Training for the new normal

At the time of writing, the UK appeared to be teetering on the brink of following Spain and France back towards a world of work that looks anything but normal. It could be some time yet before we find out exactly what the much anticipated ‘new normal’ looks like. We need to accept that, even after the pandemic has been tamed, many of the recent changes in how and where we work are here to stay. That’s as true of training as of any other aspect of our working lives.

Before Covid-19 struck, something like 70% of training still took place face to face. Today, that figure’s more like 7%. The massive acceleration of a pre-established trend towards online training is not a bad thing in itself. Online training has many benefits, including cost, convenience and a greater capacity for customisation to fit individual training needs and learning styles. But face-to-face training has its own unique benefits that are hard to replicate through other channels. 

Indeed, rather than replication, I believe we should be thinking about reimagining training altogether as it shifts from face to face to internet-enabled. We have an opportunity to create a different kind of learning experience, but we need to address this opportunity with a sense of urgency. Because the need for training is greater than ever now. With workers distributed physically, we need to ensure employees have the knowledge and the skills they need to function effectively away their familiar workplaces.

Training can play a key role in supporting necessary organisational change and adaptation. It can, and must, ensure ongoing compliance with rules, regulations, and procedures, and it can foster a continued sense of common purpose. The right training materials, delivered in the right way, can significantly enhance remote working productivity. Keeping up the momentum of continuing professional development – in its broader sense – can sustain corporate motivation, morale and cohesion.

There’s clearly high demand right now for specifically ‘new normal’ relevant training materials, like those addressing the health and safety aspects of how we work today, or training that helps managers address the challenge of managing their teams remotely. With many firms’ business models rapidly evolving, I would strongly recommend carrying out a fresh, company-wide training needs analysis (TNA). The training your employees need now may be very different from what they needed pre-pandemic.

The disruption wrought by Covid-19 has driven a broad acceptance of digital approaches to training. Even older employees are far more comfortable now with talking to one another through a screen. Losing the direct physical proximity and spontaneity of a face-to-face to face training environment has its compensations. Training using online conferencing applications has a digital directness of its own. There’s no back of the class to sit at on a Zoom or Teams call.

Nor is there any commuting required to attend online training sessions, just a functioning internet connection and a camera-enabled computer or laptop (mobile phones are not recommended). That means sessions can be briefer, more bite-sized, and therefore better suited to the way most people learn effectively. Stretching sessions out to days or half days simply to justify the travel time of those attending isn’t always such a great idea, however good the trainer is at holding their attention.

As training providers, we’ve learned a whole new repertoire of techniques to involve learners via videoconferencing technology. We’ve found new ways to create engagement and interaction – from clicking to answer questions or take votes, to role plays and virtual breakout sessions, from animated infographics to case studies supported by video and audio content. Provided you’ve mastered the technology so it doesn’t become a distraction, the only limitation on the potential for creating collaborative social-learning interactions is the trainer’s skills and imagination.

There are many training positives to embrace as we move towards some new version of normality. The key thing is – as, indeed, it always has been – to make sure training is directed squarely to the real current needs of those trained – and that it takes place in the most effective and cost-effective way possible. 

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