Spokane Journal of Business

COVID-19 calls for rethinking workplace learning

Digital training shifting from option to necessity

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Successful organizations understand the importance of investing in training and learning opportunities. However, in a matter of weeks, the learning landscape has changed dramatically. We are living and working in unprecedented times. One of the challenges the spread of the coronavirus is creating for organizations is the need to rethink their approach to training and workplace education.

Many organizations have been ramping up digital learning programs prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Although we may have been seeing a significant increase in such learning programs, they are no longer just an asset but a necessity.

There is a tremendous amount of effort that goes into designing and delivering a successful online learning experience. Effective online courses are carefully designed so that instruction and learning is organized in the most effective and engaging manner possible.

Some critical factors in developing effective online learning experiences are outlined below. They are based on experience, past and recent research, and the addition of the work of Mary Burns, senior learning technologist with the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center.

Develop courses for adult learners. Research on adult learning demonstrates such learners share many common characteristics, values, and beliefs that should be built into any successful learning experience.

Burns suggests considering the following characteristics of adult learners:

•They need to be treated with respect and recognition. 

•Their professional experiences should be integrated into workshops and discussions.

•Adult learners are practical and want solutions to address real-life challenges.

•They are self-directed and need to be given the opportunity to reflect on and analyze their own practice.

•They need to process information as part of learning.

•Adult learners have different learning styles.

•They need support of peers.

Choose a reliable, innovative platform. Before you begin developing your course, you need to choose which platform will host your programming. You will want to select the platform based not just on what your infrastructure can support but also one that will offer the type of learning experience you want to deliver.

Look for a platform that offers the features you need and has built-in design flexibility. Selecting a platform that gives you the ability to scale as your online learning programs grow also is important.

Proven reliability should be a given as far as selection criteria goes. Nothing will derail a learning experience faster than a cumbersome or technically flawed interface.

Deliver relevant material. Participants deserve a meaningful and targeted educational experience. If you understand your needs of your learners and your organization, you can then deliver exactly what they’re seeking to understand.

In order to keep students engaged and motivated, all information in the course must be relevant and presented in methods that prevent overwhelm.

Offer flexible delivery. Burns suggests looking for the following elements of flexible delivery:

•Realistic options and choice in terms of time, place, and technology.

•Multiple modes of delivery in the workplace, block modes, modules interactive formats, and other nonstandard delivery.

•Options for delivery include alternative ways of providing on campus, in-class, and independent lectures, seminars, tutorials, and practical sessions.

•Accommodation of the diverse learning needs and learning styles of learners.

•Use of technology and resources for learning to provide options to any students to access and use materials at their own pace, such as web-based teaching materials, exercises, and assessment.

•Grading policies that combine self-, peer, and instructor assessment of the products, processes, and progress of learning.

Use a variety of media. Learners perceive and process information differently. To maximize engagement and retention, course designers will want to leverage a variety of media for delivering content, activities, and assessments that allow learners to interact in multiple ways.

Burns explains, “Print instruction should be delivered in an individualized mode, which allows the learner to set the learning pace. Visual media, such as animations and simulations, can help learners enhance their understanding of concepts, such as object identification and spatial relationships.”

Build interactive, collaborative programs. Burns describes five levels of interactivity.

•Learner interaction with an object or person in a way that allows learners to improve their knowledge and skills in a particular domain.

•Multiple communications between learners around an object of study, a tool, or an experience.

•Learner control and program adaptation based on learner input.

•Reciprocal process of information exchange and sharing ideas between students and teachers.

•Multiple forms of synergistic participation that aid the development of meaningful learning.

For many organizations, this will simply mean growth and improvement of existing learning systems. For others, it will be a whole new ballgame. 

Enlist the help of people who understand adult and online learning as well as an expert in learning technologies to ensure you are delivering the best product to your internal team.

Regardless of where your organization falls on the online learning spectrum, you want to be certain to understand the best practices, and procedures for selecting, developing, and delivering top quality educational programming and training to your team.

Learning and development is a cornerstone of engagement. Be sure to fully leverage this opportunity to strengthen your team.

René Johnston, of Spokane, owns Employee Engagement Solutions, a consulting and employee-engagement training company.

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