘hybrid’ approach is likely to be the end game for many companies. A mix of both online and offline L&D provision – with every session accessible to all participants, irrespective of how they attend – allows companies to develop a more versatile, flexible training programme and ensure that those who are unable or unwilling to attend in person are still catered for. Indeed, this approach can even help companies ensure their training endeavours are contributing to sustainability targets by keeping travel costs down.
In a hybrid environment, coherence will be key. It’s important that online and offline participants feel they have the same experience, and are equally treated and involved. Again, event tech can help with this, providing chat functions, breakout rooms and more to allow those on screen to engage with sessions just as successfully as those in the room.
It looks increasingly likely that the pandemic has changed the way training is delivered forever, with the caveat that online-only provision will evolve to a hybrid approach which delivers the best of both worlds. Offering either on or offline attendance means that companies can maximise training efficiency with effective sessions that don’t require time lost for travel and which help delegates to juggle training commitments with day-to-day activity – and allow delegates to pick the method which best suits them.
However, to make this hybrid L&D approach work, companies must demonstrate that they’re committed to the practice as a long-term strategy, rather than a short-term tactical fix. By harnessing the right technology, they will be better able to unlock knowledge and skills in fresh, new ways, enabling the business stars of the future to flourish and thrive.
Vanessa Lovatt is Chief Evangelist at Glisser, an award-winning tech platform powering unique company event experiences, anywhere.