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Learning in the Time of Covid-19

We are experiencing deep shocks to our daily lives, financial and social systems. Our freedoms are to be curtailed in ways unimaginable just a few short weeks ago. But, somehow, life – and business – go on.
While we cannot pretend things are normal, it is possible to maintain a semblance of normality – in fact, we have to. Authentic leadership is needed now more than ever, showing themselves ready to learn and adapt to this new way of being, modelling calm, reinforcing strategic priorities and making timely and thoughtful decisions.

And now with a shift to teleworking becoming more widespread and still no solid idea about the trajectory of Covid-19, where does that leave all those training initiatives?

We know that training, in one form or another, has to happen. It is the time to continue with training initiatives and more - to review, adapt, plan and invest - so that your people are in the best possible position to take advantage of positive shifts in the market as soon as they happen.
Our present situation presents us with some unique challenges and some thought-provoking questions:

  1. How long is the 'tail' going to be? How long will the impact be felt and how deep will the wounds be to our economy which is already in a fight to stabilise itself during the Brexit transition?
  2. If we do not know how long this is going on for, how do we know what to do?

We can't immunise ourselves completely from the shocks, after-shocks or longer-term impacts but I believe there are some steps we can take, adaptations we can make to soften the dip.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The more intense the crisis, the more we need to be communicating:

  • Information from authoritative sources.
  • Guidelines on best practice to keep safe and protect loved ones.
  • Organisation protocols regarding, for example, teleworking, with an explicit explanation of escalation levels.
  • Regular messaging from supervisors, managers or CEO to reassure, reinforce corporate values and affirm commitment to doing business.

This is where mobile technology comes into its own as this messaging can easily be put together, scheduled and delivered through an app or bot.

These communications in themselves turn into learning opportunities. At the most basic level, this would be repeating and reinforcing government messages about how to wash hands. But, if you were using an app or bot, it could also be used to deliver micro-learning tailored to the individual's requirements, either as a continuation of an existing learning plan, or in delivering new learning adapted to the current situation. An example of this would be, say, a course on effective teleworking with daily alerts, time tracking and feedback mechanisms.

2. Adapt, adapt, adapt

We hear and read all the time that 'agility' is a desirable, if not necessary, organisational trait. This is the time it pays off.

With the rapid rate of change we are experiencing, the ability to adapt training strategies and executable training plans will make a significant difference in reinforcing the organisation's commitment to learning, maintaining skills acquisition, and building on existing strengths.

Of course, in some industries, this crisis is cutting so deeply that the focus has to be on survival, but it is worth noting that even in 2008/9, there was resistance to cutting training budgets in around 50% of businesses.

But, while social distancing may not be official government policy in the UK (today), many individuals and organisations are taking the initiative to follow the guidelines anyway. In-person group or team training events are among the first casualties in taking these precautionary measures.

So how do we adapt?

I have already mentioned about the use of apps or bots to facilitate micro-learning. In the previous context, they were add-ons to existing activity. But if decisions are made at a strategic level to remove or reduce in-person training contexts and to make the best efforts to continue training, the strategic imperative has to be a shift to a virtual learning platform.

It is more than possible to exactly replicate the in-person experience with remote trainers directing activities in virtual classrooms. Where it becomes effective and powerful is when this becomes integrated with self-directed learning – in the form of a learning bot or digital workbooks – and prompted micro-learning with the user nudged to learn bite-sized chunks of a course at pre-agreed intervals.

The learning can be delivered through a single platform, with a user-friendly interface with an existing LMS system. Because of the interface and because of the capabilities that sit behind it, the platform dashboard becomes a powerhouse of learning analytics at both strategic and granular level in virtually real time. Do you want to know who has taken what course with what user satisfaction score this morning? Or do you want to know the effectiveness of the training in terms of knowledge retention and implementation? All this - and more - is available at tap or mouse click.

Even better, if the platform and training delivery is powered by AI and machine learning, the quality and effectiveness of the learning is that much more enhanced, with any information being fed into the system adding to the bank of insights being utilised to improve the user experience.

If all this sounds like an unreachable ideal, I understand. But the first step is making sure you choose providers that demonstrate the same agility as you, that share the same desire to adapt and improve and the same willingness to get on with the job in hand as efficiently as possible. After that, the ideal can quickly become real.

3. Asses, assess, assess (intelligently!)

The adage attributed to Peter Drucker "what gets measured, gets managed" has been repeated so many times that it has lost its meaning. For some, that is no bad thing as 'measurement' per se must not be the be-all and end-all. The focus must be undertaking it with clear objectives in mind or it runs the risk of falling victim to another truism: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

With the additional challenges we are facing, with any change in how we operate or do business, it is important to regularly review and assess the effectiveness of any initiative that has been put in place. Measure meaningfully – and with a light touch because you have enough on your plate - and act on the results. If you want to evaluate virtual learning, think carefully not just about how you measure but also what you are actually measuring and what the results mean.

For instance, as we know, the post-training smile sheets fulfil a couple of purposes: they give immediate insights into the training content, the trainer, as well as giving the learner a voice in the evaluation process. From a strategic perspective, though, the smile sheet is a blunt instrument. It doesn't tell us whether the learner is going to retain and apply that knowledge. The more learning impact we want to measure, the more nuanced our set of evaluative tools have to be. The combination of AI, machine learning and deep analytics, deployed intelligently, can deliver that nuance, measuring meaningfully with meaningful results.

So, in a nutshell, communicate, adapt and assess.

It is a strange conundrum of our times that, somehow, we must pull together while remaining at a safe social distance. We are all being challenged to find new ways to do things, to find and settle on new norms and have regard and care for our fellow community members in more than a perfunctory way, while all around us is strange and out of kilter. These times demand of us that we stand together – virtually – and offer help, guidance and support if we can, and not be afraid to ask for help, guidance and support if we need it.

As the French say: Courage, mes braves!


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