Well, we did it! We rushed to get dozens of training courses online - practically overnight - when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and face-to-face classroom training sessions were suddenly no longer an option.
For me, online training is something that I was lobbying for years ago but the world wasn’t ready. Senior leaders in most organizations weren’t ready to dedicate the intensive time and financial resources required, and ‘why bother?’ because students weren’t receptive to the idea anyway. Yes, a few organizations have been doing this for a while, but it certainly wasn’t the norm and there was a lot of resistance and criticism of the idea. Heck, I remember our local chapter of ATD (Association for Talent Development) doing Zoom meetings in 2014 that were moderately well-received at best (and this is a group of professionals who were interested in learning training-related tech!).
Fast forward to 2020 (2019 for some parts of the world), and Boom! Here we are in the midst of a global pandemic and most of our organizations are completely unprepared to work from home, much less train our forces from a distance. All these organizations who had been resisting distance learning because it is “too expensive,” “takes too much time to build,” or because it “won’t work” are suddenly forced to make something happen. I call it “forced innovation.” In our do or die moment, we scrambled to make it happen and we did! We might not have created the best training products imaginable but I know, at least in my organization, we didn’t miss a single day of mission-critical training while propelling ourselves into this completely uncharted training territory.
Should We Keep Online Learning or Scrap It?
So what now? As we start to look ahead to the days of reopening and possibly heading back to the office, what do we do with all this online training we just scrambled to build? Many critics will say we scrap it - it was just what we had to do during a pandemic but now we can go back to the way things were. For some courses, that may be the best option but I suggest we take a closer look. It is true that some things are better taught in a classroom but there are some distinct benefits of online learning.
The Benefits of Online Learning
Decreased costs: We’ve long known that online learning can lead to decreased travel expenses for students and instructors, but it has been difficult to justify this cost against the costs of the initial investment to kick start online learning. Now that our organizations have made that initial investment, why not continue to reap the rewards of saving travel expenses?
Increased accessibility: Online learning, particularly if it is self-paced, can be accessible any time, anywhere.
Increased instructional quality: With asynchronous (self-paced) learning, students can set their own pace and rewind content to reiterate concepts they are struggling to understand.
All of these are benefits of online learning that we have known for some time now, but I’m going to add one more - one that came as a very pleasant surprise:
Increased instructor availability: When we launched live online learning in my organization, we discovered that many of the best and brightest guest speakers (who were often unavailable due to demand for their expertise) were suddenly available and willing to teach! Why? Without having to travel, we were not asking for 2 to 3 days of their time. Instead, we were asking for a couple hours of their day.
Keeping the Momentum
The training your organization has produced during this time, I’m certain, is not perfect. When you have to build something with the speed that we just encountered, who has room for perfection? But I would argue you’ve probably done 80% of the work to get it to where it ultimately needs to be.
In a short amount of time, we’ve bridged a lot of gaps to online learning. We’ve invested in the tech, learned how to use it, and redesigned courses to work in the new environment. And on top of all that, we (and our students) became comfortable with online learning by using the technology day in and day out.
As we head back to our “normal” lives it is easy to crave the return to what once was - what is comfortable and familiar... but I urge you - resist that temptation when it comes to training! Weigh the benefits of keeping what you just built against what you previously had. Refine it. Revamp it. But, for God’s sake, don’t just throw all that progress and hard work out the window! Make good use of your “forced innovation.”