The Effects Of COVID-19 On Online Learning
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The Effects Of COVID-19 On Online Learning

As of early March 2020, roughly one-half of in-person L&D programs (through the end of June) have been postponed or canceled in North America; in parts of Asia and Europe, the figure is closer to 100%. Businesses, with a vision of safeguarding their workforce’s health and safety during COVID-19, have transitioned to a remote work environment.

Millions of employees now work together virtually, while being physically distant, with a supercomputer at their fingertips, telecom service support in their homes, and a host of digital tools at their disposal to communicate, learn, work, and share.

But adapting to this new normal is easier said than done. Teams and individuals across functions and levels are wading through uncharted waters, using technology they never had to before and doing things in a way never done before. Both unit-level upskilling and organization-wide transformational training, as well as technical and non-technical training on remote-working skills, remote-management skills, and leadership skills are not just good to have, but a mandatory piece of the digital transformation strategy today.

But are businesses ready for this digital push?

Pivoting From Traditional Learning

The impact of COVID-19 has been, by and large, affecting every individual, team, function, business, industry, and country. It is especially severe for organizations that were highly dependent on face-to-face Instructor-Led Training (ILT) for their employee development, skilling, and training. Their lack of preparedness for a modality different than a classroom setup has left them hustling to find a quick-fix for the challenge at hand and also for future-proofing their Learning and Development (L&D) interventions.

Their core business requirements now range from the rapid conversion of ILT to eLearning, to sourcing ready-to-use courseware for delivery via an online format, to online lectures or Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VLIT). However, migrating existing classroom training programs to an all-digital avatar calls for effort, beyond the mere application of existing technology solutions, in order to offer virtual learning. Rather, they represent a more fundamental rethinking of the learning experience to enable collaborative, interactive social learning experiences for groups of learners, as per McKinsey. One way or the other, there’s a large-scale shift to online from the face-to-face format, a fact supported by a recent survey by The eLearning Guild [1].

Barriers To Digital Learning

While this has paved opportunities for the growth of eLearning— both content and eLearning platforms (a spike in the market during lockdown is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 14% during the period 2019-2025)—hampering its swift adoption are budgetary constraints due to economic instability, lack of infrastructure and, most importantly, unavailability of eLearning content and trainers with remote training expertise. And on the learner front, the inability to strike a work-life balance, unfamiliarity with Learning Management Systems, and overall stress/anxiety due to the pandemic are barriers to bringing about change in digital learning.

The silver lining, however, is when the rubber meets the road. After years of encouraging eLearning and virtual classroom approaches, the coronavirus pandemic has helped move the needle on technology acceptance, for learners and L&D professionals alike. Executives across the globe are asking L&D leaders to have a seat at the table—a seat that previously felt unattainable until now.

According to Josh Bersin, it is time to rethink the processes [2], be it simplifying budgets or understanding and empathizing with human resources.

Hidden Benefits Of COVID-19

On the other hand, there are organizations that have been making the move toward online training over the past years and are now leveraging the new work environment by putting their L&D into next gear.

As per LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, “After years of being under-resourced, L&D budgets are expected to continue to grow—shifting from Instructor-Led Training (ILT) to online learning—and executive buy-in continues to build.” Further, “For 83% of L&D pros, executive buy-in is not a challenge.”

Along with garnering more attention from the C-suite for its budget allocation, online training is also getting more mindshare than Instructor-Led Training initiatives, indicating that online learning is playing a bigger part in blended learning programs.

Along with making digital the default way to conduct and manage training, the COVID-19 lockdown also renders itself to another hidden benefit. By reducing employees' commute time, in-person meetings, and other time-intensive activities at the workplace, it gives them the much needed time to work and learn (at work or home), as the top factor that prevents employees from learning is lack of time to learn at work. It’s also important to note that most learning happens during the week, according to LinkedIn Learning platform data.

Conclusion

While it is too early to see how COVID-19 will ultimately affect the accelerated adoption of digital learning, it is clear that the wheels of change have been set in motion. It is time to prioritize learning, not put it on the backburner. And it is, perhaps, the one time in history when the corporate Learning and Development narrative will reflect a positive outcome from a negative calamity.

References: 

[1] Nuts and Bolts: How Will You Meet COVID-19 Challenges?

[2] The Big Reset: Making Sense Of The Coronavirus Crisis

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