In a period where remote working is the norm, how can managers and HR professionals enable and support learning in the workplace? With continued limits on face-to-face social interaction and the prevalence of online learning, it is believed that L&D will become an increasingly virtual function in the “new normal”.
I’ve experienced this shift with my own team as the Head of Learning Services at OpenLearning Malaysia. What we’ve learned for sure is that effective remote learning does not have to involve expensive AI tools or an immersive VR environment.
Here are a few key things we’ve learned from rethinking our approach to workplace learning in 2021:
1. Shorten the duration of online learning.
“Zoom fatigue is real”—a familiar refrain during these times.
Employees are already using video conferencing tools for meetings and discussions. So if there’s a need to use them for a virtual learning session, try to keep your sessions as short and engaging as possible.
In the past, we ran face-to-face workshops on how to design online courses. When the first movement control order came into effect, we dramatically shortened these workshops from a day or two in length, to just 3 hours. Here’s how:
- Shorter sessions: Our 2-day Course Design Workshop was shortened to half a day, and covered only the most necessary knowledge to kickstart our attendees’ online course design journey.
- Curated content: When we were planning for the live online workshops, we carefully picked and chose the content that would go into the live session. Then, we complemented the live session with useful content which the audience could view later, such as examples, templates, and relevant articles.
- Pre-session setup: We asked our audience to pre-register and log in, as well as participate in a simple introduction activity prior to the session. This way, we were able to identify those who were struggling to access the online course and get the technical setup out of the way before the live session.
2. Divide longer content into bite-sized chunks.
If you need to deliver a whole programme remotely, it’s a good idea to divide it into bite-sized chunks and cover each chunk in a series of short, interconnected sessions.
In our case, we knew that we would be unable to offer our 2- or 3-day “Design your online course” workshop in our usual training space. So, we divided it into bite-sized chunks and offered it remotely as a series of webinar episodes called OpenLearning Basics:
- Episode 1: Planning your course structure
- Episode 2: Developing your course on the platform
- Episode 3: Designing engaging online activities
- Episode 4: Enhance the ‘look-and-feel’ of your online course
- Episode 5: Assessing your online learners
Chunking our content like this helped us to pace ourselves. Instead of taking months to produce a comprehensive instructional video, the OpenLearning Basics series was up-and-running in a matter of days. The series is still ongoing and we have been experimenting and improving with each new episode.
3. Include post-session engagement with your audience.
If you’re running a live virtual session, keep engaging with your audience even after the session.
Each of our workshop participants gets lifetime access to an online course which they may return to at any time after the session. They can view all of the materials, reflect on the work they’ve submitted, comment on their course mates’ submissions, and continue to engage with other participants on the same platform.
This online course provides flexibility, especially for those who were unable to join the whole live session. It empowers participants to personalise their own learning and to choose how they access and engage with our content. Since the beginning of lockdown, a lot of us were given the freedom and autonomy to work at our own pace and via different devices, so it made sense to provide this flexibility for learning as well.
4. Keep it simple and use familiar tools.
Keep it simple—this is something that we always tell our course design workshop participants as well. You don’t need sophisticated tools or design software to create engaging and effective learning content online.
If you’re using a platform like OpenLearning, you can use readily available widgets, royalty-free images, and even embed relevant YouTube videos. The idea is to use what you already have to kick off your online course or session without spending too much time or money.
If you don’t have a learning platform, stick to the tools that you’re familiar with. For example:
- Use PowerPoint to create your materials.
- Create a group on WhatsApp or Slack to support individuals and enable group learning.
- Share a Padlet board with your audience to facilitate social and collaborative learning.
- Develop surveys using Google Forms to get feedback, track your sessions, and analyse data.
5. Provide opportunities for social interaction.
I enjoy discussing online learning activities with course creators – it’s really at the heart of every online course design workshop that we run at OpenLearning.
Online learning can be lonely. Without fail, we always advise our participants to provide their learners with more opportunities for social interaction. We invite them to develop online learning activities that will enable their learners to have fruitful conversations, work collaboratively, and give valuable feedback to one another.
6. Incorporate learning into daily work.
It goes without saying that there is always an opportunity to learn something new, even in our everyday tasks. However, it might take a bit of effort to recognise or identify these learning moments.
When designing online activities, invite employees to reflect and share from their own unique experiences.
Recently, our team started posting personal reflections on what we do at work via LinkedIn. This creates visibility of the work that we do and showcases the team’s skills. As a bonus, the team members are motivated to do better each time as they are sharing their experiences with a wider audience and building their personal portfolio as well.
Providing these kinds of opportunities promotes personal learning, and it allows us to practice continuous learning instead of relying on one-off training sessions.
7. Boost motivation by promoting personal learning.
At the beginning of every goal-setting conversation, I always ask my teammates: What do you want to achieve this year?
I then provide guidance on how they can achieve this through on-the-job learning activities or opportunities that exist outside of work.
This year, one of our Learning Designers’ resolutions was to hone his writing skills. I started providing short writing exercises as practice, and we chose to discuss his work via email. It’s a familiar tool that doesn’t need setting up, and we knew that we could start immediately.
Because both of us were clear about what we wanted to get out of this exercise, we focused on that—we didn’t need eye-catching graphics or state-of-the-art tools to be engaged in this exercise. As it turns out, personal motivation is the best engagement tool!
There’s no doubt that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a profound impact on our approach to workplace learning. In just a few manageable steps, I’ve seen first-hand that this disruption is a golden opportunity for organisations to introduce new ways to encourage workplace learning; one that is characteristically virtual, remote, and even more effective.
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