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Essay

Learning and Development in the Remote Workplace

Traditional e-learning must evolve into distance-based collaborative learning with the right content, instructors and technology to ensure remote workers have what they need to succeed on the job.

digital, remote workersModern organizations are embracing some level of transition to remote staffing. Market globalization alongside continued advancements in communication technologies are driving this paradigm shift in workforce assembly.

According to a January study from Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 20-25 percent of the workforce teleworks at some frequency, and 80-90 percent of the U.S. workforce says they would like to telework at least part time.

This shift creates some new and interesting challenges for learning leaders. In the past, they could offer pre-learning in asynchronous e-learning modules and either reinforce or introduce more complex, application-based training via instructor-led events. These events were simple enough to execute. Schedule a time and onsite location, then conduct instructor-led employee training where the instructor could truly manage an individual’s learning experience and foster collaboration among peers.

The remote workforce has forced learning leaders to rethink this traditional model. They need to consider how to execute a new learning model that maintains the benefits of onsite instructor-led training and considers factors around cost, value and scale.

Asynchronous, distance-based e-learning has become a highly-utilized delivery method, and it is easy to see why. First, it provides individual learners the flexibility to self-pace — in terms of when they engage in a learning event as well as how quickly they choose to consume content. This can be a benefit to both learner and organization. The learner can work at a pace that suits their level of competency and creates less disruption for the organization by eliminating the need to assemble groups of employees concurrently. Many organizations leverage asynchronous e-learning as the sole solution with which to train a remote workforce.

However, this delivery method is limited in its ability to inform, simulate and remediate a range of behavioral skills and competencies. How effectively can an e-learning module simulate the nuances in overcoming customer objections, conducting a performance review, managing conflict, or solving a complex business problem? These skills are both highly valuable to an organization and simultaneously difficult to master without adequate coaching and practice, and the ability to interact with real peers in real time.

Now consider some advantages for collaborative learning. Collaborative learning allows individuals to interact and solve problems as a team, fostering a more effective model and realistic environment for solutions engineering. Effective collaboration creates an environment where peers can evaluate each other’s ideas, remediate knowledge gaps and enhance shared understanding. Executed appropriately, it also can provide a platform that encourages individuals to communicate and clarify their knowledge to others, which in turn further reinforces ideas.

Fortunately, we have technologies at our disposal that can integrate a collaborative learning strategy with distance-based e-learning technologies, so learning leaders can effectively train a remote workforce and allow for real-time collaboration and interaction.

As a simple use case, one could begin by providing any requisite pre-learning in asynchronous e-learning modules as is common practice in many blended learning models. Then, use one of many web-based video conferencing tools that allow an instructor to deliver a virtual collaborative learning event to remote learners. Many of these technologies include the ability to poll, whiteboard, screen-share, and chat — all of which, when used appropriately, can enhance the value of a virtual collaborative learning event.

This sequence of training events can provide value to the learner beyond asynchronous e-learning while avoiding time and cost to bring groups of learners together for onsite instructor-led training. There are a range of technology solutions and education partners that can integrate the beneficial characteristics of both e-learning and collaborative events.

Here are a few tips for learning and development leaders to consider about a distance-based collaborative approach:

  • Effective training always begins with effective content. No delivery technology will account for poor content. The same goes for instructors.
  • Instructors need to act as facilitators. They are not there to teach, but to foster discussion, remediate when necessary, encourage participation, and hold learners accountable to intended learning outcomes.
  • Ensure that everyone, instructors and learners alike, can be seen and heard. Yes, this means making webcams available to remote staff. It’s a relatively small investment that will add value to the training experience. A talented instructor will be perceptive to non-verbal cues, and they play an important role in training and communication.
  • Take the time to demo and/or pilot some different technology solutions and subsequent features. Some features that may seem like showstoppers may not be when put into practice, and vice versa.

Matt Flynn is executive director for instructional strategies at Kaplan U.S. Leadership and Professional Development. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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