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Learning in a Covid-Vaccinated World

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The way we learn has been significantly affected by the coronavirus. Done mostly face-to-face pre-pandemic, classroom learning sessions (for students and professionals alike) have moved to the virtual space to follow health and safety protocols. It has been over a year since adopting these new practices for learning and development and now that nations are rolling out vaccines and maybe easing up some of our physical distancing, an emerging question is, will we return to the traditional learning set up or keep and further invest in the new virtual practices?

Revisiting our perceptions of online distance learning

While many may still question the merits of online learning, the overall concept of distance learning (via methods other than online) has been around since the conception of recorded media or messaging. In fact, asynchronous learning has been offered via correspondence courses as far back as 1728. Learning through reading books could be seen as the old-fashioned way of accessing and using asynchronous learning materials. Face-to-face classes were largely born out of the economics of the time (difficult in implementing massive learning consistently when not conducted in person). However, the introduction of technology and the capacity to manage “classes” even outside of physical classrooms have now enabled many learners and educators to experience full courses on online platforms.

In addition, the shift towards virtual/online learning has already been on the rise even prior to the coronavirus. In 2019 alone, Global EdTech investments in virtual learning platforms and methods reached $18.66B (Roughly Php 900B). Furthermore, the online education market is expected to reach $350B by the end of 2025, bringing with it the introduction of many flexible learning technologies to the corporate training and education sectors. COVID-19 might have sped up the shift for many educational and training institutions to virtual/online distance learning, but the trends were already headed in that direction. What would learning look like then?

 

The rising trend of online learning

While the use of technology and shifts to virtual platforms do create a different learning experience for students, it is worth noting that these are also becoming a part of our reality today. A study indicates that 99% of current remote workers would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers. Furthermore, studies show that future work skills focus largely on digital proficiency and ability to collaborate and communicate with others to achieve goals, and these are capabilities further developed in a virtual learning environment.

Early adopters of innovative education technologies for schools have also indicated success in integrating online learning along with traditional face-to-face methods. Effective use of emerging technologies such as the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Augmented Realities (AR) have provided classes with a more interactive and deeper perspective of the world.

Magic School bus takes students on a tour to Mars!

In the case of mobile learning, shifting to online mobile learning has been more popular in the workplace than schools. According to online learning market research, it’s largely Small and Midsize Business (SMBs) and Large Enterprises that are dominating segments in the Global Online Education Market. This may be explained by the fact that online learning has also shown to be more viable for autonomous or unguided learners as focus and discipline are very important to the process. A 2017 study has shown that learner autonomy is a significant factor in online distance learning. But the biggest selling point of online learning to those with full-time work is the flexibility in schedule and the easier access to the materials and classes (as most professionals already have some sort of mobile device used for work like laptops and smartphones). With the rising trends in the Online Education/Learning markets, we can expect a growing trend of using online or hybrid (face-to-face with online) learning methods in the workplace.

Another strong contributor to this growing trend is in the Asia-Pacific region, where 32% of the e-learning market is expected to come from. A study in 2019 indicated that there are about 2.21 billion internet users in the Asia-Pacific region alone, a 10% growth from the previous year. This is half of the Asia-Pacific population and roughly half of the internet users globally at 4.39 billion. This mobile internet market penetration in Asia-Pacific is further expected to rise, hitting 61% by 2025.  Additionally, the growing adoption of portable gadgets like smartphones, laptops, and tablets is likely to further stimulate market demand for e-learning. Corporate employees are turning to mobile learning services as they can sign up to short, modularized courses on tablets or smartphones even during commutes.

Quick 2021 numbers with regard to internet usage. Photo from: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-global-overview-report

 

Technological trends in Corporate Learning and Development

Given the studies and trends pointing to increase in online learning, there are 3 key emerging tech ideas that could be definitely contribute to better learning and development methods in the work space:

  1. Mobile learning

Mobile learning or M-learning is described as learning using mobile smart gadgets such as phones or laptops. One of the early adopters of the mobile learning method to do corporate training is Merrill Lynch with their GoLearn Initiative way back in 2008. They have found that many of their investment bankers who used the platform were able to finish the courses by almost half the time. Moreover, the GoLearn initiative produced an estimated 4,270 hours of extra productivity by providing learning via mobile phones! We can expect more users to access mobile learning as more and more have access to the internet via their mobile devices. A study in 2016 indicated that over 90% of internet users in Asia-Pacific access the internet daily through their mobile devices. The shift in the mobile learning pioneered by Merrill Lynch is that companies are now partnering with massive open online course (MOOC) platforms for courses specific to their organization’s and employees’ needs. One such example is the partnership between EdX and Boeing for their four-course online professional certificate program called Architecture and Systems Engineering: Models and Methods to Manage Complex Systems.

(Photo from http://cdn.lynda.com/cms/asset/text/lyndacom-whitepaper-mobile-learning-benefits-20151245042329.pdf)

  1. Microlearning

Another method that is gaining more traction is the effective use of microlearning across different learning and development efforts. While not necessarily a technology in itself, microlearning is patterned from the usual online delivery but in bite-sized, easy-to-digest packets of information. Whether it is a short paragraph to describe a concept, a 3-minute video guide to a process, or 5 handy ways to improve working conditions, the consistent characteristic is that they are quick to go through, easily comprehensible, and then implemented or practiced at work. When combined with mobile learning, microlearning can deliver on-demand learning for professionals.

(Photo from https://elearninginfographics.com/interesting-pieces-research-microlearning/)

  1. Learner engagement and rapid re-skilling

As technology further evolves to allow better communication and collaboration across even very large organizations, so does the capacity to drive learning and professional development. Learning management system is a tool that human resources departments can use to continuously engage employees with regard to knowledge and skills they need to have, identify what courses are of interest, and design learning programs that fit the requirements of the company workforce. Additionally, learning management systems integrated within business processes and communications can also push employees to complete their training via simple reminders and nudges. Furthermore, there is a growing trend in using big data analytics, not just in consumer or market research, but even in corporate training!

 

Face-to-face no more?

While most of the trends in learning and development technology points to online or virtual learning, we must not forget the benefits of having face-to-face sessions and why they worked so well in the first place. Most of the trends in learning and development technology have been sped up by the need to practice social distancing; and as we approach a time when physical interactions are again viable, we must explore how to mix the rising trends in online learning with the tried and tested approach of the face-to-face approach. Here are a couple of ways personal and physical presence compliments online learning:

  1. “Human skills” development

While the workplace of the future certainly drives towards digital and higher cognitive skills (as simple tasks get taken over by artificial intelligence), there is also a rising need for developing social and emotional skills for employees. And as knowledge about these skills can be gleaned from lectures and discussions, fully developing these “human skills” through application can be further nurtured through physical interactions with colleagues.

  1. Team development

In relation to developing social and emotional skills, physical and face-to-face interactions also greatly contribute to a team’s development. While many online platforms already provide ways for team members to interact with each other, there is still a big difference when people are present and are able to see each other. A 2013 study found that face-to-face interaction “increased chances of success in a virtual team environment by improving the working relationship of the team members. It was shown to improve communication, trust, and performance of the teams.”

  1. Sustained learning

Lastly, with the increasingly overwhelming amount of information available to anyone with access to the internet, there is a need to facilitate and sustain the learning. While learning beyond the schools should be much easier for many of us with access to good technology, it can also be very tiring and confusing with so many resources out there. New learning and development designs should take into consideration the way information is curated and delivered in order to sustain learning. We know that professional development is a continuous process of learning, improving, acquiring new skills to remain relevant in an ever-evolving work environment and business, and so sustained learning will be an important aspect of L&D models. Learning will be best supported by everyday nudges and interactions that are embedded within the business tools and processes.

 

Post-COVID learning and development

As we prepare for a post-COVID-19 pandemic world, it is worth reviewing traditional and emerging models and seeing what fits best within our company process and culture. As a starting guide, here are three things to consider as you prepare for the changing landscape of learning and development:

  1. Be mindful about and prepare to adapt emerging technologies. Given that the rapid development of technology is greatly shaping the way we live and work, integration of these into learning and development practices can surely define success for future corporate training programs. Something that corporate trainers and HR professionals could do is to keep abreast with these technologies and engage employees regularly regarding how they may access information using these platforms or tools (e.g. mobile apps, curated short videos, etc.)
  2. Recognize and strengthen individual learning. More and more we can nuance the needs and capabilities of our workforce. Personal development plans can increase sustained learning and be more intentional with the kinds of courses and information. Coupled with being up-to-date with emerging technologies, corporate trainers and HR professionals can also be more attuned to the needs of their employees by working on available data or even asking employees regularly about skills and knowledge they wish to gain as aligned with the organization’s goals (again, working with big data with the employees as your customer!).
  3. Be learning process facilitators/coaches. With the information already constantly flooding people, a large role that educators or trainers need to take is that of learning process facilitators: persons to guide others and assist in navigating the course of gaining knowledge and skills to ensure efficiency and translation to practice. In relation to the previous point, facilitators and coaches mostly reflect back to the learner what the learner deems important in the learning process. The process is more about listening to the employees and encouraging them to share and discuss their plans for the future and how they intend to use the learning for their own personal development.

The pandemic had forced us to reconsider and rethink how we do things in general. With a new era coming up ahead, it is important to remember how we’ve adapted, and review the benefits of changing the way we’ve conducted our business to survive this pandemic. While there may be traditional learning practices that can be brought back once the world is mostly vaccinated, it is more likely that we will evolve into a different kind of workplace, especially in the way we conduct learning and development. 

 

Sources:

  1. The History of Distance Learning [INFOGRAPHIC]
  2. 2019 Global Edtech Investments Reach a Staggering $18.66 Billion
  3. Online Education Market Study 2019 | World Market Projected to Reach $350 Billion by 2025, Dominated by the United States and China
  4. Current and Future Trends in Remote Work – businessnewsdaily.com
  5. Take A Trip To Mars…On A School Bus
  6. LEARNER AUTONOMY AS A FACTOR OF THE LEARNING PROCESS IN  DISTANCE EDUCATION
  7. Virtual Learning Best Practices.pptx
  8. Asia Pacific Has Some Of The World’s Most Connected, Mobile And Social Digital Users
  9. • APAC: mobile internet user penetration 2018-2025
  10. 4 Key Learning and Development Trends to Invest in for 2019
  11. Benefits of Mobile Learning
  12. Mobile Internet Usage Trends in Asia-Pacific
  13. Online program wins engineering education award
  14. 14 Interesting Pieces Of Research On Microlearning—Infographic
  15. COVID-19 and reskilling the workforce
  16. The role of face-to-face interactions in the success of virtual project teams
This article was written by BJ Santos of the Management Strategies R&D Team
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MgtStrat Editorial Team

A bunch of caffeine-induced guys who research, write and edit the content here at the website and for our users, partners and clients.

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