The arrival of COVID-19 on our shores has meant that many businesses and organisations were turned upside down. There was the first ‘lockdown’ when no one seemed to know what was happening and the understandable concerns about what was going to happen.
We also remember acts of selfishness such as empty supermarket shelves where people were ‘panic buying’ and you could not get some basic essentials like flour, eggs, pasta and even toilet rolls.
However, this must not be overshadowed by the great acts of kindness we also witnessed, like people offering to shop and collect medication for their vulnerable neighbours. It did seem that there was a greater community spirit generating despite the worry.
The Coronavirus crisis had led to many employers being understandably concerned about the welfare of their staff and the cessation of many face-to-face interactions such as meetings and training.
From our own experience this led to many clients cancelling training which was already planned and training proposals for new clients being put on hold indefinitely.
We strongly believed that whilst the response to the pandemic did require a measured approach by business to keeping employees safe, businesses still need to function. We became strong advocates that the time spent away from each other in the workplace should be used wisely and there had to be a recognition that as social animals we still needed to have social interactions and that staff development is still crucially important.
Although face-to-face training in a room was not allowed, recommended or viable, there are of course still ways that people could access learning. At the same time also remaining in contact with their colleagues as they worked from home or were on furlough. This was proved correct, in that many training providers decided to move to virtual delivery with great success.
So, how effective is virtual and online learning compared to classroom-based?
Recent research from IBM found that students learnt five times more material from doing online learning than traditional face-to-face courses.
They assert many reasons for this, including; because they have full control over their own learning and they could in some instances learn at their own pace where the material was all delivered online.
Online learning also tends to be shorter, so people can gain much more immediate rewards for their time commitment.
It should also be viewed as a greener option as learners are not jumping in their cars and driving to the learning venue.
People will often say that they feel more comfortable now, learning via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or doing their learning entirely online as they feel fresher. They haven’t had to fight through traffic to get to work and can train in the comfort of their own home.
More importantly, where people are continuing to work from home, they feel a greater sense of belonging and part of their organisation. So in that sense what learners have lost in camaraderie in a classroom setting they have gained from a greater sense of connectivity.
It has been quoted that due to the Coronavirus pandemic a huge global experiment has been forced on teaching and learning. It will also take time until we really know the true impact of this experiment.
Businesses are also having to question where they devote their resources to help them recover and prosper and this is where online and virtual learning can help as it is often cheaper than classroom-based learning.
So, what about the downsides?
One of the greatest challenges to ensuring that online and virtual learning is effective is internet connectivity coupled with hardware and software capability. In some respects this can unfortunately create a two-tier system where the larger companies are more able to afford the very latest technology than SMEs.
Whilst software for conference calls and meetings has improved dramatically in the last year it can still have its issues such as handling large class sizes.
Interaction with the learners is key for a teacher or trainer and being able to gauge whether they are interested and engaged on the subject is crucial. Virtual learning can impede this as learners may have their cameras off, thus it is difficult to judge non-verbal communication or they may be reluctant to speak again making it more difficult for the trainer to measure learning.
So, what does this mean for the future of learning?
There is a definite shift in how businesses see learning in the future and having seen how it can work many are choosing to carry on with online and virtual delivery.
That is not to say that classroom-based learning won’t happen in the future. But the trend is definitely moving in the other direction.
I am convinced that virtual learning is here to stay and will become more and more popular as time goes on.
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