Winter 2021
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CTDO Magazine

Virtual Learning Is Ripe With Benefits

Friday, January 15, 2021

Go beyond smile sheets and ad-hoc feedback to demonstrate the rich value of virtual learning.

A little more than 10 months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic created significant disruption to human health and well-being. Not only has life as we know it changed but so has the way individuals work and learn.

Savvy companies that were early adopters of working and learning remotely simply ramped up their efforts in light of the disruption. But for the late majority, the pandemic has forced them into the world of virtual learning.

As companies shifted to remote learning, talent development leaders balanced leaner budgets and faster turnaround times to meet business objectives. But now it’s time to prove that the virtual learning experience is as significant as the in-person training experience. Consider what organizational learning looks like post-pandemic and, when compared to in-person training, whether virtual learning is helping or hurting performance.

To successfully deliver virtual learning, secure the necessary support and funding to deliver business results. Likewise understand the value of data-driven evaluation and how it provides metrics to prove the effectiveness of virtual learning.

Opportunity, not a challenge

Perception plays a vital role in how learning occurs. And sadly, many organizations fail to see opportunities in virtual learning.

Some practitioners believe that when learners are physically present in the classroom, they have a much greater attention span. But that is often not the case when a training course is stale, uninteresting, or redundant.

One of the greatest mistruths about online learning is that participants don’t pay attention and that there is no way to know whether they are. Virtual learning requires you to relinquish some control, which makes many uncomfortable. It also involves reimagining activities and engagement, which requires planning and resources.

If we remove the challenges, though, the opportunities hidden within remote learning begin to emerge. For instance, you can administer training to a globally diverse population simultaneously without the costs associated with travel and lodging. You can also save on expenses related to classroom materials such as manuals, study aids, and office supplies, not to mention the cost of facilitator travel.

To reap the benefits, change the way you think about virtual learning. That starts with a top-down leadership approach. Here are three ways you can create a positive shift toward organizational adoption of virtual learning.

Waste not, want not

When employees fail to apply what they have learned in a training program on the job, then the time, cost, and energy spent on the training is lost. The typical cause of waste in the office environment is the lack of accountability, and the same rings true for remote work.

Hold leadership—directors, managers, and supervisors—accountable for knowledge transfer to performance. Barriers exist in both in-person and virtual environments but are quickly remedied through performance support and accountability. For learning to have the most significant business value to an organization, employees must apply it and leaders must measure it.

Data matters

There is no way to get from here to there if you don’t know where here is. Promote the collection of Level 3 (application) training data if you genuinely are interested in organizational impact and the return on investment.

By failing to collect data, organizations have no way to measure performance and the corresponding effect on business. Without data, training is a guessing game.

Source: ROI Institute

Although Level 1 (reaction) and Level 2 (learning) provide some insights, they only paint a partial picture. Think of building a sports car where the engineers exclusively focus on gaining feedback on the exterior and interior features’ design but never asked about how the car drives.

What’s more, data creates success benchmarks that you can use to measure business objectives.

Learning through the investment lens

Company leaders must stop looking at training as an expense and begin looking at it as the investment it truly is, which can lead to increased employee satisfaction and retention and employees performing at their highest capabilities.

Although the pandemic has caused many organizations to reduce expenses, seek to protect organizational learning by understanding how to promote its financial impact on positive ROI. To achieve such a result, take a holistic approach to training initiatives to sell the real story of the programs’ effectiveness.

Avoiding feedback falsities

It is lazy to gauge the training’s effectiveness in the office environment based on short conversations at the water cooler, postmeeting hallway chatter, quick blurbs, and ad-hoc feedback. Remote work, though, seems to eliminate office politics and the assumptions that come with it.

For instance, with virtual learning, training facilitators must work harder to capture and hold learners’ attention, while managers must grasp performance metrics. In the virtual learning environment, engagement is king, and measurement is the crown jewel.

Accountability comes at a premium. Empower training administrators with the ability to eliminate the progress-inhibiting barriers that cause a false sense of achievement and assumptive success. To maximize investment in virtual learning, ensure that training administrators are armed with the proper tools, knowledge, and recourses for measuring training.

When asked, most training administrators and learning practitioners admit they only measure training at Levels 1, 2, and sometimes 3, but not many are investing in the more profound analysis. To achieve a higher level of success and a greater understanding of the training’s effectiveness, set aside training dollars for implementing both an impact study and an ROI study.

In the virtual learning environment, engagement is king, and measurement is the crown jewel.

Impact study. When evaluating a learning program for impact, identify impact objectives (Level 4) at the onset of the training initiative.

To effectively evaluate learning programs, isolate and align learning outcomes with business goals. Impact objectives are comparable to identifying benefits in a cost-benefit analysis.

Many of the benefits of conducting an impact study include gaining a broader appreciation of how training or workforce learning fits into the organization’s bigger picture, strengthening the company’s human capital by identifying the need to double down business-focused training programs, and right-sizing training budgets by reducing training redundancies.

ROI study. This form of evaluation includes the cost-benefit analysis steps, which convert data to monetary value and tabulate the fully loaded program costs. Similar to the impact study, impact objectives are fundamental to reaching this level of evaluation.

Learning is essential when organizations encounter critical development, expansion, or market reaction. In the case of COVID-19 or any other catastrophic change to the business, though, when you are in reactionary mode, avoid the disappointment that emanates from the absence of proof points that demonstrate organizational learning’s financial success.

By implementing an ROI study, you can prove that employees are gaining and applying new knowledge and skills that increase efficiency and reduce costs in the workplace. And you can measure the value of training against the benefits to both the employees and the company.

Shift mindsets and empower learning

Move your organization beyond Level 1 and drive-by feedback. Transition from the mindset of in-person training evaluation, and reimagine training in the virtual learning environment.

Likewise, empower learning program administrators with the tools and training they require to rapidly upskill on virtual teaching and learning methodologies and the tools and resources needed to measure impact. Even if in-person and virtual learning benefits are not always the same level, the virtual approach may still result in a much more favorable ROI.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Aaron King is a globally recognized expert in eLearning strategy, design, development, and implementation. He is a master instructional designer and eLearning developer. Aaron currently works as a solution engineer for Blackboard. He also works as a Master facilitator for the Association for Talent Development and serves as the V.P. of Business Development for the ATD Central Florida chapter. Also, Aaron is a learning experience consultant for Snack Size Learning.

Aaron leverages a wide variety of learning disciplines, to optimize learning experiences for adult learners and organizations. These learning disciplines include adaptive learning, personalized learning, design thinking, UI/UX design, microlearning, storytelling, virtual/augmented reality, and gamification. 

His doctoral work is in Education Psychology and Technology, and he holds an Education Specialist degree in Personalized and Competency-based Instruction. Also, Aaron has earned master's degrees in Education, Media Design, and Technology, Business, and Instructional Design. Also, Aaron has undergraduate degrees in information systems and technology and business management, along with graduate and post-graduate certificates in filmmaking, game design, and learning technology. 

Aaron has taught and consulted thousands of learning professionals around the world. He has worked with companies and organizations such as AON, Toyota, Comcast, the Department of Defense, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Army, Hospital for Special Surgery, Allstate, Sberbank, and PJM Energy to name only a few. 

Aaron's past experiences include working as a professor of Media Arts at Miami International University of Art & Design. As a Senior Vice President of Educational Technology in Outsourced Program Management in Higher Education, Aaron has worked with over 13 colleges and universities on eLearning technology adoption and integration. He has worked as a Vice President of Recruitment and Enrollment, a Multi-Platinum Music Producer/Songwriter, a Top-Selling Book Author, and a U.S. Army Combat Medic.

His mission is to impact measurable and sustainable change through technology adoption, disruptive innovation, and learner empowerment.

About the Author

Nelson R. Santiago is a talent and leadership development leader with more than 20 years of experience working with all organizational levels creating, promoting, and delivering training solutions designed to enhance organizations’ business and strategic plans. Nelson is passionate about creating an interactive and authentic learning environment that supports development and employee engagement. Currently, Nelson is an internal ATD Faciliator. Prior to this role, Nelson served at several government agencies, including North Carolina Municipalities, the U.S. Coast Guard, the State of North Carolina Human Resources, and the Abu Dhabi government. Nelson has worked with multiple organizations in over 35 countries, designing and delivering programs in leadership and management development, team building, compliance, communications, customer service, change management, performance management, and many other topics. His work has always been focused on meeting the strategic needs of the organization. Nelson’s outstanding strengths include leadership, communication, facilitation, coaching, and emotional intelligence. Nelson currently holds certifications as ATD Master Trainer, DDI Certified Facilitator, and Gallup’s Certified Strengths Coach.

Nelson Santiago is a globally recognized Learning and Performance Strategist who has led consulting projects in 25+ countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He creates and fosters strategic partnerships with global organizations to align their existing learning and talent development strategies to their current business strategies.

He is currently the global director of talent development and diversity at BioAgilytix Labs in Durham, North Carolina.

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