6 Best Practices for Adapting Digital Learning During the COVID-19 Crisis

01 April 2020

Training & learning

Working from home has gone from a perk of a flexible workplace to the new reality for millions of us across the world. 

It seems like just yesterday that the talk around the office was whether or not the Coronavirus would become a pandemic.

Now the talk around the office is all virtual and none of us are sure if the next time we’ll be seeing our coworkers again is in 3 weeks or 3 months. 

Likewise, many employees aren’t sure if that upcoming in-person training session is going to be cancelled or postponed, along with the likes of the EuroVision song contest, Coachella and the Boston Marathon

While most companies use digital learning platforms to some extent, a large part of training - whether it be initial onboarding or continuous learning and development - is still done in-person. 

Is it best to postpone learning sessions until everything goes back to normal, or cancel them altogether? 

Definitely not. The businesses that emerge from this crisis in a stronger position will be the most adaptable ones. Knowledge is what makes employees adaptable. 

Organizations may be tempted to cut costs by trimming budgets from employee learning and development.

But, going down this route means that employers are giving employee skills, retention and job satisfaction a trimming as well. 

Digital learning has the power to differentiate every business during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

So while digitizing training that’s always been in-person is a challenge, with the right approach, it can be a unique opportunity for employee growth when we shift to a new normal - be that in 2 months or 12. 

But to be effective, digital learning has to be engaging.

And while this has always been true, mandatory work from home policies on a global scale are unprecedented. That means there are some special considerations that must be taken into account. 

Bearing this in mind, here are 6 best practices for adapting your digital learning during the COVID-19 crisis. 

1) Make it collaborative and social

Learning has to be social to be effective. This gets tough when coworkers who used to see each other every day can only see each other on video calls. 

Now is the time to make sure your digital learning requires employees to collaborate with each other even more than they usually would. 

Collaboration builds community, and community builds self-motivation to learn. Community makes knowledge that already exists within the company easily accessible. It’s a new source of knowledge. 

Make sure your learning platform has features that facilitates working together as a team, like chats and knowledge sharing channels. Take it further by using polls, surveys and quizzes more than you usually would. 

Live video, virtual team lunches and even group assignments done over video calls are proving popular ways to keep training social during the crisis, in a time when employees will be missing the social interaction they’re used to having every day. 

2) Bring in the fun and games 

If you haven’t already, now is the time to gamify your online learning

Incorporating game-playing elements like badges, points, scoring, battles and leaderboards into learning materials creates an extra boost that pushes your employees to keep learning in a time when - let’s be honest - no one’s motivation levels are at an all time high. 

A third of employees cite uninspiring content as a barrier to effective learning. Gamification is an effective way to reverse this trend. 

And even without gamification, it's easy to bring the fun back into learning with a little creativity. Challenges where the winner gets an online gift card or a free lunch when lockdown ends are solid ways to engage learners when everyone is working remotely. 

3) Make training sessions shorter and more structured

Short attention spans are a challenge for L&D professionals even when a global pandemic hasn’t forced everyone to work from home. 

But now that kids home from school, household chores, pets and real-time news updates are all competing for your learner’s limited attention, now isn’t the time to make training sessions longer. 

Whenever possible, use microlearning to format your training sessions into shorter sessions (preferably no longer than 5 minutes), all grouped around a common theme. 

Structure your sessions so it’s easier for learners to pick up where they left off after a break or distraction, with a logical flow that helps them retain the information better - for example, ending each learning session with a quiz and then a quick feedback poll. 

4) Give your learners extra support

Some employees might love working from home and find themselves more productive and focused than they would be in the office. 

Others may struggle with distractions and feeling isolated. 

You'll probably need to adjust your expectations of learners during the COVID-19 crisis, because despite your best efforts to make online learning as engaging and user-friendly as possible, employees may not have the time or mental bandwidth to learn as quickly as they usually would. 

It’s also important to frequently check in with your employees and take active steps to support mental health.

Uncertainty about the future, lack of social contact, worrying about loved ones and constant exposure to bad news will all begin to take a toll on your employees’ mental health and morale levels, if they haven’t already. 

One survey found that 83% of young people in the UK with mental health needs reported the crisis made things worse.  

Use polls, surveys and chats to get a sense of how employees are feeling, and don’t forget to reiterate the L&D as well as HR teams are always available to help with employee concerns. 

5) Don’t lose focus on the long-term

Even if it feels like there’s no end in sight to the COVID-19 crisis, the truth is that in time, things will shift back to normal. 

Even if that normal is new and slightly different to life before the crisis. 

For many employees, especially those who spent a lot of time working out in the field before, will have more downtime to put towards brushing up on skills they’d like to develop long term. 

So that means alongside painting, knitting, learning to code or that novel they’ve always been meaning to write, employees have more time to dedicate towards learning, and many are planning to do so. 

Create tailored learning tracks based on the long-term skills employees want to learn to advance their careers, or skills they’d need to for cross-training to take on new responsibilities or switch over into another role in the future. 

Having a say in what you want to learn increases motivation. Giving employees choice will make them feel valued, which boosts engagement and retention in the long term. 

6) Always collect and implement feedback

Things are changing so quickly that dealing with this much uncertainty can feel overwhelming for L&D professionals. 

Ultimately, there’s no way of knowing how long lockdowns and mandatory work-from-home policies will last. 

So while it might be tempting to let “good enough” be the status quo because L&D will go back to normal in a month or 2, your employees will feel more valued and more engaged if you ask for and implement their feedback on a regular basis.

And not only will collecting and implementing employee feedback help your online learning better during the COVID-19 crisis, but what you learn will also help you make better decisions for your online learning in the future. 

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