Last reviewed 22 December 2020

Judith Christian-Carter, independent learning consultant, looks at eight areas of Learning and Development (L&D) impacted the most by coronavirus.

The impact of Covid-19 has been seen in every facet of life, including the workplace. For L&D professionals, ever changing circumstances have meant extremely fast and frequent adaptations. It may be a truism, but L&D has probably changed forever! Now the time has come to take a good look at the current appearance of the learning environment to ascertain the key areas upon which to focus.

Over the course of 2020, L&D professionals have had to adapt extremely quickly to ever changing circumstances. They have had to digitise their training provision to allow people to access it remotely online, they have had to cancel face-to-face events and they have then found themselves having to “reboard” people who have been furloughed. If this wasn't enough, every month, since the outbreak of the virus, has seen so many challenges, both personally and professionally, for learners, L&D professionals, managers and leaders alike.

Now, though, is the right time to take stock of all these changes and to decide which areas of L&D have been impacted the most in this year like no other, so as to know where L&D now needs to focus its time and effort.

Digitised learning

Surprising as it may seem, not all L&D functions had completed the digital transformation of their learning provision before the pandemic hit. In fact, the vast majority were still progressing this, with only a small minority having completed the task.

However, it appears that coronavirus has been a catalyst for what many see to be a long-overdue learning change. Organisations that have been talking about providing online learning for a long time, have now, as a result of the virus, reached a point of no return in this regard. Once L&D functions take the first step towards a digital learning culture, very few will walk away from it.

Working remotely

The prediction of many analysts is that remote working is here to stay post-Covid-19. Forced to let people work remotely, opinions and attitudes in many organisations towards remote working have changed considerably and in a positive manner.

As far as L&D is concerned, there are two important outcomes as a result of remote working. The first is not to forget front-line or key workers who cannot work remotely because their jobs do not involve sitting at a desk. The second is the geographic distribution of staff, which remote working exacerbates when it comes to meeting people's learning needs. This is where flexible technologies come into play in order to meet people's learning needs in a range of different situations.

Agile learning

An often talked about concept, but agile learning has never really taken off — until now. Because organisations have had to shift priorities quickly and frequently, L&D functions have had to become flexible in turn. This has meant new strategies and approaches to learning provision, which demonstrate an agile approach to L&D Rapid eLearning production, the use of mobile learning apps to create and share important content instantly, and to notify people to content that they need to know, are just a few examples of agile learning.

Employee wellbeing

One aspect that Covid-19 has brought to the fore is a far better understanding and acceptance of mental health issues. L&D has an important role to play in employee wellbeing, a role which is largely an educational one.

For example:

  • educating leaders so they have a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing

  • helping employees to improve their own wellbeing, including their own emotional wellbeing

  • using learning tools to give staff a voice and taking heed of what they say

  • helping staff to develop in their role so that they can do their jobs better, which will also improve their mental wellbeing.

L&D budgets

Contrary to expectation or dread, 2020 has proved to be a year in which L&D budgets have not been cut. Many organisations now recognise just how important L&D is and how essential it is in preparing staff for the future.

Research has shown that use of the following provide the most impact for the money spent:

  • video

  • curated content

  • mobile learning

  • blended learning

  • bespoke eLearning

  • microlearning.

Organisational culture

An organisation's culture is comprised of its structure, tools, mission, values, behaviours, beliefs and its workplace. People who work together in an office can find that culture often happens as if by accident. Taking people out of the office environment to work remotely can often result in people feeling isolated.

L&D has an important role to play in order to safeguard organisational culture. By working with other departments, L&D can be the channel through which the organisation's mission is communicated to others regardless of their work location. By helping others to set up communities of practice and by using online tools, such as mobile learning apps, people can share videos, post on social media and feel part of the organisation's culture.

Long-term staff development

The uncertainty that has underpinned 2020 means that people are less likely to take risks with their career and move to a new organisation. Likewise, organisations will need to retain the talent that it has, because replacing it could be difficult. This means that organisations need to invest more in the staff they have, and L&D has an important role to play in both staff retention and development.

One key to retaining staff is to provide learning platforms capable of delivering personalised learning to people regardless of where they are located. The longer people remain in an organisation, the more important it is that they are able to grow and develop. Investing in leadership programmes, spotting talent and fast-tracking people into leadership roles are all key to successful long-term staff development.

Socially-distanced learning

During 2020, the phrase “social distancing” and enacting it became the norm. In turn, L&D has had to focus on alternatives to classroom-based training. As a result, 85% of organisations are now using digital classrooms to support the provision of blended learning; however, trying to deliver the same content as in a face-to-face environment has proved not to be at all effective, so other alternatives are required.

One alternative is to use a social club on learning platforms, so what would have been a classroom session can become an ongoing forum. This allows learners and experts to ask and answer questions while sharing best practice. Another alternative, albeit a more difficult and costly solution, is to use socially-distanced classrooms where absolutely essential.

The future is learning

At the end of 2020, the learning landscape looks nothing like it did at the start of the year. The changes have been rapid and vast, and go to show what can be achieved when a pandemic affects the lives of most people on the planet.

Looking at research, surveys, reports and the predictions of leading analysts, above are the eight areas of L&D that have been impacted the most by coronavirus. It therefore makes sense for all L&D professionals to focus on these areas in 2021 and beyond. However, one thing has become extremely clear, which is that learning in all organisations, regardless of type and size, has never been more important. Not only that, but also learning is finally being seen by organisations to be the way to future growth and success.