virtual training

Shifting to Hybrid Work: 3 things learners need in a post-covid work environment

Does anyone remember the expression, “Two weeks to slow the spread?” It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when we all thought we’d go back to pre-pandemic life as usual. Over the course of the past 9-12 months, it’s become increasingly obvious that office life is unlikely to ever return to “normal.” Countless companies have set dates for their employees to return, only to push those back as the latest variant emerges or a surge in infections impacts a significant region. Conferences and events have been scheduled, rescheduled, canceled, brought back, and moved online. We’ve all settled in to expecting the unexpected and living with uncertainty while adapting to a hybrid work environment.

Forward-thinking companies have shifted their efforts to building a hybrid work environment that allows the business to be responsive to whatever nature throws our way in the future. What hybrid work looks like will vary from organization to organization, but in most cases it means that individuals and teams will rotate between the office and remote work. Additionally, companies in many industries are increasingly relying on a contingent workforce, rather than traditional employment arrangements. 

Research and experience has shown that the evolutionary path learning has been traveling over the past 20 years will need to accelerate in order to meet the needs of a hybrid workforce. Yes, technology plays an important role, but there are more conceptual issues that will need to be considered. As you build your learning strategy, consider our top three recommendations to address the needs of hybrid learners.

1. Consistency of experience

For the most part, technology issues related to remote and hybrid work have been settled at this point. People have adopted the necessary apps and platforms, upgraded their workstations, and learned new ways of collaborating. Brian Kropp, head of HR at Gartner, recently said that figuring out the way forward with a hybrid work environment isn’t so much an issue of the right tech as it is “ a consistency and evenness-of-experience question.”

The learning industry has struggled to provide a consistent experience between in-person and virtual training for decades. The events of 2020 increased the adoption of virtual learning because it was the only way to continue developing people. As necessity is the mother of invention, companies have found all sorts of ways to make virtual learning work for development projects that were previously relegated to in-person events.

A hybrid work environment, however, throws in a whole new set of challenges. The learning modalities that will prevail in the next year will be those that can offer the same experience to learners located anywhere—in the traditional office, at home, and around the globe.

2. Sensitivity and empathy

While the pandemic escalated mental health issues for countless people, it’s fair to say that many people were dealing with these challenges long before 2020. One outcome of the pandemic is that mental health needs have become part of the public conversation, even in the workplace. Similarly, the work from home environment exposed many details about workers’ personal lives that may not have previously surfaced in the office. Parents and caregivers have been at the forefront of many leaders’ minds, but there are also countless other circumstances that were uncovered as the webcams clicked on at home.

As a result, learning leaders are seeking new ways to provide resources related to emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, and other soft skills. Specific interventions in those areas are needed in many organizations, but they should also become an integral part of the overall learning strategy. For a hybrid work environment to succeed, employers simply must continue to accommodate their workers’ personal needs. Recent news headlines have highlighted the damage that can occur in organizations that neglect to be empathetic to their employees. L&D has a huge opportunity to contribute in this area by taking an empathetic approach in the design of every learning intervention.

3. Engagement

The numbers vary, but reports indicate that anywhere from 25%-50% of workers have changed jobs in the past year. We’ve known for a long time that engaged employees are more likely to stick around; what’s quickly changing are the ways we go about keeping people engaged. A hybrid work environment, by nature, is significantly more vulnerable to people slipping through the cracks. Companies have ramped up their efforts to measure engagement consistently, and L&D groups have deployed a slew of interventions designed to help managers combat the factors that lead to disengaged workers.

Investing in employees by developing their skills is a tried-and-true way to increase employee engagement. That said, any initiative must be calibrated to what people really need and deployed via a program that keeps learners engaged enough to actually learn something. Sadly, most learning designed for virtual delivery doesn’t come close to the caliber of pre-pandemic events that were held in person. Those L&D groups that will continue to succeed in moving the needle on employee engagement will have to find ways to deploy learning that engages learners in the hybrid workplace—providing that consistent experience mentioned in item one.

Learning leaders may have a lot on their shoulders, but it’s an exciting time for our profession. We can make significant contributions to the success of a hybrid work environment by designing learning that supports employees in their areas of need. Our team has extensive experience doing just that. Contact us to schedule a new year strategy session.

Virtual Classroom Better than Real?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a conference with Bob Gerard from Accenture.

Bob gave a presentation that really opened the audience’s eyes to the true value of the Virtual World Classroom based on some research he and his team had just concluded.  Bob wasn’t lost in the allure of Avatars and 3D worlds, his research was aimed at evaluating learner engagement and proving positive returns.

mobile-learning

Their theory was that virtual world classrooms are more effective than audio & slide virtual classrooms.  Feedback from the participants in the pilots seemed to overwhelmingly reinforce this theory.  Employees stated that the virtual world experience was more enjoyable, engaging, and collaborative than audio & slide based virtual classrooms.  Importantly, students reported that they learned more and could apply the learned content better than after an audio & slide event.  This is obviously bad news for WebEx and their cohorts.

However, when evaluated against a traditional classroom event the results were inconclusive.  Each approach had advocates and detractors.  On the one hand, there was a general bias toward traditional classroom events.  On the other, the advocates were extremely biased to virtual world classrooms.

So here is where this gets interesting for me.  In much the same way that Merrill Lynch was able to show a strong positive return on an investment in Mobile Learning as one mode of delivery for compliance training, Bob Gerard’s findings suggest we can, at least for a very specific population, improve knowledge transfer and retention utilizing virtual world classrooms instead of traditional classrooms.  I can easily see road weary sales executives, with a bias toward technology, appreciating effective new product training delivered this way.

I am anxious to get your thoughts and experiences!?

Developing a SixthSense for Mobile Learning

I recently wrote about Augmented Reality (AR) and some intriguing possibilities in mobile learning. Some folks at MIT are working on a technology that could have dramatic implications for mobile learning and information retrieval.

They call it SixthSense.

Demoed in a TED presentation Pranav Mistry has created an inexpensive wearable system that can project information about real world objects onto any surface. While most current AR implementations require you to pull out your phone, or wear a Heads Up Display (HUD) device, Mistry’s invention is worn around the neck and thus always accessible.  The implications of this really have to be seen to grasp the possibilities.

The real magic of the system however is in the programming that allows you to interact with real world objects. Imagine this type of device being used in a manufacturing facility or lab. Since it’s a personal device, it will know who you are. As you approach a piece of machinery it could instantly access your records and note that it had been 6 months since you last worked on this type of equipment and offer a quick refresher training. Or perhaps, since it would know if you were a new employee, provide a just in time briefing on its safe operation.

I also can imagine it being very useful for teamwork and collaboration. I know many of my best ideas have been sketched out on the back of a napkin while at lunch with a client. With SixthSense we could easily turn the entire table into an instant whiteboard to share and capture our ideas.

I believe that developments like SixthSense, and other Augmented Reality options for accessing information at the point of need, will accelerate the move from training by courses to discrete just-in-time learning experiences. For years authors have been writing about the need to be a life-long learner in the rapidly changing work environment. When technologies like SixthSense become ubiquitous, I don’t know that we will be talking anymore about life-long learning. The distinction between doing and learning will disappear, as the doing becomes the learning.

What do you think?

Can we Augment the Reality of Mobile Learning?

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring Augmented Reality (AR)  and how it might aid mobile learning by testing various AR apps available for the iPhone. As is often the case with cutting edge ideas, the potential is much more exciting than the currently possible. (See my take on Google Wave as another example of this phenomenon) Most of the AR I’ve seen so far I’d call more “proof of concept” than really useful.

Many of the iPhone apps available now provide a type of  “walking tour” of an area. You point the camera of your iPhone or Android phone at a point of interest and the app overlays interesting information about the object or place on the screen. The two main problems with this type of AR app at this time are limited points of interest (depending on where you live), or information of questionable interest or value. (Wikitude is a good example of both.)

However, there are a few intriguing examples of what the future may hold. Professor Steven Feiner and his student, Steve Henderson, of Columbia University, have created a prototype of an AR system to help marine mechanics more quickly repair military vehicles.

This example of an Augmented Reality catalog by Metaio suggests exciting ideas for future applications in training. What if a clerk could hold an infrequently used but vital form in front of a camera on his computer and the screen would automatically display information on how to correctly complete and submit it? Or in my household, what if I could hold the remote control for the entertainment system up to the TV and it would present an interactive display on how to set the system to watch a DVD or record a show?

What interesting applications or uses for Augmented Reality in mobile learning have you found?