When the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York, the health system where I work swiftly moved into emergency management mode. I followed suit with an emergency preparedness plan for learning and development, striving to best support my research colleagues who were (and still are) working night and day on clinical trials in hopes of halting the pandemic. These steps were the least I could do as I watched my colleagues in the clinical and research front lines making daily sacrifices and trying to save lives. As the days unfolded, I found myself working through specific steps for emergency learning and development.
Understand the Situation and AssumptionsBe Involved in the Conversations. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had weekly calls with key stakeholders so I could best support the learning needs of our research employees. It’s important to proactively get involved and actively listen during times of crisis. Constant communication with my subject matter experts and leadership helped me stay informed and allowed me to understand the situation and assumptions of what to expect depending on how situations unfolded. This in turn allowed me to quickly assess and adjust emergency plans to communicate, educate, and train the workforce.
Conduct Rapid Learning Needs and Risk Assessments. You won’t have the luxury of time during a crisis to gather data like you typically would. Staying informed allowed me to conduct rapid assessments to determine what learning objectives to meet, prioritize delivery timelines, decide which employees to target, and choose the best educational format based on need and risk.
Map Your Learning Landscape. Now is the time to know the learning landscape of your organization. Maybe there are existing tools, resources, and personnel you can use during this time. Some important items to inventory include existing courses (in-person and online); workforce tools such as websites, decision trees and guidance documents; orientation programs; learning technologies; and learning and development personnel.
Incident ManagementTriage Learning and Development. Once you’ve grasped your learning landscape and have assessed learning needs and risks, consider what learning activities to develop and implement and what to put on hold. During the early months of the pandemic, I focused on working with subject matter experts on courses, guidance, and tools about new processes; policies and regulations for COVID-19 clinical trials; and frontline research colleagues could easily access through our intranet.
Adapt Realistic Solutions and Set Goals. It’s important to be realistic on what can actually be done during times when there are drastic competing needs and constraints (financial, staffing, time, and so forth). Develop and implement learning in the format that will be usable for your target audience. My organization had a dedicated COVID-19 page on our intranet where employees could access on-demand online courses via our LMS, policies, and on-the-job tools like videos, FAQs, algorithms, process guides, and templates. With limited time, resources, and people, these were quick solutions that could be easily revised as the situation unfolded.