/Digital Education

5 questions that guide your corporate learning strategy in a post-Covid-19 world

If you’ve browsed through LinkedIn or Twitter in the past days, you might have seen the following image, asking about what drives your digital transformation: is it a) CEO, b) CTO, or c) COVID-19?

Source: SUSANNE WOLK (TWITTER)Source: SUSANNE WOLK (TWITTER)

Sure, the majority of businesses already have started large digital transformation initiatives a couple of years ago. Yet, the current crisis turns a slow shift towards a digital economy into a rapid and radical digital transformation of critical processes, just within a couple of weeks.

**Digital isn’t just “an opportunity” anymore, it’s a question of survival in these times. **All of the digital transformation and HR managers we at edyoucated talked to over the past weeks have done a tremendous job transitioning to a remote organization. They have implemented measures to address their employees’ most pressing concerns. Some of them even had to register for short-time work. All of this in an extremely uncertain environment, where making plans for the next months is harder than ever before.

The effect of the current crisis on corporate learning isn’t temporary. It’s a tipping point.

The same applies to corporate learning in particular. Many (offline) training providers had to cancel their programs, and some of them probably won’t survive this crisis. But as the dust settles, the profound implications of this radical transformation unfold: the effect of the current crisis on corporate learning isn’t temporary. It’s a tipping point. The full digitalization of corporate learning arrives much faster than expected, at mind-boggling speed.

L&D leaders are now starting to think about how to get past the first wave of crisis management. At edyoucated, we expect a significant impact of this crisis on the future of corporate learning & development. In particular, we identified five key questions that will guide your organizations’ learning & development initiatives in a post-Covid-19 world.

Question 1: As offline learning is now in stark decline, how can I transform my learning programs to digital-first solutions?

The Challenge

This is probably the most obvious shift happening in the learning world right now. And, let’s be honest, pure offline training has been on a decline before, as it has often been not really effective for most of us. Now, digital-first (not digital-only, though) is officially the only way to go. Maybe that’s even the good part about the current crisis, that we can draw a final stroke under a development that’s long been overdue.

Yet, we know the challenge remains to transform lots of your employees’ training needs into digital experiences, as well as to find replacements for all offline trainings (e.g. onboarding trainings, IT training). Some insufficient solutions that won’t solve it alone:

  • DO NOT: Simply record your offline trainings. In this case learner engagement will be usually quite low, as learning online is radically different in a digital context (e.g. most learners require smaller blocks, more interactivity and a higher quality).
  • DO NOT: Simply buy a library of 4,000 professional online courses to “cover all learners’ needs”. We have experienced many times how learner engagement drops in this case, too, as there’s no guidance and transfer of these “one-size-fits-all” external courses to your specific business challenges.

The Solution

So what can you do?

  1. First of all, prioritize the most crucial parts of your current “offline-first” training that need to be digitalized as soon as possible.
  2. Second, identify the content to match your training needs. Often HR leaders need to work under massive time constraints here, and struggle with the huge variety of content libraries and vendors.

It makes sense to work hand-in-hand with partners that support you with the operational processes, and are curating the relevant content for you, so that you can focus on the strategic issues of your business. We have experienced many clients that were able to significantly increase the speed of their digital learning rollout with these partnerships.

Yet, take care and don’t let your external partners talk you into a single content source, since this will come with the risk of a vendor lock-in and reduced flexibility for future programs. From our experience in the industry we see great benefits of integrating many different (internal and external) learning content sources. So ideally, each of the learning paths for your employees combines both external (e.g. a general introduction into digital concepts) and internal, company-specific, learning materials (e.g. some guidelines on your specific tools). Having a flexible learning platform and content setup will enable you to deliver state-of-the-art content for many years to come.

Question 2: As digital transformation accelerates, how can I respond to the rapid increase of learning needs?

The Challenge

While question 1 discussed the “how” of learning, this second question will guide you through the “what”: the content. Again, it’s digital. During the current crisis, as well as in the months to come, we will see companies focusing on resilience and moving to new digital solutions at mind-boggling speed: Local retailers desperately move online. Entire industries focus on new digital value offerings, as their physical supply chains break. The opportunities of new digital processes, products and value offerings are more obvious than ever before. Existing skill gaps will further increase — yet, you can’t afford to leave anyone behind, and your workforce needs to become familiar with using new tools, with new ways of working, with navigating through this changing environment, and needs to be able to shape your future digital projects.

Don’t expect the demand for digital upskilling to decline in a post-Covid-19 world.

Today, companies need to rapidly deploy programs to educate, train, and empower people to work at home. Yet, don’t expect the demand for digital upskilling to decline in a post-Covid-19 world. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. As soon as our economy emerges from the Covid-19 crisis (and the temporary recession that comes with it), skill gaps increase and most organizations will face massive re- and upskilling needs along their entire workforce. In order to address new opportunities and secure your competitive position, your teams need both basic as well as specialized digital skills.

The Solution

  1. First, try to address the urgent short-term upskilling needs (some popular topics in this category: remote work and learning, communication & collaboration tools, etc.). Set up quick digital solutions with easy access for your entire workforce here.
  2. Second, focus on the key strategic and long-term needs of your workforce. At edyoucated we usually work with our clients along the “T-Shaped” organizational skill model: On the one hand some general knowledge (represented by the horizontal bar on top of the “T”) is definitely required for everybody. On top of our clients’ list in this category are usually basic digital skills, the use of internal tools (e.g. wikis, Office365), and some basic innovation and “digital mindset” training.

T-shaped digital competence matrix (Source: edyoucated)T-shaped digital competence matrix (Source: edyoucated)

On the other hand each employee will go deeper in one of the fields and require special knowledge in this particular area (represented by the vertical line of the “T”). Here we typically talk about longer training programs for smaller groups, with dedicated learner support through mentors, and demo projects (e.g. in the fields of data analysis, cloud computing, or industry-specific knowledge).

Finally, with all these initiatives we recommend to start “lean” by building proof-of-concepts (POCs) today (e.g. with pilot groups of 20–30 people). Especially the current situation, as well as the post-Covid-19 world, is a great time for (often forced) experimentation. Collect data about the program’s success, and evaluate it every few weeks. From our experience, these POCs will build strong lighthouse projects with internal influencers that will make adoption and engagement in later generations much easier when expanding the program across your entire organization. Forward-looking L&D leaders are getting ready for this shift today and ramping up their digital learning initiatives with the first reskilling proof-of-concepts.

Question 3: How do my learners get the required guidance through heaps of available online content?

The Challenge

As we’ve seen in the previous question, the learning needs of the workforce will be huge. But it’s not the quantity of required learning content that’s the challenge: it’s the diversity of individual learning needs that will become obvious as you move to a full digital learning setup in a post-Covid-19 world. Sure, digital learning usually means there is more content — easier and often cheaper available than before. And thus, some organizations try to address this diversity with even more external content, buying large libraries or content platforms, hoping to increase the probability of a “match” between individual needs and the content in these libraries.

Seems familiar? (Source: edyoucated)Seems familiar? (Source: edyoucated)

The result:** people are drowning in content, but starving for guidance through all these learning opportunities. They are overwhelmed and the employee experience (EX) suffers. In the past 12 months we at edyoucated have spoken to many organizations that struggle with the consequences of these learning programs. They started with the worthy goal of saying “goodbye to one-size-fits-all learning” (= learning doesn’t happen at the same time, at the same place, at the same pace for everyone anymore). Yet, moving to digital content libraries without guidance often turns out to be even more “one-size-fits-all” than before (well, after all, these courses are designed for thousands of learners, right?), especially if **these programs aren’t supplemented with sufficient learner guidance.

The Solution

The good news is: again, technology is here to help. With a combination of intelligent curation services and AI-based personalization processes, organizations can provide high-quality and scalable guidance for their learners today. In a post-Covid-19 world, personalized learning is on the rise, and it’s easier than ever before to get started.

Assisted by software, learning paths of your colleagues are personalized to better match their learning needs, their prior knowledge, and their learning style. Learners re-gain control and awareness of their learning process. Ideally, these experiences are complemented with mentors and peer-learning, again both supported by digital platforms.

Example: personalization process on the edyoucated platformExample: personalization process on the edyoucated platform

As I mentioned in my TEDx talk a couple of months ago: by using these advanced personalization technologies, we transform a very unsocial experience (people doing one-size-fits all offline trainings or standardized online courses) into a learning experience that is truly focused on the individual, and that brings back the joy in learning.

Question 4: How can we support our workforce to structure their self-paced digital learning?

The Challenge

Let’s face it: digital learning isn’t easier than offline trainings and seminars. It’s so much harder for several reasons:

  • There is nobody watching me, nobody enforcing strict deadlines, and nobody blocking time in my calendar for learning. Sure, all this can be a great benefit of digital learning. But with great power comes great responsibility — and many of us struggle with this new freedom. As a result short-term priorities and a lack of learning habits lead to less time spent on learning compared to before.
  • Yep, it’s often based on online videos, but digital learning cannot be treated like Netflix. It requires resilience, self-reflection and active engagement in your own learning. Although we’re often used to assume the opposite and expect to just be entertained when watching videos online, learning isn’t a passive effort, but requires our learners to actively get involved.

The Solution

With the rapid increase of remote digital learning in a post-Covid-19 world, L&D leaders therefore need to focus their attention on something that we call “Meta Learning” skills: the ability of your workforce to learn mostly self-guided, to structure and time-manage their own learning, and to hold themselves accountable for learning outcomes and transfer. In this sense, it’s very similar (but slightly more complex) to the issue of learning how to work from home, which probably most of you might have dealt with in the past weeks. In order to build a “Digital Learning Literacy” across the entire workforce, we had great success at our edyoucated programs by integrating dedicated meta learning modules into regular digital upskilling initiatives. For example, at one of our most recent clients we have observed an increase of these meta learning skills by 32% (for an assessment on a scale from 1 to 5) within just 4 months.

So to succeed with this question, try to raise the awareness of this topic among your workforce, provide learning paths and content for these topics, regularly assess the meta learning skills of your workforce, and help them with self-reflection. For some inspiration, see for example step two in this post of my colleague Marius.

Question 5: As the “Digital Learning Divide” increases, how do I make sure no one is left behind and our programs remain effective?

The Challenge

There is an often neglected aspect of the transition to digital learning: again, our workforce is radically different when it comes to digital learning skills (including the meta learning skills mentioned above).

You have probably experienced something very similar when your organization transitioned to remote work in the past couple of weeks: some colleagues have true productivity boosts, and their productivity skyrockets in a distraction-free environment at home. In contrast, others struggle a lot with the basic digital setup of their remote workplace and corresponding habits. That’s not just a question of age, but depends on different factors such as personality type, previous experience, long-term incentives, and many others.

Exactly the same issue applies to digital learning in a post-Covid-19 world, too: some of your employees have basically grown up in a self-learning environment and confidently used digital learning tools from the very beginning. Others are struggling, sometimes even actively rejecting digital learning programs (yet, usually this turns out to be rather an underlying fear than a fundamental refusal of digital learning initiatives in general).

The result: something that we at edyoucated have coined the “Digital Learning Divide”, the formation of “learning elites” among your workforce (those “power learners” that can’t get enough new learning content and truly blossom in the age of digital learning), while others are left behind. So let’s address this question carefully from the very beginning in the setup of our learning & development programs to counteract this development, while keeping the high motivation of our “learning elites”.

The Solution

To make sure your entire workforce benefits from your new digital learning initiatives, we advise our clients to double-check and strengthen their learning analytics strategy for the coming years. As remote work and learning becomes the new normal in a post-Covid-19 world, it’s your only chance to see what works and what doesn’t. As you’ll get much less information from informal feedback or ‘water cooler talk’ in a remote learning setup, learning analytics data is your friend.

Exemplary learning analytics KPIs (Source: edyoucated platform)Exemplary learning analytics KPIs (Source: edyoucated platform)

By carefully monitoring the different segments among their learners, we’ve seen amazing insights at different clients that not only increased learner engagement, but also “red flagged” learners who had issues with their digital learning paths. In these cases our clients could step in and made sure these issues were resolved (e.g. blocking more time for learning by talking to the learner’s manager), so that no one was left behind.

In particular the following 3-step approach might help to ramp up your strategy for these issues:

Step 1: Define what to measure. Probably the most important instrument here are pre- and post-evaluations. Some KPIs you might want to measure:

  • Weekly & monthly active users
  • Learning time
  • Percentage of learners who applied their new skills in practice (e.g. measured via self-assessment after 3 or 6 months)
  • Net Promoter Score (especially important during POCs, as it measures how many learners would recommend this program to their colleagues)

Just to name a few. Of course, there are many more KPIs that might help you to identify precisely where problems are occurring.

Step 2: Collect data. At edyoucated we have integrated these evaluation instruments deeply into our programs (anonymized & GDPR-compliant). Yet, sometimes “classical” approaches of just handing out evaluation forms might do it for you, too. The advantage that comes with automatic data collection is a real-time view on all crucial KPIs that allows you to immediately take action in case it’s required.

Step 3: Develop a plan on how to boost learner engagement across all segments. Of course, measuring the engagement of your learner segments is great, but it doesn’t help much unless you actually take action.

Digital learning support via mentoring could help to guide your learners (Source: edyoucated)Digital learning support via mentoring could help to guide your learners (Source: edyoucated)

One action that we at edyoucated found particularly helpful is by deploying our expert-led mentoring service: an on-demand expert who is always available (e.g. via chat or video call) to help with your learners with any (technical or content-related) issues. Of course, you might also consider to use internal mentors. Another great option is to have regular “check-in’s” and building smaller learning communities (we call them “learning cohorts”). In the past years, we’ve seen some tremendous success with these learning engagement actions. One example is the nonprofit organization TechLabs, where we can keep a personal connection even in an extremely diverse participant base of more than 1000 learners from 80 different countries.

By the way: this strategy is independent of the size of your digital learning initiative: in fact, for smaller POCs it’s equally important, as you want to exactly understand what works and what doesn’t to make an informed decision about a full rollout.

Some Final Thoughts

I hope by sharing these five key questions we have helped you to get a clearer picture of the key issues for digital learning strategies in a post-Covid-19 world. As we support our clients every day to make the best out of this radical digital transformation, we see many exciting projects starting in the past weeks. After all, we’re convinced that the digital transformation isn’t just led by a) CEO, b) CTO, or c) COVID-19 — but that it’s shaped by the many individual digital transformation and HR leaders that have done an outstanding job in the past weeks. Once we can tell you more about all these projects, we will share them here with you, so make sure to stay in touch via LinkedIn, our website or via our edyoucated Newsletter, where we regularly share exclusive digital learning insights with our readers.

Ultimately, as the situation is evolving every week, I’m more than curious: How do you address the current challenges? What are your key questions and digital learning initiatives for a post-Covid-19 world? Let me know in the comments and feel free to write me an email at david@edyoucated.org.