The Latest Thinking in Distance Learning

This is the write-up from the sixth in our series of virtual coffee breaks – designed to provide a caffeine-enriched forum for discussion amongst senior executives who might otherwise be going stir-crazy during this period of lockdown. 

The topic for this session was: ‘With millions in lockdown, remote professional learning assumes a new and critical importance – discover the latest thinking in distance learning.’ and our guest speaker was Andrew Holmes, remote learning specialist at SkillSoft.

SkillSoft are the global leaders in cloud-based corporate learning – an area that’s coming into sharp focus during this lock-down.

Andrew started the call by sharing some insights into how companies are keeping their people engaged and their skills current during this period of enforced home working, and by asking whether the changes we are seeing are temporary or here for the long term.

Accelerated move to digital learning  

Covid-19 is proving to be something of a lightning-rod for changes that were already underway in how companies think about upskilling their workforces. 

The perception of e-learning has evolved. It was originally seen, primarily, as a way to reduce training costs. But this perception has been changing in recent years as companies have responded to changes taking place in their workforces, in the way people access content and in how they learn.

Workers habits, preferences and lifestyles have changed. Employees have become more untethered, work more variable hours and are more used to rapid change. They are busier than ever, often distracted and have shorter attention spans – on average, we check our smartphones nine times per hour. 

Covid-19 is dramatically accelerating this move to digital learning and in some cases is forcing companies to deploy a true digital learning experience for the first time. Companies that claimed to be digitally mature have found themselves to be a little less advanced than they thought they were. 

SkillSoft’s response to the challenge

SkillSoft has seen a tremendous surge in interest as companies are having urgently to provide digital learning assets. 

Their response has been to ask how they can help, what can they offer. They have made their resources available for free, for 60 days, and have put together a set of business continuity resources, which are freely available, addressing things like: how do I use videoconferencing and what about disaster recovery. 

This month, SkillSoft was due to have 1,000 heads of learning and development in Orlando for their annual Perspectives learning event. This will now be delivered as a global digital event with separate hubs around the world (see link at bottom of write-up).

Interestingly, this has opened up a whole new opportunity because it is not now restricted to just 1,000 people, there is effectively no limit on how many people can attend. In fact, there could be 10,000 people attending, including not just the heads of learning and development, but also learners themselves. 

Another huge revelation has been the amount of content that is being accessed around mindfulness and wellbeing. SkillSoft are feeding this insight back to the companies involved and saying, did you know your people are showing this level of interest in these topics?

Indeed, SkillSoft themselves are not immune from this effect and have implemented “screen-free-Fridays”. They’re taking this so seriously that a new brand launch was pushed back a day to avoid taking place on a Friday. Having said this, it’s hard to know what to do on “screen-free Friday” when working from home.

Digital learning programmes are keeping employees engaged 

Many organisations have rapidly displaced a large number of employees from office working to home working. This has been hugely disruptive. As just one example, SkillSoft themselves had a major contract signing delayed by two weeks because the customer’s procurement team didn’t have laptops at home. 

Deutsche Telekom have closed all their stores, displacing 100,000 workers, and faced the urgent problem of how to keep these people engaged and productive. These are people who are not used to being at home. 

So, Deutsche Telekom and SkillSoft put together a four-week, role-based learning programme, designed to take an employee from a customer service role to a customer service manager role. The programme was kicked off by webinar and is an excellent example of an intentionally designed digital learning programme. 

Vodafone, although slightly less mature with regard to digital learning, are doing something similar. These are examples of companies who have really thought about what their digital learning programmes should be. If you would like to do something similar, please reach out to Andrew.

Relevance to the educational sector

The final part of the call was taken up by discussion of how digital learning might be applied in the educational sector. Even though the lock-down was widely anticipated, most schools were relatively unprepared when the time came to send their pupils home. 

SkillSoft have not historically been involved in the education sector, their focus being mainly on the corporate market. Nonetheless, they have supported some apprenticeship schemes and the learning industry generally is moving more towards cloud-based delivery. So, more opportunities in the educational sector would be very welcome. 

A key element of this is the assessment side of learning. In Australia, for example, there are initiatives aimed at moving to doing public exams online. Once online, the next logical step would be to doing them remotely.

SkillSoft’s content is often delivered in the form of learning journeys, based on the learner’s career intentions. For example, data analyst to data scientist. These learning journeys are divided into tracks, each of which leads to an online assessment. 

Where there are professional accreditation bodies involved, this is currently more difficult, because these bodies still generally require people to go to a specific location to take the exam. It may be that ongoing social distancing measures related to Covid-19 will provide the impetus to deliver these exams online and remotely. Perhaps in two or three years’ time, the idea of going to sit a physical exam will seem quaintly old-fashioned. 

The social benefits of digital learning 

Another aspect of digital learning is the social dimension. There is an increasing trend for learners to want to learn from each other (not just from experts). The trend is towards many-to-many, crowd-sourced learning, rather than just one-to-many teacher-student relationships. This creates the potential for much wider communities of learning. 

With so many of us isolated and working from home, this social element of digital learning is all the more valuable. 

Perspectives 2020:

To learn more about the Perspectives 2020 global digital experience, on 13th May, please visit: https://www.skillsoft.com/perspectives/

Future Events:

If you have found this write-up interesting and would like to register for future Virtual Coffee Breaks or learn more about our other events, lease visit www.clustre.net/category/events/

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