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Caroline Evans

Arden University

Corporate Strategy Director

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The future of learning: online training in a post-Covid world

The future of learning is entirely digital – or is it?

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been the year more of our lives went online.  From quizzing, to bedtime stories to job interviews, everything has been ‘Zoomed’. The question is, are we now virtual for good? It’s a question that is particularly pertinent for L&D professionals and organisations. In a year where face-to-face delivery of training has been largely impossible, how has the industry adapted, and what does the future look like?

Rather than being a simply a sticking plaster that allows learning to continue during this year’s upheaval, digital learning has, in fact, quickly become the most important element of an organisation’s L&D toolkit.  

In a study by online and blended learning specialist Arden University, almost 60% of L&D professionals said the pandemic had changed their organisations’ attitudes to digital learning.  

Shifting perspectives

If you had asked what many people’s view of online learning was even a few years ago, you would probably not have been surprised to hear people say it was ‘lonely’, ‘second best’ or even a ‘waste of money’. It shows the stark change in attitudes that the words now most associated with online and digital learning from our research were: ‘innovative’, ‘fast’ and ‘futuristic’.  

So, what’s changed? There’s no doubt that the pandemic has been a huge factor in the wider acceptance of online learning as a viable training tool, but L&D professionals and the organisations they represent have high standards and expect value for money; they wouldn’t transition to virtual learning if they weren’t getting the quality and results they are looking for.  

The change in attitudes to virtual learning shows not only that organisations have become more comfortable with online platforms and communications, but also that the quality of the learning on offer has undergone massive change in the last few years.  

Better quality, higher expectations

This shift in quality is down to a combination of factors – the evolution and improvement of delivery platforms and greater accessibility of online collaboration tools have enabled learning providers to take their products well beyond the ‘talk-to-a-PowerPoint’ approach to delivery.  

At the same time, users have become more demanding. They expect to learn in a way that mirrors how they are now working – flexibly, with output focus and multi-location. They also reasonably expect that learning and development keeps pace with their wider experience of online platforms, whether it’s the accessibility and customer responsiveness of Amazon, or the engagement and immersive experience of gaming platforms. This innovation in technology and change in market demands have given rise to a new generation of online learning specialists.

These are providers who have come to the virtual training market as specialists in that field and ready to capitalise on it – not just existing providers working to move online in order to stay current. Therefore, market forces come into play, as these ‘disruptors’ in the L&D sector are forcing everyone, from long-standing universities, to L&D consultancies, to up their online game and subsequently driving up quality across the sector.  

Training priorities

To put the importance of access to high quality online learning into context, when asked what their key priorities for training and development were, our research showed L&D decision makers’ top three priorities were:

  • Increasing access of remote workers to training.
  • Increasing the flexibility of learning.
  • Increasing the emphasis on digital learning.

It’s clear that rather than being a simply a sticking plaster that allows learning to continue during this year’s upheaval, digital learning has, in fact, quickly become the most important element of an organisation’s L&D toolkit.  

Indeed, 93% of organisations we surveyed say that L&D is either ‘important’ or ‘crucial’ to their organisation, and there is clear evidence that most L&D professionals will be looking to digital solutions to meet their training needs. It is key to keep in mind, however, that 64% of L&D professionals Arden University spoke to cited ‘the quality of training’ as their highest priority when selecting training for their organisations. As long as digital and online solutions offer high quality, then they will form a core element of training portfolio for organisations.

The death of face-to-face training?

Does this mean that face-to-face training will become a thing of the past? It would seem not. Our research shows that most organisations are looking for a blend of online and face-to-face delivery, with one in three saying they will look to deliver a combination in future. What will change for face-to-face delivery is the range of what is delivered. The question ‘could that have been delivered online?’ will be a core consideration, meaning face-to-face training is more likely to be focused on practical, hands on, technical skills or other capabilities where in-person connection is needed.  Time away from the office (wherever that might be) will need to be clearly justifiable.

The providers who will thrive in the coming months and years will be those who can meet all of these needs, offering the highest quality online delivery using cutting edge and user-oriented technology, supplemented with targeted face-to-face learning where it brings the most value.  

As L&D professionals, this combination of face-to-face and digital delivery will be key to cost effective and engaging training solutions, but the questions asked of any provider will be about how they ensure their quality, manage learner engagement and measure the immediate and longer-term impact of their learning interventions. These considerations remain critical to selecting delivery for your training portfolio – whatever the delivery mechanisms – and will ensure your choices continue to drive development across your organisation.

Interested in this topic? Read Digital transformation: increasing engagement with online learning.

3 Responses

  1. Online training and e-courses
    Online training and e-courses will surely continue with greater take up. There will be greater thoughts towards why face-to-face training. Is there a plus to going for face-to-face training instead of virtual courses? Surely there is – better discussion, networking, groupwork, more personal attention from the teacher etc. That said, face-to-face training will not die in post-covid. Just that people will be more aware when it comes to choosing the medium of trainings to go. [click!]

  2. Thank you for the article,
    Thank you for the article, Caroline. A most thought-provoking topic.

    From personal experience, I believe that online has worked because it had to, and as you say, “the pandemic has been a huge factor in the wider acceptance of online learning as a viable training tool.”

    Has online learning improved over the years? Yes, hugely. Will it continue to improve? I am sure it will. Will it replace face to face entirely? No, definitely not. The driving instructor, the hand skilled crafts such as surgeons are examples of necessary face to face events.

    However, there is also a growing surge of “Get me back into work”, “back into a classroom”, “get me back with people” and so on. This is because we humans need others, we “need” that feeling.

    Our organisation calls that feeling “Felt Presence” (not the psychological meaning), but more the wholeness of being with and interacting freely with other attendees (not hindered by audio interruptions and the many impacts they have)”, that almost tacit feeling, something many can not put into words.

    In short, we must keep that question of what medium is best suited for this solution when everything is balanced out? Such decisions should not be purely finance-driven!

    We MUST be keenly aware of the human need within that balancing act and, our belief, from the requests of most of our clients, the need for that “felt presence” will have a big impact on online or classroom decisions.

  3. A great article, Caroline.
    A great article, Caroline. Thank you.

    Having focused on online training over the last six years, I have noticed and been involved in its evolution. I have over 250,000 learners in 180+ countries allowing me to reach far more than just a local audience.

    My focus is training around emotional intelligence. This has been a big challenge as emotional intelligence cannot be developed though PowerPoint presentations / videos alone, however people can learn about emotional intelligence and how to apply it.

    Online courses need to provide interactive quizzes, discussion boards and practical activities that combine together to give the learners an integrated training experience. They can, also, be enhanced with quality psychometrics and coaching.

    Ideally, training underpinned by emotional intelligence – leadership, team work, conflict resolution, change management, communication skills, etc. – should involve human interaction. However, if companies can’t / won’t provide this training for whatever reason online learning can work extremely well.

    Too many people have been seeing this as a stop-gap opportunity, but events are now opening up to make online learning much more acceptable. This is a billion dollar industry that is set to grow exponentially over the coming years.

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Caroline Evans

Corporate Strategy Director

Read more from Caroline Evans

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