The pandemic has drastically disrupted countless industries, and L&D is no exception. In fact, many people believe it was about time, according to our recent research in the 2023 Trends Report.
The complete shift in work environment during COVID-19 forced L&D professionals to turn innovations they had been championing for years into changes that happened virtually overnight. The assumed constraint that learning in person was the best modality was confronted at its core. In this way the crisis of our lifetime has also provided great opportunity, such as expanding our options for providing access to learning content and building knowledge and skills.
New Training Modalities Born Out of Need
Look at the historical data and you'll see how things have changed. Pre-pandemic, most training was done face-to-face. In 2023, respondents expect their modality mix for training to be 32% in-person, 38% virtual instructor led, and 31% self-paced.
When the pandemic began, we immediately swapped one modality (in-person) for another (virtual). As people have returned to the office and social distancing has ebbed, in-person training has increased but is still not at pre-pandemic levels. While I can’t be sure what 2023 will bring, I’d like to hope we continue to offer an array of choices and see an even split between in-person, virtual, and self-paced training. By removing our bias toward in-person, L&D professionals are in a better position to select the best modality based on learner and organizational needs. We can be more intentional about why, when, and how we gather.
Need to build relationships and trust? Go in-person (if you can) or virtual (if you must). Want to level set people on a leadership development framework? Share digital content. Want to then talk about how it applies at work? Use collaborative learning platforms or virtual sessions. If we treat each learner touchpoint as precious and special, we’re more apt to select the right blend that honors time and focuses on the desired outcome.
Insufficient Resources to Deliver Multi-Modal
According to the 2023 Trends Report, respondents said their top challenge is not having enough capacity and resources to meet the needs of workforce development. Why is that the case? It's worth a closer look at how we deliver solutions.
For instance, an in-person event requires a location, a facilitator, travel arrangements for the learners, and food and beverage. Class is over; project is done!
With a learning journey that blends modalities, there is so much more to do. Large cohorts mean more people—sometimes hundreds—to manage. More email communications and nudges need to be sent out when there are multiple events across multiple modalities. You need a program delivery platform that can host and track content while managing events and pushing out timed communications seamlessly. In other words, this is like the book If You Give A Mouse a Cookie, where each decision creates other considerations.
The takeaway is that delivering a learning journey requires more resources than delivering a one-time, in-person class. Professionals are realizing that executing blended experiences is complex. Delivering these programs requires people who are experienced in project management, communications, measurement, experience design, virtual production, platform administration, and marketing.
We faced this challenge at Blanchard. We had to create new jobs, invest in new platforms, and upskill our entire business on new processes to deliver learning journeys that cover multiple levels of leaders, each with a unique blend of touchpoints, content, and connection.
A question to ask yourself: Do you deliver events or experiences? If the answer is experiences, be sure to look at your staff to ensure you can handle a new model of implementation.
In the past, a small team could run two to four live events per month, possibly touching 50 to 100 learners. But what if the organization is 5,000, 15,000 or more? Why should leadership development be only for the few or the chosen? How might we deliver these beautifully designed journeys at scale, especially when resources are limited? Digital content solves access, but that’s only one modality (self-directed).
Collaborative online learning helps address the need for human interaction at scale, where platforms enable spaced designs through opportunities to share with peers, inclusivity for all learners, video recording assignments, polling, event management, and gamification. This is a time to examine your technology stack and identify the features your organization needs to provide not just content but also connection and community.
Challenges and Opportunities Ahead
The report identified that leaders must develop skills such as building trust, being empathetic, having effective conversations, navigating conflict, and adapting to change. There is plenty of content available to address these topics—so the question for L&D is: Will you build it or buy it?
If you build content yourself, you must have the staff (designers and developers). The content will likely be most relevant to your organization; however, it’s harder to maintain and keep current. Buying content makes it quicker to launch and often includes an ongoing flow of new assets, but it can be perceived as expensive, depending on what it is and who it is for.
Just like with technology, take stock of what you have and what you need. Determine what you want to buy that’s off the shelf that your team contextualizes vs. what really needs to be built from scratch that only your organization can create.
The report also hints at the continuing truncation of time to learn knowledge and skills. Practitioners have been pushed to compress training into smaller and smaller timeframes. People feel they simply don’t have time for skill building, given their workload and demands. In fact, employees typically have less than 30 minutes a week to learn.
Another skill you need? Pragmatism. L&D professionals are going to have to detail what can and cannot be accomplished in an explainer video or a one-hour live virtual session vs. what had been a multi-day workshop. It’s not about shoving two days of content into 60 minutes. It’s about looking at what can be done in 60 minutes that allows for practice and application, while providing digital content to teach concepts and performance support for use on the job.
We can trade longer-form learning for digital content, but true skill acquisition comes with practice. And we must be honest with ourselves about when that practice will occur.
A changing workplace demands new responses to new problems. L&D professionals have been tackling issues at breakneck speed. The time has come to stand up and make your New Year’s resolutions on how to resource and deliver solutions that are spaced, blended, and social.
About the AuthorMore Content by Britney Cole