Online learning: from the stopgap to the new normal

The Corona pandemic also changed professional development. Suddenly, in addition to working in a home office, training in virtual space was also possible. This was accompanied by a reflection on the learning of the future. This will have a hybrid character.

Corona-PandemieAt the beginning of the Corona pandemic, online learning was seen as a stopgap solution for face-to-face learning that was not possible. From this perspective, the classic training settings in the seminar room appeared to be the "good" variant of learning; learning with learning and video platforms, forums and collaboration tools, on the other hand, appeared to be an inferior substitute.

Only gradually did it dawn on those responsible that the new digital learning represents an overdue enrichment of continuing education - among other things, because it shifts the focus away from the trainer to the participants. They are encouraged to organise and design their own learning processes to a much greater extent than in traditional learning. In addition, online learning focuses more on collaborative learning, in which knowledge is stored on the Internet for all to access.

Tip: Say goodbye to thinking that online learning is a "stopgap" solution. For decades, training managers have demanded that participants be open to new things and have the courage to leave comfort zones. Now it's their turn to show it.

New learning arrangements are in demand

At the beginning of the pandemic, the thinking of many HR departments was still strongly influenced by the usual face-to-face events. Therefore, online seminars were also in demand for the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. time span. In the meantime, there is also a lively demand for one-and-a-half to two-hour online nuggets, for example. Such learning units can be easily integrated into the daily work routine. That is why they are not only used to satisfy an acute need in the short term, but are also frequently integrated into longer-term development measures.

In addition, instead of the usual one-day seminars, there is an increasing demand for training courses that combine synchronous - face-to-face and live online events - and asynchronous elements - preparation and follow-up work. They turn the one-off event into a learning process that usually has a more lasting effect.

Tip: Digital technology enables new training designs. Experiment with them. Use the opportunity to develop a new learning culture.

Trend hybrid learning settings: the best of both worlds

In the meantime, many companies and conference hotels have invested in technology for hybrid meetings and seminars, where some participants sit live in the seminar room and others sit in front of a monitor at home or at work. With the right technology, such hybrid events can be managed well. For example, there are various providers of "whiteboard solutions" for hybrid working and learning, where all participants can see and hear each other clearly. The timing of hybrid events also needs to be considered. It should be aligned with the virtual participants, because the attention span of online learning is shorter.

If group work is planned in hybrid events, the demands on the speakers increase, because then the groups on site and the virtual groups have to be supervised in parallel. In addition, any technical problems must be solved quickly.

Tip: If possible, run hybrid events with co-presenters. Then they can share the supervision of the face-to-face and online groups and such tasks as giving input and solving technical problems.

Virtual reality is becoming commonplace in the further education sector

When it comes to practicing work steps, simulation training using virtual reality is increasingly scoring points. They can be used to increase operational safety, an important aspect when operating machines, for example. In most cases, every move has to be perfect. Thanks to VR goggles, participants can practice this in such training by controlling their virtual hands with control devices. Sensors then transfer the movements into virtual reality.

Practicing work steps under real conditions is often expensive for employers - among other things, because of the employees' absence, the costs for travel and accommodation, and the machines not producing during the practice hours. VR glasses and the associated training programs have the advantage: they can be used again and again after purchase - without long planning.

Tip: You can test the latest technologies at congresses and trade fairs. In addition, you will receive information about projects that have already been implemented with the new learning technology and the experience gained.

Personal responsibility for learning has increased

Since 2016, we have provided participants in our training courses with short introductory exercises and videos in advance as an introduction to the training topic. Until mid-2020, less than half of them took advantage of this offer. That has changed. Today, if we send a link with the login data and the description of the tasks, they are usually completed immediately - by almost 100 percent of the participants. It is not uncommon for them to even ask weeks before the training when they will receive access to the learning platform and any assignments and materials. This shows a cultural change in the direction of independent learning.

Tip: Stimulate the personal responsibility of the participants. This is all the greater, the more benefits a further education offers them. However, HR departments often still need to support individuals in developing the necessary skills for self-organised learning.

Do not lose sight of the people

It quickly became clear to many companies: online learning requires a certain technical infrastructure and we have to build this. A lot has happened in this regard in the past year. But the right technology is only the first step of many into a new normality. Trainers must also be aware of the social and emotional aspects of network-based collaboration. E-learning is not just a technical process; it is about supporting people in their development.

Another advantage of digitalisation is that it makes new groups of people accessible for further training - for example

  • People who do not want to or cannot stay overnight outside the house,
  • Working people who cannot or do not want to miss one or two days of work, and
  • People who are reluctant to reveal themselves to others in a circle of chairs.

If the New Normal offers a good mix of different formats, then in the future it will be possible to have learning that is more closely geared to the individual's needs.

Tip: When building a new learning infrastructure and developing new learning designs, reflect again and again: Who should use it? What skills/qualities are needed for this?

Establish netiquette and a climate conducive to learning

We are still in the process of developing manners for the new learning and working. For example, with regard to the question of what insights we allow other people into our private lives when participating in online seminars at home. It is only gradually becoming clear to some: the used dishes from the previous day in the background do not make a professional impression. That's why many companies now provide their employees with branded virtual backgrounds for video conferences.

Generally speaking, in online and hybrid learning, relationships are also maintained through digital channels. In addition to mutual respect, this also requires adherence to certain rules when communicating in video conferences, chats and forums.

Tip: Establish netiquette in your company that promotes online learning and open, trusting communication. In this process, decision-makers must act as role models.

Recognise learning time as working time

Learning time should be recognised as such by the company and made available. This refers not only to the times that participants spend synchronously with a trainer, but also their asynchronous preparation and follow-up times. Learning must not be allowed to degenerate into a sideline activity. Learning needs time and rest - digital or analog. Most employees, given the choice, decide to complete online training courses in their home office, because here they can individually design their learning environment.

Tip: Learning time should of course be recognised by companies as necessary and counted as working time. The new normal should be that employees can also spend learning days or times at home.

* Sabine Prohaska is the owner of the Viennese consulting firm Seminar consult prohaska. In April 2021, her most recent book "Training and Seminars in the Digital Transformation: The E-Learning Compass for Successful Training Concepts" was published.

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