Will COVID-19 have long term impacts on the future of workplace learning?
The world is in a spin like never seen in recent times and societies, governments and organisations are all in crisis mode.
We will get through this global pandemic one way or another, of that we can be sure. But what will the new world order be like when we do? This is a question that is beginning to permeate our thinking now that we are getting to grips with what needs to be done to deal with the here and now.
In many aspects of our lives, the future outcome will be binary. By this, I mean that we will either just forget all about COVID-19 times and fully revert to the status quo in a snap. Or, aspects of our lives may have changed forever, and we will have established new norms in a matter of weeks.
Our area of focus in workplace learning and so this is the lens through which we are approaching this question.
I think, now more than ever, we will do well to remember the age-old saying that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. I believe that the overall impact will have been to rapidly accelerate the digital transformation of workplace learning because this has been the only practical and available form of learning that many organisations will have been able to utilise at any scale during the height of the pandemic.
Two of the most available and versatile forms of digital learning are the virtual classroom and eLearning, neither of which can be considered as innovations today as the underpinning technologies have now been readily available for many years. The challenge for adoption has been more about culture change and learner preferences than technical viability, availability, or cost. Given the choice, many learners will always lean towards some format of facilitated learning i.e. not eLearning; and prefer face-to-face communications to online conversations i.e. not virtual classrooms or webinars.
Then came COVID-19. In a matter of weeks or even days, complete or near-complete workforces have shifted to become fully remote working and office complexes have been shut down for all but the most essential office or site-based tasks. In a world where everyone is remote and there is no physical meeting spaces, organisations and people have been forced to adapt to remote ways of working. Virtual meetings now abound in every organisation and people are beginning to awaken to these new cultural norms of workplace communications. This has been the case for workplace learning too.
Now let us fast forward to the end of the pandemic. The longer-term impacts will likely be recessionary and on a global scale. Those organisations fortunate enough to have survived the crisis stage intact will not be wanting to rush back into opening up physical infrastructure with all their associated costs, if they have now proven, through necessity, that their operations and responsibilities can be managed and delivered through remote working. The lights are unlikely to get switched back on in those mothballed organisational and corporate training facilities unless absolutely necessary.
Operationally critical training will already have had to be converted for virtual or online delivery, in many cases out of necessity. Non-essential training will have been cancelled or postponed. Many of the Learning & Development teams will have now conquered their concerns or fears about delivering virtual training and will also have turned to eLearning to fill the important gaps in their educational portfolio. Most of our workplace learners will have been willing to work with us and utilise whatever learning we’ve been able to offer to them in this time and they will also have overcome much of their fear or rejection of technology-enabled learning.
Digital learning will be the new norm and the digital transformation of workplace learning will have been achieved in a matter of weeks or several months as opposed to many months or years. The cost benefits were never in doubt. The issue was more about the learning professional and user adoption and these ‘soft’ hurdles will now have been surmounted in many but the most luddite of organisations and cultures.
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