2020 was the year of staying home. When offices closed and the government told us to stay inside, organisations and their employees had to adapt. With some people furloughed and others trying to work from home – amidst domestic distractions – L&D teams were called to action. There was a sudden surge in demand for virtual training, not only as a replacement to face-to-face training, but specific courses around COVID safety, remote working and employee mental health.
But as the world begins to open up again, what impact has the last year had on the elearning industry and what does that mean for the future? We spoke to industry experts to find out.
“The pandemic gave elearning a voice.” – Andy Walton, elearning Designer at Bright Horizons
In the past elearning may not have been the go-to preference for employee training. As John English, former Learning & Development Lead at Poppulo told us, from clunky technology to problems logging in, there were always obstacles to people completing and engaging with digital learning. But any remaining elearning sceptics had to put their reservations aside as remote working left no other training solution.
“It’s really becoming an ecosystem within the organisation. That virtual learning experience is so, so important”, says Monika Mikulionis, Instructional Designer at Century 21 Affiliated. She believes that during the pandemic the perception of elearning as just watching some PowerPoint slides has completely shifted and that organisations are seeing the importance of the learning and development team more than ever.
A clear message we heard from all the experts we spoke to is that the demand for elearning has rocketed in the past year. That might be in response to the need for training amidst the ‘new normal’, or to keep staff who couldn’t work busy. “A lot of staff went on furlough, where you’re not permitted to work but you can train,” says Sangeetha Menon, eLearning and VLE Manager at Dogs Trust.
“My biggest insight would be to start working on mental health wellbeing for employees.” – Sangeetha Menon, eLearning and VLE Manager at Dogs Trust
Interestingly, it’s not just the frequency of elearning that has grown during this time, but the types of courses being produced. Sangeetha told us that, “initially, there was a lot more compliance training and a lot more role-specific training. Now, there is a demand for mental well-being courses.” Sangeetha and other experts shared how there had been a rise in training around managing stress, adaptability, mental wellbeing, anxiety and unconscious bias in their organisations.
Sangeetha goes on to say that, “we started developing a lot more courses during the pandemic that have been about resilience. It’s been about mindfulness. It’s been about dealing with anxiety. I think most of it comes with the fact that a lot of us are working from home.”
Another one of our experts, John English, shared how they have put a focus on training staff to have more effective meetings, in response to people feeling “jaded” and fatigued from “talking to a computer screen.” John and the team surveyed staff to uncover the challenges they were facing and subsequently built a two-hour training plan that would drive meeting efficacy. Poppulo kept a close eye on workforce mental health during the past year, including moving from a monthly newsletter to a daily one to keep remote teams connected.
Sangeetha believes that the importance of training around mental health is here to stay. “I think one of the key elements is that mental health and wellbeing of employees should be an area of focus in the next couple of months. In the long run, it does impact employees, it does impact their work.”
“When you’re trying to get people to do elearning courses, you’re competing with everything.”– John English, former Learning & Development Lead at Poppulo
The rise in screen time for workers hasn’t only impacted mental health, but also L&D teams’ struggle to capture their attention. John shared with us how whilst working from home has had its benefits, learning providers have a tougher job than ever.
“People are time-poor at the moment. Now that every single engagement for work is in front of the computer screen, you’re just competing with everything. It’s white noise, and it was hard enough before Corona. It really feels hard now, even though the need (for elearning) is really strong.”
For those producing learning programmes, there are two battles: the demand to produce more content and how to avoid learners becoming distracted or fatigued by screen time. Monika said that this is something she is working on at the moment: “the focus is on how we can make that experience more interesting and more engaging.”
Engagement for learners is something we feel extremely passionate about here at Comtec. If you’re providing L&D and elearning materials for an international workforce – then your learning content should reflect that language diversity. This study by Forbes found that 67% of executives said a language barrier caused significant inefficiencies and poor engagement.
Whilst the pressure may be on to produce high quantities of training rapidly, it shouldn’t be at the expense of learner engagement, particularly when the fight for attention is at an all-time high. Working with an experienced translation partner will allow you to localise your learning content, helping you to not only connect with employees at a linguistic and cultural level, but bolster ROI and learner engagement, without putting deadlines at risk.
“We’ve seen a forced digital transformation.” – Andy Walton, elearning Designer at Bright Horizons
The learning industry has come under huge pressure this past year, but demand breeds innovation and that’s what we’ve seen from all of the experts we’ve spoken to during this time.
One area of change that is hugely welcome, is the focus on mental health and how elearning can support it. Sangeetha at Dogs Trust not only suggests that organisations need to be producing learning modules based around resilience and mindfulness, but that elearning can be used to promote mental health awareness. “There should be a combined task force for L&Ds across companies to see – can we look at promoting mindful techniques that could help people through elearning courses?”
She suggests using virtual training and blended training to create interactive workshops. For example, a quick coffee break once a week alongside a webinar, or even a quiz night with employees.
But does this mean that when we return to some semblance of normal that elearning will usurp face to face training? Andy at Bright Horizons doesn’t think so. One of the big things that’s come out with the pandemic, he says, is “people’s realisation that elearning exclusively is never going to be the way forward.”
Monika is also in favour of a blended approach, as it allows people to learn when it’s right for them. “For some people, that’s at night when they’ve just finished washing the dishes,” she says, “but for others, it’s ‘I need to go into the office, and I need to be trained in person by someone.’ So I hope that both of those things can continue to happen.”
The last year has shone a light on the elearning industry and its vast potential and capabilities, but as people begin to trickle back into offices it is the blended learning approach that our experts feel is the future. As Andy said to us, “there’s obviously still a need for face-to-face. In time, I think we’ll find a happy medium.”
If you’re producing learning content for a global workforce and need help with translations of localisation, please do get in touch with myself or the team.
Thank you to all the experts who gave their time and insight for this blog:
- Sangeetha Menon, eLearning and VLE Manager at Dogs Trust
- Andy Walton, elearning Designer at Bright Horizons
- Monika Mikulionis, Instructional Designer at Century 21 Affiliated
- John English, former Learning & Development Lead at Poppulo
P.S. If you’re looking for more tips for creating engaging elearning content for a global workforce and managing multilingual elearning projects, take a look at our Ultimate Elearning Guide.