A version of this post was originally published in Entrepreneur on December 3, 2021.
Starting and running a business never meant smooth sailing for entrepreneurs, but the global pandemic took activities to a whole different level of rough. Businesses across industries have been dealing with major challenges and uncertainties — spanning everything from liquidity to network security in a work-from-home world, to learning and development (L&D) continuity, and more — and we’re not yet out of the storm. However, if a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, then perhaps there are also some long-term benefits and lessons for those who’ve managed to stay afloat.
In particular, when it comes to learning and development, companies have had to “right the ship” over the last 18 months. For example, continuous learning initiatives couldn’t be “continuous” without transformations and adjustments, in the face of a changed business landscape.
And despite all the recent changes, there are likely more to come in L&D, an area that’s crucial for employee performance and motivation. In today’s volatile business environment and amidst “the great resignation,” employees value companies that help them improve and learn new skills, and do so in a flexible way. Anytime, anywhere professional development opportunities can foster employee loyalty that later translates to business growth.
So how can you optimize your L&D strategy to attract and retain valuable employees, and engage and sharpen your workforce? While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, there are a few best practices to keep in mind.
1. Embrace the virtual learning environment
First of all, consider the realities of remote work, an environment that’s likely here to stay in some form. Packing employees into an auditorium for “death by PowerPoint” sessions often simply isn’t viable now (and honestly, was it ever that effective?). Take the opportunity to map training formats to your employees’ work environments, schedules and preferences — reducing stress and tedium, and maximizing participation, engagement and retention.
Employees who can perform their jobs remotely will look for employers that allow them to, even if partially, in hybrid workplace settings. Those employees still need to be onboarded and develop new skills, so digital tools that enable online, asynchronous (at the learner’s convenience) learning are critical to capturing and transferring knowledge. On-demand training can also be combined with synchronous learning methods (e.g., in-person or live, online), such as when introducing new competencies and then performing live role-playing that puts skills into action.
2. Personalize training experiences
How do you learn best? Poring over a document? Watching a video? Performing the task yourself? When it comes to learning, it’s important to consider the individual. No two employees are the same: They have different strengths, abilities, goals, learning preferences, needs, etc. Learning technologies make it possible to personalize learning experiences and “journeys” in various ways, from content form and delivery to knowledge assessments and more. Adult learners are sophisticated learners, so you must address their specific needs if you want to align their individual goals with your organizational ones.
3. DO rock the boat!
Today, L&D departments (not to mention businesses, as a whole) face the need to juggle constant change. The pandemic accelerated many business processes, demanding agility and resilience, and your L&D strategy needs to reflect that.
So take an agile approach to adapt quickly to any new requirements — keep what’s working, improve what’s lacking and remove what’s not efficient. You can adapt your training strategies by periodically assessing knowledge gaps, monitoring training participation and results on an ongoing basis, and soliciting employee feedback (on content, delivery mechanisms, assessment formats, and more). In addition, many learning technologies also provide adaptive learning features, enabling employees to access learning content that is specifically tailored to their needs and progress at a pace that reflects their competencies, skills and performance.
4. Don’t guess — assess!
To make the best business decisions, it’s important to rely on data. In corporate learning, too, trends are easier to identify when you’re looking at data, as are potential issues in your training program. However, the problem with data is that we have so much of it; it can be hard (as humans) to filter through it and see what we need. So don’t just collect learning data, but put it to use — taking advantage of artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and robust analytics capabilities, for instance, to help turn insights into action.
5. Keep an eye on the horizon
Last but not least, you always need to consider the future. The e-learning industry advances at incredible rates. Technologies such as voice recognition, virtual reality (VR), emotional analysis and AI are closer to becoming the norm in training than most people think. Many future e-learning technologies are based on automation, which is integrated into many tools we already use. By regularly taking the pulse of these advancements, you’ll be able to steer your L&D strategy in the right direction.
Navigating through rough waters
Especially in times of unpredictability, perfecting your L&D strategy may not be smooth sailing — but that definitely doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship. Employee learning and development programs are now more important than ever. Knowledgeable employees who consistently improve their skills are incredibly valuable resources, especially during challenging times. Therefore, refining L&D strategies to meet employee needs and external demands is simply good business practice… so let’s all come aboard to optimize learning!
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and MATRIX. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.