The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has many elements, but social distancing, sheltering in place, and generally reducing opportunities for the spread of the coronavirus are part of everyday life and work worldwide now and for the foreseeable future. This is bound to affect learning and development activities since so much of the normal way we carry these out involves travel and group gatherings.

One adjustment already underway, along with an increase in teleworking, is a shift from in-person delivery of learning and development— training, orientation, onboarding—to distance learning through virtual classrooms and asynchronous formats.

The eLearning Guild and Learning Solutions have a lot of archived material that will be useful as you plan and execute for change. This article is the first of three, plus a coming eBook, that will focus on making that transition.

Situated learning

People are learning all the time, and most of that learning does not take place in a classroom or through asynchronous instruction. What has changed in the last couple of months is the social setting within which work and learning are situated. Working from home, or in office settings where many other employees are no longer present (because they are working from home), or where gathering in groups larger than a mere handful or two is not permitted, requires rethinking and "re-situating" many aspects of the ways organizations (especially L&D) have supported learning.

Learning takes place in three different settings. There is:

  • Learning that is picked up on the job: tacit knowledge; workflow learning
  • Learning gained from other people: coaching, apprenticeship, and job aids, connections to co-workers, supervisors, experts, and reference materials
  • Learning that comes from formal training: synchronous in-person training in a physical or virtual classroom, asynchronous courses

As the social setting of work changes, it is going to be necessary to supply support that maintains learning. This introduces some scope problems: L&D does not have and never did have the scope to replace learning picked up on the job or gained from other people. Much of this support comes from other sources. What L&D can do is to attempt to arrange or facilitate mechanisms or channels for those. L&D can also modify the ways in which it delivers formal training so that it can be done "at a distance."

Strategy, design, delivery

Learning and development professionals can approach the scope and facilitation challenges by thinking about the strategy, design, and delivery of learning support within each of the social settings to which work is relocating—not of "training," but of support.

  • Strategy: The big questions. What does it take to communicate and preserve tacit knowledge, workflow learning, coaching, apprenticeship, and formal training when the social settings of work are dispersed?
  • Design: How is it possible to meet workers where they are and to support them effectively there?
  • Delivery: How can the necessary learning assets be made available to workers in each setting?

The answers to these questions vary according to the nature, location, and settings of work and workers. For example, L&D can develop methods by which employees can find and connect to experts in order to tap into tacit knowledge. By conducting methods analysis, L&D can identify ways to support learning within workflow, to support apprenticeship and coaching, and otherwise facilitate skill development in non-traditional ways.

This article and the next two in this series look at strategy, design, and delivery of formal training in settings where workers are dispersed and where gatherings of people for training are not practical or permitted. Other articles in coming weeks will address the relocation of support for learning picked up on the job or gained from other people.

Curated content from Learning Solutions for shifting formal instruction to virtual classrooms

Here are five foundational articles about the big questions (methods, conversion, platforms, presenting, design) to consider when identifying strategy for shifting formal training for a dispersed, decentralized, or isolated employee population from the physical, instructor-led classroom to the virtual classroom.

The next two articles will address the design and delivery issues for virtual classrooms. In addition, The eLearning Guild's upcoming L&D on a Shoestring online conference April 22-23, 2020 will include these sessions to assist you in your efforts to re-situate learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Session 301: Creating Interactive eBooks—Yes, eBooks!—for Learning presented by Judy Katz, Eduworks Corporation

Session 501: Email Course Design: Using Digital Marketing as a Learning Strategy, presented by Sarah Mercier, Learning Ninjas

Session 601: Creating Highly Interactive Online Events on a Low-Cost Budget, presented by Cindy Huggett, Cindy Huggett Consulting

Session 801: Build Your Own Chatbots for Conversation Simulation with Twine, presented by Paul Bills, Mobile Coach

You can register for this online event or get an eLearning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more.