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Going Virtual: How Different Types of Organizations Are Adapting to Digital Learning

2020 has been a whirlwind year for digital learning, significantly changing the way L&D is carried out. Now that the dust has settled somewhat on the sudden pivot to virtual learning, it’s a good time to evaluate where we are, what’s working, and what’s not.

Our webinar, ‘Going Virtual: What’s Working?’, saw Andrew Joly, Director of Strategic Design; Sophie Miller, Head of Client Engagement; and Consulting Lead, Patrick Thomas, come together. They share lessons from taking learning online and going virtual, with tips drawn from our clients’ real-world experiences.

"We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat" - Sophie Miller

This year, for every industry, has been a storm. And while we’re all in this together, as Sophie said on the webinar, we’re not all in the same boat. Going virtual may have been on the agenda for a long time, it may be something you’ve never had the chance to think about, or it may be something you were—or are—already familiar with.

3 Levels of Experience With Virtual Learning

From working with our clients over the last year, especially in the six months from March to August 2020, we’ve identified three main groups of organizations when it comes to digital transformation in the learning space. We call them:

  • New - those that have never done digital or virtual learning. These companies are setting sail for the first time.
  • Emerging - these organizations may have an infrastructure to support virtual learning but, due to the speed of change, the boat is rocking and unstable.
  • Mature - businesses that are already learning in a digital or virtual way, but are looking to make the sail smooth(er) and sustainable.

How you embark on the digital journey depends on which boat you’re in. So which one do you fit into? In this article, we’ll go through the stages for each, so scroll down to the relevant area for your organization.

Related reading to download: ‘How to Deliver Effective Learning Journeys at Distance

Group 1: You’re New to Virtual Learning

Organizations new to virtual learning were completely dropped in the deep end earlier this year as lockdown hit, and working from home became commonplace almost overnight. In these organizations, training has typically been run, at scale, in a face-to-face environment.

Sometimes this involved instructors on the ground with learners, sometimes in classrooms. For some organizations, like the one we’ll look at a little later, training has been run entirely through events and conferences. And that takes a considerable pivot to meet the challenges that COVID-19 has brought.

If this is you, this whole situation will no doubt have been extremely daunting. And to some of you, it may still be. If your training budget and infrastructure were based on human interaction, you’ve already come a long way by starting the process of going digital. This year, we’re challenging what learning looks like. And you are at the forefront of this change.

A few positives to really focus on here:

  • Going virtual increases opportunity by removing geographic barriers.
  • It increases inclusion and accessibility.
  • Once digital training is in place, it may decrease the time required from trainers.
  • And it can provide alternative revenue streams for some organizations.

What’s working? Do more of this:

  • Focus first on business-critical issues.
  • Redefine what it means to learn, digitally.
  • Learn, test, repeat. You may not get it right the first time and that’s okay.
  • Gather feedback from learners to help you improve the learning experience.

Case Study: A US-Based Coaching, Speaking, and Training Business

Led by one of the most influential business leaders in America, this company’s revenue stream and mode of learning was delivered through in-person events coaching, and leadership events. While the company was highly skilled in the art of teaching and coaching, going virtual is something it hadn’t done until this year.

Working together with LEO Learning, the company centralized technology in its strategy, embraced the techniques of microlearning, personalized journeys, and reward systems to create an engaging online learning experience. We worked together to build a business case to develop a fully digital distance learning mode of delivery, as well as the tools to fully realize it. Ultimately, the company used an incredibly difficult situation to create an entirely new business opportunity.

Key takeaway: Create a teaser—trial the platform and test out content—to sell your business case. Sometimes it’s riskier not to take a risk. So, consider the long-term impact of the changes you’re making and how much harder it may be to make them down the line.

Handpicked for you: ‘9 Important Things We’ve Learned About Distance Learning in Lockdown

Group 2: You’re Emerging Into Virtual Learning

The organizations in this group may already have a learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP), a small bank of compliance eLearning modules, or perhaps just a few instructors already in place.

Essentially, if you’re one of these organizations, you have the infrastructure in place to manage distance learning—but maybe not at the scale and speed needed to cope with everything this year has thrown your way.

Some positives to focus on:

  • Internal resources are already in place.
  • You have some experience of virtual learning.
  • Buy-in for learning initiatives has required less persuasion.
  • “Good enough” really may be good enough right now.
  • Digital transformation in learning is moving faster than ever.

What’s working? Do more of this:

  • Audit the current technology stack and potentially downsize, focusing on what’s most important.
  • Turn subject matter experts into competent virtual facilitators and instructors.
  • Develop practical design standards for all training.
  • Share best and worst practices based on experience.

Case Study: International Law Firm

LEO worked with a global law firm with lawyers in more than 40 countries. In January, the firm’s team came up with an ambitious three-year strategy to build its own learning academy.

Instead of reassessing its strategy or putting it on hold, the firm partnered with us to accelerate it. The original plan was to include blended learning, including face to face, and to gradually integrate its learning resources into one place over three years.

By enlisting in-house experts from across the firm to deliver training, providing design standards, and collaborating on learning design, the organization accelerated that three-year plan into just six months. The firm’s academy launched with a full suite of courses in September 2020.

Also read: ‘How to Design a Distance-Friendly Blended Learning Experience

Group 3: You’re Digitally Mature and Experienced With Virtual Learning

Organizations in this group have a substantial amount of experience with virtual learning. You already have an LMS or LXP in place, with at least a small L&D team, and a number of strategies in place.

If you’re in this group, you’ve already gone digital and are looking to optimize your strategy. In L&D, we often talk about future-proofing, and this year more than any other shows that we don’t know what’s around the corner. Mature organizations are looking to take an agile approach to learning, with a strong focus on wellbeing, connection, and dealing with oncoming change.

Some positives to focus on:

  • You’re better able to cope with change due to earlier investment.
  • You can focus on overall strategy for the future.
  • You know how to amend your learning strategy to face specific challenges.

What’s working? Do more of this:

  • Create a flexible approach to all training, including a digital remote model that can be switched on whenever needed
  • Cut costs through mapping skills more closely to content.
  • Build the “human element” into live online training.
  • Drive innovation through scenario-based training that uses gamification techniques.
  • Focus on ecosystem optimization.

You might also like: ‘Embracing the Power of Scenarios in a Virtual Learning Journey

Case Study: Oil, Gas, and Manufacturing

Here, we’re not talking about a specific client. However, the oil, gas, and manufacturing industries are great examples to look at. We work with a number of organizations in these industries and have been helping them shape their learning strategies, eLearning modules, and overall learning design to help them make the most out of their new and current situations.

These are industries where staff simply cannot do their training at a computer. With the need for equipment and extensive safety training, they’re pushing for innovation and using VR and AR. Using these immersive technologies allows them to replace training that would usually be done in person and face-to-face in a safe and distanced way. With a digital learning strategy already in place, they’re able to adapt to remote working challenges with the latest in learning technology.

A Final Word on What’s Working in Virtual Learning

We may all be in the same storm but it’s worth remembering, as Sophie said, that we’re not in the same boat. We hope that no matter which boat you find yourself in, there are some helpful tips here and the experience of our clients can help. From those of your new to digital learning through to organizations turning to the latest innovations, we’ve all been thrown in at the deep end and that, as Andrew Joly says, is where we learn the fastest.

For more on this topic, access your on-demand copy of the ‘Going Virtual: What’s Working’ webinar. Or contact us today to talk to one of our learning experts.

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