Learning in the time of Corona

May 11, 2020


The word clouds you see above capture what the L&D leaders who attended our first L&D meet-up are feeling in response to the crisis that has affected all our lives (the one on the left has to do with how they’re feeling in general and the right about how they’re feeling as L&D professionals now). The intent of this 1.5-hour session (conducted safely from the sanitized environments of our homes) was to take stock of where we all are as learning champions; to talk about our concerns and fears, to share how we’re dealing with the situation and to learn from each other.

I was most tempted to call the meeting “Alice in Coronaland” but decided that was too bad a pun even by our standards 🙂 (if you’re wondering about the Alice reference, take a look at us here www.navgati.in).

What follows is a summary of sharing from the 20 participants. We do intend to continue this forum based on the feedback of this group; if you’d like to participate, write to me at sunitha@navgati.in

What is happening to L&D initiatives right now?

Across the board, classroom sessions have been suspended. The overriding priority is to deal with the crisis in terms of helping employees make peace with the new reality and in terms of supporting them in being able to do what they need to do. Several leaders also spoke about L&D being pulled into taking the lead in engagement activities within the organization.

A few organizations in this group already are fully prepared to support digital learning (and are deriving some measure of satisfaction from the fact that their digital investments are finally starting to be used the way they were meant to be). For the majority of the group however, the transition is challenging. The current focus appears to be on curating learning pathways on learning aggregator platforms which is not easy for two reasons:

  • Making the right choice of content because there’s so much out there and L&D managers are constantly questioning whether they are choosing the content that’s most relevant to their business
  • Helping learners make the switch to the digital medium itself is difficult
  • From the sharing, there are three themes around which curating content is happening

  • Being productive while working from home
  • Wellness including detoxing from technology; building grit and resilience; mindfulness etc.
  • Helping managers build the capability to manage virtual teams

For the most part, learning does appear to have taken a back seat for the last two weeks. However, there are a few organizations, which are viewing learning as a way to keep people engaged and productive when their main business is no longer accessible. In these organizations, L&D teams are working hard to get learning initiatives off the ground and are rolling out learning calendars with the explicit blessing of business leaders. This is similar to our own approach at Navgati where we’re treating this enforced slowdown as a chance to try out all the ideas we’ve wanted to but never had the time for.

Some interesting initiatives that were shared

  • Leaders facilitating workshops: in one organization, leaders were asked what they would like to contribute to skill-building. The L&D team then put together a series of one-hour webinars that run at fixed times in a day, all run by leaders.
  • Using learning to set up for once the crisis is past: One participant spoke about how in her company, they are focusing on using this time to upskill their bench so they are ready when things improve.
  • Training managers on psychological safety: This organization realized that managers who did not believe in the concept of working from home were putting too much pressure on their teams. They put together content to help managers question their beliefs about people working from home and to recognize the impact they were having on their teams.
  • Veteran leaders sharing their experiences with change: They asked very senior leaders to share how things have changed in their lives and how they have changed themselves to deal with these; thereby inviting employees to introspect on how they could deal with this change as an opportunity.
  • Specific programs for sales teams to help them work through the challenges of closing sales when business is shut down
  • Ideas for engagement that are being implemented: photo contests where team members send in a picture of one activity they are engaged with, everyone else guesses who the person; setting aside twenty minutes for having tea together online, starting every working morning by saying hello to each other. (if you want more ideas, go here – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/25-ideas-keep-your-team-connected-when-youre-working-krishnamurthi/)

What are the biggest challenges you anticipate as an L&D leader?

The challenges appear centred around two areas

The effectiveness of learning on digital platforms and the skills needed to make it work

  • “Tracking of learning on digital platforms – if you click on mark complete, it shows as having completed the course. So have people really absorbed it? We don’t know. We are dealing with it by providing post-program assignments and asking participants to respond with their experiences on a social platform. But it’s still a question.”
  • “We are going to have to learn to think like marketers. How to connect to the learner, how to make it relevant, how to create a psychological pull for people to use and apply the content”
  • “If there is a push to go 100% digital for all programs, that won’t work. Some learning needs participation in a group; to learn a skill; to allow for introspection. Putting everything online – that doesn’t give me a good feeling about what’s happening”
  • “We surveyed 1000 people on their preferred mode of learning – the least preferred was mobile and e-learning; the most preferred was classroom and experiential learning. I know information dissemination can happen well on these platforms; will it actually lead to a change in people’s behaviors? If we get pushed to put all learning online, it will not result in change. People will not become better managers by reading tips on how to manage; it won’t result in the introspection needed for change. I see this as a stop-gap measure that we’re pushing people towards digital platforms”
  • “I’m not sure how to ensure applicability to unique organizational needs as well as learning styles of learners (with online programs). Also, what happens to complex learning needs? How do we measure engagement – even if doing live sessions, how to gauge reactions is a challenge”

The need for L&D to become even more business outcome-focused

  • “As it is, L&D is being asked to become more outcome-focused. With the economic slowdown, this will increase, the pressure to justify our existence and value will increase”
  • “An ongoing challenge is how to integrate L&D with talent management and performance. Still a big gap; we work as L&D in isolation – we transmit learning and hope and pray change will happen. How can we show the link to business outcomes more clearly?”
  • “Business will ask more questions about what L&D team members are doing in the absence of physical sessions. Learning objectives will have to get more tied into business outcomes”

How did you find this experience of connecting with fellow L&D folks?

  • “It was therapeutic; was so good to listen to people when social distancing. I enjoyed the validation – that challenges are same and what we’re doing is similar. I would like to hear more from people as time passes about what’s working and what’s not”
  • “I loved this opportunity to connect with fellow professionals. It was nice to get validation for what we’re doing. I think this is the beginning. Methodologies will evolve; would be a good platform to learn from each other”
  • “Good to connect with people going through similar things – this felt like a psychologically safe place for me”
  • “So refreshing; what you think sitting at home and talking to people in your own company is one view – very good to hear from others”

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