The Evolution of ‘The New Normal’

Evolution usually occurs over successive generations, it rarely happens overnight. The Covid-19 global pandemic of 2020 has forced Learning and Development across all sectors of industry to rapidly evolve.

Many believe that this pandemic-enforced evolution is complete, I counter that is not, and that in fact the evolution of ‘the new ‘normal’ will occur in the following three stages:

Stage One: The Sticking Plaster

This first stage occurred rapidly. Understandably for safety, the world of face-to-face L&D had to be moved online. In the current climate there wasn’t the time to think through the strategy for how to do this effectively, the goal was simple… to get the learning online.

For many this is a new world, their specialism prior to 2020 was face-to-face delivery, so a common pattern seen in the advent of the lockdown was the movement of a range of PowerPoint and workshop notes stored in company SharePoint sites and declared to be online learning. This is a form of learning that is stored online, it is not online learning, those are two very different things, with different learning engagement outcomes.

Whilst I welcome the movement to online learning having been a practitioner and academic in this particular field for 15 years, the rapid evolution to online has come at a cost. In this situation, learning is a repository of varying pieces of online, that aren’t necessarily designed to be cohesively learnt together. It has the feel of early LMS platforms that were just catalogues of content. It’s difficult to navigate, to see how the content can be progressively learnt, how to develop a suite of soft skills, and in essence, isn’t captivating.

Phase Two: What Now?

This phase is due to start in the summer of 2020. The reason it hasn’t started sooner is due to the outside hope held by many that everything that will return to the normal of January 2020, but I don’t think that will be possible.

The problems currently experienced by schools planning socially distanced classrooms will be the same issues that L&D professionals will experience in planning workshops. For some they may simply respond with smaller workshops, but those can sometimes be ineffective if there isn’t the volume of participants to interact in the sessions. In addition, decreasing the number of participants increases the number of sessions being held, and therefore becomes not only cost ineffective (especially noticeable in a time economic flux), but also an almost impossible feat in scheduling whilst trying to remain in step with the pace of changes within a fluctuating and fragile marketplace.

So business leaders will turn to their L&D teams and ask… what now?

The problem is that the sticking plaster applied in Phase One is only (just) sustainable in the very short term. Online repositories of content not specifically designed for virtual participation will lead learners to struggle in terms of engagement, completion, and most importantly, application in the real world. Globally companies have entered into a time of economic uncertainty, how companies respond in the next year will, without question, determine their survival. I have said on many occasions that good L&D can make a company, and bad L&D can break a company.

So… what now?

Now (before we reach the point of being asked this ominous question), we need to prepare. We need to learn, develop, advance ourselves, our profession, and our outlook. Over the last twenty years I have worked with a large number of L&D professionals, but surprisingly very few outside of the academic field are trained in learning design. Learning design is a science and also a craft. For me, it is crucial for the success of an L&D strategy to be able to assess content (in whatever form that it is presented) and be able to define if it is useful, but also how it can be adapted and improved to be more suitable for purpose. Understanding your teams, the development they need, the type of learning that would be most productive, and how to develop that content will put your company at the forefront of their marketplace.

Those with a learning design background will know that storing face-to-face designed content in LMS style online repository is simply not effective. Instead, that the type, style, and presentation of the content is designed from the learning outcomes and the audience and setting it is intended for.

For 2020, it would be beneficial for companies for the L&D departments to promote the rise of blended learning, and namely flipped classroom methodology. (I’ll unpack how I used flipped methodology in a recent role in my next blog post). Flipped classrooms will allow companies to address the issues of smaller face-to-face workshops in responsive time frames, and ensure that practical skills are blended on the foundations of theoretical knowledge. This combination of skills and knowledge will help companies to move forward stronger in these uncertain times.

Phase Three: The New Normal

The final phase of evolution will occur at varying stages of 2021 (dependent on how fast L&D in surviving companies respond in Phase Two). This is the phase whereby companies will settle into the new ways of operating.

Again for some, there is the held belief that by the time all the waves of the Covid-19 pandemic have run its course and either mutated to the point it is unstable or weakened to the point it is manageable or extinct, or a vaccine is developed and distributed, that we will return back to the times of January 2020 once more. Except I don’t think we will.

After a year or so of delivering content through a largely online offering, it will be increasingly difficult for business leaders to sign off 3 day workshops in hotel conference rooms, as they have seen alternative ways that their company have delivered L&D, and through troubling times.

Business leaders will be expecting the new normal.

Is L&D ready?

The time is now, the evolution has already begun.

“I think it inevitably follows, that as new species in the course of time are formed through natural selection, others will become rarer and rarer, and finally extinct. The forms which stand in closest competition with those undergoing modification and improvement will naturally suffer most.”
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species

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