This is the final article in my current look at planning learning and development content in the post-pandemic world. The first dealt with up-skilling the workforce to support changes in business objectives and necessary skillsets. The second addressed the needs and situations of three groups of people as L&D slowly emerges from the shift that took place beginning in March, 2020: knowledge workers, frontline workers, and customers. In this article, I will write about the best practices and content that practitioners will need to include in planning for the last half of 2021 and on into 2022 until the time when the situations of those groups stabilize. The article concludes with my interview with Todd Moran, chief learning officer at NovoEd, in which he reports what he learned during 2020 and what he sees as the critical best practices for a successful transition to the New Normal.

"Effects of the Pandemic on Learning Technology Roadmaps"

The Learning Guild has published a research report that reviews the profound impacts 2020 had on L&D's ability to plan, hire, and budget. There are lessons we can learn for 2021 from this experience.

The pandemic sped up L&D's ability to plan for the future

Almost half of the research respondents noted how much their plans for 2020 changed. In various publications, L&D pros have said that in a matter of weeks they made changes in design and delivery of learning support that they had thought would require as much as two years to implement. Megan Torrance, the research report author, says this may be an indication of confidence in the ability to move to digital delivery platforms with a more resilient and future-ready approach. It would seem to be a substantial ability.

Two more significant effects of the pandemic

Almost a third of the respondents reported that the pandemic slowed their ability hire the right people for the team. At the same time, more and more organizations say they are moving to an all-virtual team, which we could expect should make hiring the right people easier. Twice as many people reported that the pandemic negatively impacted their budget for L&D initiatives (39%), compared with those who say their ability is accelerated (21%). This combination could be a reflection of reduced budgets for L&D and overall headcount pressures. If the downward pressure on budgets continues, there will be effects on hiring, program development, technology implementation, and organizational learning itself.

"Never waste a good crisis"

Along with the report survey results, this quote from Carrie McManus, CIP, distribution planning senior manager, The Co-Operators (who was quoting one of her mentors) is just another sign that L&D managers will need to plan carefully for their programs and focus in the next 12-18 months. Looking at the report, participants suggested several potential places to start transitions.

  • Implement virtual coaching
  • Create in-house planning workshop(s) or a virtual planning initiative
  • In larger organizations, launch a series of webinars from the field

Best practices for L&D in 2021-2022

During the coming months as COVID cases and hospitalizations increase and decrease, practitioners can expect frequent change, and changes to the changes—from virtual requirements to temporary returns to in-person learning and back again. These will not be uniform across geographies and organizations, so one best practice would be to ensure that changes can be made with a minimum of disruption and confusion. Effective change management will be an important contributor to your success in the coming months.

As long as virtual delivery is retained, take the time to collect data that reflects how successful programs are, and to improve methods. As part of this effort:

  • Work with business leadership, stakeholders, and customers/clients to identify priority business goals and re/upskilling required to support them.
  • Implement initiatives to improve NPS (Net Promoter Scores) among customers and eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Scores) among employees. This will require working across business units and management teams (who may have already launched initiatives in this area). This will result in loyal customers, better top and bottom lines, more productive employees, and lower turnover.
  • Implement virtual reality training plus short sims to support skill development (doing, not rote knowledge), plus spaced practice and reflective practice as part of virtual delivery.

Leadership and other training

I also interviewed Todd Moran, chief learning officer at NovoEd, about his experience with what worked during 2020, and what will be needed for success in 2021. Some of what he told me was a bit unexpected.

BB: What were some of your lessons learned and best practices that came out of 2020 that we should be applying in 2021 and 2022?

TM: A big part of our approach and our measurement framework in L&D has always been the holy grail: to be able to claim causality. Because X number of people took this training or this program, nobody in their right mind would declaratively say it's led to this outcome, but we can point to a high correlation. We're doing that really by use cases.

Folks are running large scale sales enablement efforts to be able to measure their speed to productivity, the velocity of their deals, the size of the deals they're closing, and the speed at which they can complete proposals now because they've gone through intensive immersive training on an online platform. Those are pieces we're measuring. I don't have all the datasets tied to that, but without question we're trying to create that linkage from beyond just the course completion to those high correlations, if not causality, in some of those businesses. Perhaps two-thirds of their sales were won without question just because of the immediacy and the ability to measure behavioral changes that are tied to performance, whether that's ramp time or speed to deal close, or philosophy of opportunity, or reduction in the proposal times.

BB: For the use cases that you've got some data on, or at least impressions, then, sales is the use case that benefited most from focus during 2020. What were some other important outcomes?

TM: The second biggest use cases that we've seen, that I think are deeply indicative of big performance improvement, are on the leadership side: immersive, expansive leadership programs. Amongst our client base, those use cases where clients are able to say, "Hey listen, the eNPS ratings of those employees tied to those managers and leaders that have gone through the training in that format is double digits in increase — 10 to 15 points higher in terms of how employees rate them. So these leaders are continuing to expand their reach and coverage within the organization. And so some of the internal mobility, which I noticed becomes really critical for lots of our enterprise clients as they focus on retention. How do we create learning pathways and career paths within our firm so that we don't just feed and build these people, and they end up leaving? That's been something that we've been able to really point to as an outcome of the leadership training. That and the sense of belongingness and connectedness. That idea of talking to purpose and mission has been another big outcome under the leadership development use cases.

BB: In the leadership development and sales training and enablement initiatives that were transitioned over to the virtual classroom or the virtual setting, were those simply adaptations of materials and initiatives that existed prior to the pandemic, or did the organizations do some actual redesign to make use of the virtual environment.

TM: I would say it was heavily weighted towards the redesign, definitely not just a lift-and-shift of existing programs, as they came to understand some of the best practices and the uniqueness of the online modality as where you can create opportunity for practice and reflection. You can do team-based cohorts over time; you can create mentor and peer feedback constructs that exist over long durations. We had L&D teams fundamentally rethinking their program. I would say maybe 10 - 15% of pure lift-and-shift, but our learning experience designers would work with them to say, "Look at all that those open up to you, all these other options." Yes, you could actually just recreate that three-day bootcamp (GE called it their Bells program, foundations and enterprises, leadership) and then they delivered the bells within the virtual version. Then they did a bit of a re-creation experience but others said, "No, we're going to totally revisit our programmatic approach to this and how we space it and how we perform sub-cohorts and how we bring in these other opportunities." So easily 75 - 80% was observed rework and redesign that led to those big, much, much greater sort of performance impacts of the training itself.

BB: Given that, can you put on your prophet hat and say what you think the top best practices will be for late 2021 or into 2022, recognizing this is evolution, it's not revolution. Where will we be in a year?

TM: I think one of the biggest ones and this really ties to the meeting of the necessity of the makeup of the workforce, and where the populations will reside. A lot of our data and some of the efforts that we co-sponsored with Brandon Hall Research mid-pandemic asked a similar sort of Nostadamus-like question of large scale enterprises, several thousand companies. Where do you believe your workforces will reside in terms of model when we come to the other side of the pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, half those organizations had workforces that were less than 10% offsite. Now, we're in a purely remote capacity. So for most folks that were in offices, during the pandemic that swung all the way up to 90% offsite or above. It's not dropping back down to 10%, and I think that the research is all telling us, and all of our clients are saying, maybe it's going to hover around the 40% mark. So if you know nearly half your population is going to reside in a purely remote setting, blended is here to stay. And you better have a solve. Just trying to continue to Band-Aid it with Zoom, using Teams or Slack to create connection, and incorporate all these huge swathes of the population that are not in an office, there's not a single model. So I think that's probably the biggest foundational. Blended, in a really immersive approach to blended learning, to accommodate those permanently remote employee populations of your workforce, is here to stay.

I think that the other big one that really stands out in my mind, the core focus of every L&D initiative regardless of use case—sales enablement, onboarding, digital transformation, universal capability building on digital skills—this idea of creating opportunities for iterative reflection and practice over a period of time, in that spaced learning model that is only available to you by way of a digital online modality, is going to take even greater hold, greater form. So don't just bring me in for a one-day or two-day or three-day training, give me this opportunity. And in a very open forum, allow me to demonstrate my acquisition and application of this skill. It's not that I just went through a bunch of short-form microlearning assets and I claim to have this capability, you have to demonstrate that. You have to have a platform and a set of technologies that allow the demonstration of that—whether it's to peers, to team, to entire business unit, to manager, to mentor. I think that's something, this idea of this era of practice and application, you're going to see much much more of that, making its way into every aspect of L&D portfolios in the year ahead.

BB: How much do you think L&D organizations are thinking about the actual transition, and about setting up for it.

Here's what we found and it's a bit of a maturity curve so that it's at the more emergent ones that are a bit more prescient and have that sense of, even though, "My goodness, we of course for certain things want to bring people back together," that's not going to be the reality. We do have to rethink our portfolios, and if we're not embedding a really sustainable blended model we're not going to be able to train and upskill and build capabilities across our workforce in 2021 because we won't have the luxury of returning to models of the past. I think the emergent ones are all over it, they totally get it. They understand they're making investments in technologies that make this seamless. I think the others, there's still a bit of a part of the population that is hopeful, with a certain wait-and-see. "Maybe even more people will come back to the office, in which case we won't have to rethink our portfolios and how we deliver them and what level of impact we're having to execute based upon where the populations sit", and I think that sliver, the way we see it, is less and less literally by the month for us because folks are getting edified and in understanding that it's going to be a brave new world out here for folks. So I don't think it's going to catch a lot of enterprises by surprise, people don't get to claim that anymore, not in 2021. They can't say, "Boy, I'm surprised. I have no idea how we're gonna deliver on our summer internship program". They can't. They can't claim that anymore. Not this year. Not this month.

Without question, I think where some of the folks that come from my space, in terms of technology providers, are saying, we have to create, we have to lower the friction and the barrier of entry for the attainment of that training and education. And we have to make it really easy and seamless for our users to be able to contribute back to the corporate memory of their organizations.

BB: 75% of the workers in the world are frontline employees. Most of the people that I hear about in this transition have tended to be knowledge workers, whose jobs are the ones who typically in the past would have been brought into the headquarters for their training. What are your thoughts on what are we doing for the frontline employees?

TM: And what that means, I think at least for the technology providers, is that leading with a mobile-first strategy about how they can gain that access because they only have 15 minutes on the shift and they're in the back room, you know, able to fire up their mobile device, quickly look at a dashboard to see some feedback on a submission they made about an end cap display, and provide some commentary, that has to be seamless.

So meeting those frontline workers when they're walking to the production factory floor, and they're ready to show up to the kiosk in 15 minutes to engage in some type of meaningful training or capability building, you have to make that barrier of entry really seamless. So I think there's even more concerted focus on this simplicity, the timeliness of serving up content and making it very bite-sized, and doing it through the mobile form factor within that kiosk, tablet, mobile device, dedicated iOS, and Android apps. Because thinking that you're going to get them to sit at their desk in a home office setting for three hours at a time is obviously not the reality.

We thought long and hard about the parts of the population that are not knowledge workers and not in a purely desktop setting because we recognize this huge population. But I think that there's still a big part of organizations that don't give them their due, they don't get that part of the workforce, and maybe that does route all the way into design thinking fails in terms of how to approach them, how to meet them where they are. I think some of the most cutting-edge technology providers out there are saying, "Yeah, we need to lead with a mobile-first mentality because we have to be in service of the whole population, not just the corporate offices and or the corporate contingent and home offices."

From the editor

Todd had more things to say, especially about onboarding and virtual reality, but to keep this article from being any longer, I intend to report more about our conversation in an upcoming article.

Here are two more suggestions that may help you shift gears and identify how you will transition your content and your learning support to the post-pandemic world.

The How I Made This Online Conference is happening next week on April 21 & 22. These eight sessions will give you the knowledge you need to bring new life to your learning solutions. You will have the opportunity to follow along step-by-step, ensuring that you are able to reinforce all that you learn right away into your own work. Register here today! There are still discounts available, so don't put it off.

The Learning Guild's Learning SolutionsDigital Experience, May 3 – 14, is a much-anticipated two-week event featuring 120+ sessions that push you forward, offer one-of-a-kind networking and a free week of innovative events—all in one digital environment. Join us in sharing what works for learning! Many of the sessions, from keynotes to online pre-conference workshops to individual presentations, will provide information and skills that are very relevant to the issues involved in planning your organization's transition to the New Normal. Look over the program, and register today!