Learning in a Hybrid Work Environment

When the pandemic first hit and stay-at-home orders began to roll out, many organizations simply paused their in-person classroom training programs, hoping to return in a few weeks. When it became clear that the end was nowhere in sight, there was a race to replace Instructor-Led Training with virtual and digital alternatives. 

Over the last two years, organizations sorted out their response to the pandemic environment and built their strategies around a workforce where a large portion work remotely. This is having an impact on L&D teams where the bulk of learning occurred in person for years. Companies had to figure out how to simultaneously meet the learning needs of on-site and remote workers, while addressing the business’ changing needs.

Learning & Development has been under huge pressure during the pandemic. Organizations have had to shift gears, requiring new and different skills that L&D had to deliver. And this happened while budgets were cut, learners adjusted to remote work and members of the L&D function were experiencing the same changes as everyone else. 

Looking into a future of hybrid work, L&D has had to adjust its strategies and approaches to meet the needs of a dynamically new workforce, keeping employees connected, learning and growing. This has become even more critical in the face of “The Great Resignation,” where companies are seeing unprecedented waves of talent attrition. Strong, meaningful learning experiences are a big part of keeping employees engaged. 

The biggest problem for L&D is there is just not enough time each day to tackle the enormity of the challenges that the hybrid workforce presents. That not only goes for L&D professionals but for learners as well. Employees see a growing demand for their time, forcing them to dedicate less of it to learning. 

The fact that companies can no longer rely so heavily on traditional in-person classes for learning has meant an exploration of different learning modalities. Ultimately, this is a very positive outcome from the volatility of the past two years. Companies can reimagine what they want to accomplish with in-person learning as they bring it back. It has also brought about a new focus on the 70/20/10 concept of learning. Instead of focusing so much time money and effort on formal learning, learners can be given more informal and experiential opportunities. 

To create and deliver highly engaging learning for a hybrid workforce, organizations must answer several critical questions, including:

  • What does synchronous learning look like in a hybrid environment? 
  • Do we have the technology to successfully meet the needs of a hybrid learning audience? 
  • If in-person learning returns, should we redesign programs to include more technology-based learning? 
  • What learning experiences will work best for replacing previously in-person programs? 

Leverage Informal and Experiential Learning. 

Only about 10% of what people learn comes from formal learning experiences. Combine that with the Forgetting Curve concept wherein people forget up to 80% of what they learn in a formal setting within a week or so, and you have a terrible ROI for formal learning. And for decades, L&D spent most of its time and energy building and delivering formal learning. Organizations should use the disruption presented by the pandemic as an opportunity to explore more ways to provide learning interactions within a work experience that has changed dramatically. 

Don’t Abandon All Synchronous Learning. 

Just because the workforce is hybrid does not mean learners won’t continue to benefit from synchronous interactions. In fact, the separation created by remote work needs synchronous activities to keep employees connected and collaborating. Learning provides such opportunities. 

When creating a hybrid synchronous program, there are many key elements to keep in mind, including: 

Focus on learning objectives. For courses where you are seeking to primarily communicate information (one-to-many), leverage poll or question tools to make sure all learners can provide real-time feedback. For workshops (group-to-group), first give everyone the framework for the interaction and any prework to maximize the productive time together. 

Promote inclusivity. Understand your audience’s technology situation. What’s being used (laptops, iPads, tablets, smartphones, etc.)? Ensure everyone has the right tools to participate synchronously. 

Provide clear interaction guidelines. Communicate the course’s objectives and outcomes. Let people know how to ask questions and the tools that will be used. 

Be concise and engaging. Keeping the attention of learners in person is one thing but a completely different thing for those who are remote. Ensure you provide opportunities for interaction between both sets of learners. 

Use peer interaction to foster community. Design and plan for learner interaction outside of class to reinforce the learning and foster idea exchanges and debate. This adds an informal, peer-to-peer element to an otherwise formal program. 

Deploy asynchronous communication tools. Synchronous learning opportunities are valuable but can be challenging in a hybrid environment. Provide asynchronous communication tools such as online chat channels and discussion groups to allow for the natural asynchronous communication that occurs when some learners are remote and some are on-site.

Reassess Your Technology Ecosystem. 

There is a good chance that most, if not all, of the technology selections the L&D team made were done prior to the pandemic. Business needs and use-cases have changed dramatically since then. The LMS selected in 2017 may no longer suffice. Organizations need a variety of tools that allow for more on-demand, smaller and informal learning experiences. The hybrid environment requires learners to take more of a role in their own learning so exploration and discovery are critical. Learning can and should happen anytime and anywhere it makes sense for the learner. Organizations must invest in technology supporting that kind of environment, removing as much friction from the learning process as possible. 

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David Wentworth



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David Wentworth