2021 – Back to Basics for virtual L&D

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Section 1 Contents


So what does the future of workplace learning look like. For L&D it certainly means that they will largely remain a virtual function. What does being a “virtual L&D function” actually mean and what tools do you need to fulfil this function?

An article in CMS Wire, 6 Learning and Development Practices for a Distributed Workforce, makes this important point:

“Effective virtual L&D does not have to involve expensive AI tools, adaptive learning features or immersive VR environment”

In other words, there is no need for shiny new learning platforms, rather it will be more about making good and effective use of the tools you already have in house. As we can see from this year’s Top Tools it is enterprise collaboration platforms and web meeting tools that have come to the fore with office tools and even email high on the list too.  So here are 10 things a virtual L&D function can learn from 2020 to take them into 2021 and beyond.

1 – Keep it short – Live virtual training has clearly taken off this year – out of necessity –  as L&D scrambled to deliver their offerings online. But many workers ended up with “Zoom fatigue” as they spent many hours in their day moving from web meeting to web training and back to web meeting. So, if there is a pressing need for a live virtual training session, then keep it short and sweet and as engaging as possible. But first consider whether it is really the best way to train your people. There are many other options as I’ll mention below

2 – Keep it simple – In order to be responsive to organisational needs, it’ll also be important to keep things as simple as possible. So rather than creating sophisticated e-courses, the focus should be on creating resources quickly and in simple formats – using standard Office tools like Word and PowerPoint, in fact. There’s so much you can do with them and they are very familiar tools. The Keep it short rule also applies here too, ie. short resources not long-winded courses!

3 – Keep it flexible – WFH has given many people a new freedom that they have not enjoyed before; ie the autonomy to carry out their jobs in the way that suits them. They will want to retain as much of this autonomy as possible as they return to the workplace, and they certainly will not want to return to a regimented approach to training; they will want to continue to learn in their own ways. So this doesn’t mean personalising learning FOR them, but supporting them to personalise the way they access and use resources – whether it be online/offline or on different devices, as well as use as much (or as little as they need).

4 – Keep it easy – Don’t overlook basic tools like (a) email – it’s the original distance learning format and is as an easy way to deliver targeted  training – and as the Top Tools list have shown it’s back in fashion! or (b) chat apps like WhatsApp for group learning.

5 – Support social learning – If people are going to have limited face-to-face interaction – whether they are at WFH or in the workplace itself – then they will need to feel connected online and have fruitful conversations and discussions. This doesn’t just apply to training, of course,  but in their everyday interactions with one another as part of their daily work. So there is a great opportunity to work with managers and their teams to help them get more out of their enterprise collaboration platforms, and this of course will enable you to …

6 – Help people learn from their daily work – The workplace is normally a vibrant learning environment, but even when work takes place remotely this can still be the case. It might just take a bit more effort for people to recognise the learning moments and experiences they have had that day, so you can help them (and their managers) take the time to reflect on, share and discuss what learning experiences they are having in their new working lives.

7 – Think continuous learning NOT continuous training– For virtual L&D it’s also going to be important to remember that their role is not just to provide one-off training -but to support the continuous learning needs of their people. That doesn’t mean continuously training them of course, rather it means helping them to learn something new every day – so that over time the small nuggets of information will build into a large body of knowledge – without them even realising it!.

8 – Promote personal learning – It will therefore also be important to empower individuals to make decisions about their own professional goals and how they can address them themselves – rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach to company training. Remember Dan Pink’s words in Drive:

“Human beings have an innate drive to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. The opposite of autonomy is control. And since they sit at different poles of the behavioral compass, they point us to different destinations. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

9 – Open up learning opportunities – Rather than keeping all your “learning initiatives” locked up in your LMS or other closed platform, open up access to a full range of learning opportunities – internal/external, formal/informal, individual/social, etc. Aggregate them on a learning portal and provide appropriate signposts and navigation for those who need help to find things of relevance and value.

10 – See the big picture – Finally, it is now very clear that organisational learning and development is underpinned by a mix – or ecosystem of inter-related tools and platforms.

Of course, you won’t need to have all these tools  – just some of the basic/key ones will provide you with all you need to function effectively as a virtual L&D. So what are they and how can you get the most out of them? That’s what we will be considering in the following sections of this resource.


Last updated: November 20, 2020 at 12:55 pm