Blended learning in the post-pandemic workplace
Chloé Upston, Group Organisational Development Consultant at Civica, considers the changing face of workplace learning and development
It’s no surprise that as whole teams have moved towards remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning has soared in demand. The range and reliability of technology has improved and people are now very used to virtual meetings and other ways of working. While the pandemic has altered priorities and needs for some, in learning and development we’ve long had an eye on what we wish to maintain, increase or remove from our so called ‘future normal’.
With this shift in mind, we’ve focussed on fast-tracking more virtual learning to our people through our Civica Academy. However, we’ve also had to experiment, including by digitally translating our hands-on events such as our ‘First Impressions’ welcome day into a virtual training day with break-out ‘rooms’ and interactive workshops. While our teams work remotely, we’ve also moved all training online, including our leadership programmes, mental health webinars and diversity and inclusion training.
We also must face the future with a dose of realism. While it may be safe for groups to meet in a socially distanced setting, we’re unlikely to revert to how things were. We have to focus on what works digitally and enhance this training. There’ll also be some courses that become no longer relevant. Will it be training on skills like communication, resilience and innovation that are more in demand in the post-pandemic epoch to support increased blended working?
Below are just some of the opportunities and challenges of virtual learning and how we can future-proof our delivery.
We can reach more people
With over 5,000 Civica employees worldwide, we can not only deliver learning to hundreds of people at a time but can also find a time that works for multiple geographies. Colleagues can network on a much wider scale – across different time zones – to enrich their learning experience too.
People want to take part
An hour-long webinar is easier to factor into our day when we don’t need to travel to one of our facilities. So could traditionally longer courses be broken up into smaller, bite-sized e-content? We think so and this is the approach we are looking to take with our Sales Effectiveness programme. We’ve recently relaunched a training programme for our Civica leaders which is all based around self-directed e-learning and webinars.
Reducing our carbon footprint
At Civica we’ve significantly reduced our travel in the last few years as part of the environmental targets we’ve set ourselves. Increasing e-learning will only continue to improve our carbon footprint and let us redistribute costs to increased e-learning opportunities.
If colleagues are telling us through our pulse surveys that they need more help switching off from work or improving their wellbeing, sharing online resources or even planning and executing a webinar are quick ways to help people when they need it. Plus, they’re easily repeated if the nature of the topic requires small groups of participants and can’t be recorded, such as our mental health awareness webinars.
For some neurodivergent colleagues or those with social anxiety, being in large groups can be discomforting. Being able to benefit from courses without the onus of engaging with others means we’re including as many people as possible through virtual learning.
Flexible to individual circumstances
Making course recordings available or providing self-directed learning content lets people learn on demand at a time that suits them best. The impact on productivity is great for businesses and individual alike.
Our learning styles vary and so does the speed at which we process information. Virtual delivery helps learners navigate courses at their own pace and properly reflect on what they’ve been taught between topics.
When colleagues register their attendance for a short course, some may think that their attendance isn’t as important as face-to-face training or can drop out halfway through because it’ll be repeated and/or recorded, or people won’t notice non-attendance. Even short courses require a great deal of planning and preparation and are equally advantageous for people’s development.
We’re forgiven when tech isn’t on our side during an impromptu virtual course, however tech must be experimented with and invested in for our profession to be taken seriously, and subsequently subscribed to by employees.
There are many nuances associated with face-to-face delivery that you can’t replicate virtually. Even the side chats with colleagues sat next to you or during the lunchbreaks who you’re getting to know; the honest sharing of challenges or brainstorming leading to breakthroughs – until virtual reality becomes more commonplace! Some of our courses really rely on rapport, such as our communication skills workshops. Without the in-person dynamics, how can we help colleagues improve their interpersonal skills?
Transforming our delivery
Consultant and coach Dr Maggi Evans has some great insight into how we can replicate face-to-face interactions and experiences:
“Many of us see virtual learning playing a much bigger role in learning and development strategies moving forwards. But how can we recreate the personal interactions?
As Maggi explained: “We’re still learning, but we’re spreading the learning out into shorter events – a series of 1-2 hour sessions rather than a whole day; we’re using technology to create smaller breakout rooms; setting real work challenges to take place beyond the learning event and making sure we give people space to reflect and share within the virtual learning event. We’re also making it easy for people to share their successes, to showcase how they’ve put the learning into practice.
“I believe that many of these solutions are creating stronger learning opportunities – more directly related to the workplace and more likely to impact performance.”
There’s no doubt that the journey ahead will force us to continually experiment with virtual and online training techniques. But we do now have a great opportunity to be boundlessly creative. With the right blend of people skills and immersive technology, we are at the tipping point of all the positive benefits which online training and development can offer our people, both now and in the years to come.