Transitioning to Online Learning: A Safe, Effective, and Flexible Alternative
This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of Virginia Ship Repair Association’s newsletter.
As a result of the 2019-20 global pandemic, organizations across all sectors are struggling to reorient themselves and establish revised coordinates on a marketplace that has yet to stabilize. While the next reality for most may not be fully understood, the expanding role of technology is much clearer. One such example involves transitions toward online learning in response to health concerns associated with traditional classroom learning environments. Without question, skill development through a virtual platform can offer a safe, effective, and flexible alternative to face-to-face instruction. The key to success for achieving desired learning outcomes involves planning, preparation, and delivery based on your organization's specific needs.
While available options for providing learning and development may have changed due to the pandemic, the need for it has not. Automation, robotics, and smart-learning machinery have steadily infiltrated labor-dependent industries over the past few years. By all indications, the COVID-19 crisis will accelerate this trend and, for some, will be the tipping point for transitioning to what is broadly referred to as the fourth industrial age. The bottom line is that the need for reskilling or upskilling employees to meet current and future needs has never been greater. This trend won’t go away anytime soon.
For organizations looking to integrate remote or online learning and development strategies, planning is a logical starting point and is essential to achieving desired performance outcomes. To effectively address planning needs, three areas of consideration are recommended:
- Identify learning and development needs
- Assess available resources
- Acknowledge constraints and limitations
Learning and development needs should reflect existing pain points, recognized skill gaps, and emerging trends, among other things. Available resources needed for content development and delivery, both internally and externally, are a factor and must be taken into account as part of the planning process. Recognizing anticipated costs early in the process helps avoid barriers resulting from budgetary constraints.
While many waterfront employers are, by definition, small businesses, there are numerous partnering opportunities for collaboration within the Hampton Roads (VA) region. Among many others, those include industry and trade associations such as the Virginia Ship Repair Association, regional community colleges, such as Tidewater Community College, and the Small Business Administration.
While planning involves envisioning a desired future state, it represents an image that is only of value if action is taken. Preparation is the act or series of actions leading to implementation. For success, you must prepare to proceed with a detailed plan of action. Here are recommendations for consideration for those wanting to move forward with online learning:
- Define learning objectives
- Clarify roles & responsibilities for key stakeholders
- Account for learning styles & generational differences
Learning objectives must align with the needs identified during the planning process. Achieving objectives is the result of deliberate efforts to create online experiences that reach desired learning states and levels of understanding. Instructional designers must carefully select content that connects with a widely diverse workforce, consider past experiences of the individuals involved, and account for a variety of learning styles and generational differences.
An important part of the preparation phase includes collaboration and dialogue involving roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, even those indirectly involved. While the primary focus may be the individual learner, reinforcement of skills, supporting systems, and integration of learning objectives into daily routines requires the involvement and participation of many others – not the least of which are frontline supervisors.
At its core, planning and preparation represent a means to an end. While the parameters may have changed over time, the process itself hasn’t. What has changed involves options for developing employees. Delivery platforms have evolved tremendously over the past decade and the availability of tools has never been greater or more convenient.
The delivery component represents the point of implementation and is the process whereby knowledge transfer and skill development begin. Factors of consideration should include the following, at a minimum:
- Selection of learning platform
- Consideration of content
- Measuring results
When selecting learning platforms, there are two primary options: web-based and virtual. Web-based instruction is typically stand-alone and self-paced. Virtual platforms typically involve live instruction provided remotely. Organizations looking to deliver instruction online can develop and deliver content themselves, or, can transfer the responsibility to a third-party provider. In-house development is typically more representative of daily operations for learners than third-party materials, which are often generalized to fit a broad category of industries.
While chalk-and-talk instruction may have dominated past learning experiences, it doesn’t necessarily represent preferences of emerging generations. Not only are Millennial and Gen-Z employees comfortable with online learning, many prefer it. Selecting platforms that can be accessed through mobile devices is an example of functionality worth considering.
Content considerations are an important factor for delivering an effective learning experience. Keeping points narrowly focused and limited in duration, conveying material that has an entertaining quality, and building anecdotal storylines are best practices well worth considering.
The ultimate goal of learning and development is to create a shift in organizational performance through individual behaviors. An important consideration for those designing, implementing, or assessing the value of training initiatives involves measuring return on investment. For these reasons, you should consider administering pre and post-assessments for learning participants to establish a baseline and measure shifts in both knowledge and individual perspectives. Knowledge reflects what the individual learned; perspective is an indication of how they feel about it. Both are important – but a shift in perspective is key. While knowledge makes you think, emotions make you act.
Online learning is here to stay. The advantages it offers and convenience it provides are broadly recognized by the emerging generations that embrace it. Organizations that utilize it will quickly find an alternative to past practices that is both effective and efficient. Designing a system that works is key and results from strategic planning, preparation, and delivery – a process intended to identify and fulfill the specific needs of the organization and stakeholders involved.