Reinventing Corporate Learning
Corporate culture has been forever changed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. While corporate practices have been slowly incorporating digital realignment, the work-from-home imperative brought on by the pandemic has accelerated these changes. Companies are having to adapt to using greater speed and agility in all aspects of business, and this includes educating their employees. Those reluctant or slow to adapt to digital innovations will be left behind and face challenges in attracting and retaining talent. “Business as usual”, and doing things “the way we’ve always done them”, no longer hold. While this enormous shift poses significant challenges, it also creates exciting opportunities.
One of the many areas where I see great opportunities for positive growth is in corporate learning. Companies, especially those with large sales organizations that work from many locations, have provided employee training for years, generally through a combination of on-site and online learning. Online corporate training, in particular, is necessary for the introduction of new products, the acquisition of new customers, and for legal and other requirements.
Last Year’s Corporate Training
Traditionally, Corporate training generally utilizes PowerPoint, or other slide decks, combined with voiceover, and some interactivity built-in for quizzes and multiple-choice tests that assess the attendee’s comprehension of the material. It’s unclear if this type of content meets actual learning objectives or aids in retention and the use of important information.
Live, on-site training is expensive, takes people out of the field, and often requires complicated scheduling. Such sessions are not the optimal environment for individuals with cultural, learning, or physical differences. In addition, on-site, multiple week training sessions tend to have a negative impact on work-life balance and may exacerbate gender and other cultural inequities. Even before Covid-19 lockdowns, employees and their managers were increasingly working as members of distributed global and cross-functional teams, making on-site training particularly difficult to not only schedule but to attend.
It’s also unclear how in-person on-site, and online training programs will evolve once we solve how to manage professional lives in a post-Covid19 world. However, I believe that harnessing the power of new technology will lead to the creation of far more dynamic and impactful educational programs.
Better Training Through Digital Innovation
Constant changes in technology and business make lifelong and continuous learning critical in maintaining a productive and talented workforce. Technologies such as AI, analytics, and automation are changing the way businesses are run, and how products are developed, marketed, and sold to customers. It is essential for employees and managers to stay up-to-speed in order for businesses to remain competitive. In addition, it’s important to ensure employees receive meaningful training throughout the course of their careers, especially since today there are often multiple generations of employees in the workplace.
While human interaction and relationships remain important to business success, incorporating technology will substantially improve online training to make it more accessible and meaningful for employees.
Technology-enhanced training options include:
Online Simulations and experiential learning. Corporate learning simulations have been part of the employee experience for many years in on-site training and have tremendous potential as “learning by doing” improves retention of information. Similar to physical experiences, online simulation contains elements of storytelling, uncertainty, ambiguity, strategic decision making, and customer interactions that mimic the experiences of business conditions. Simulations can be made engaging and impactful through multiplayer experiences giving the employee the opportunity to practice learning concepts, make mistakes, and achieve mastery throughout the experience. In addition, data collected during the training can be used to improve the simulation and tie training objectives to corporate outcomes.
Gamified experiences and serious games. Applying gaming designs and concepts to training and case studies makes them more engaging for the learner. These concepts include scoring and leveling up, badging, and leaderboards to add excitement and interest to training experiences. Gamified elements can be included in simulations and asynchronous learning. They can also be applied to small learning segments or over the long-term, involving the completion of job milestones. These features can be included in many areas of training such as employee onboarding, professional and “soft skills” training, and to gain technical proficiency.
Augmented and Virtual realities are used to train for jobs that require a high level of skill. The availability of hardware and headsets, network bandwidth, and advances in software development have made AI and VI less expensive and more readily available for other sectors including healthcare, construction, and retail. Extended reality provides immersive experiences for teams, mirrors real-life situations, brings distributed teams together in “one world”, and enhances retention. In addition, in a virtual experience, employees can safely make and learn from mistakes, helping them to achieve success.
No matter what technology you use, successful corporate training must always include the following features:
- Knowledge acquisition and retention
- Opportunities to make mistakes
- Adaptive to the unique pace of the individual learner
- Personal feedback
- Data and analytics to improve user experience
- Removal of cultural, gender, and other biases
- Opportunities for peer evaluation and review
- Opportunities for personal assessment
While there are costs associated with the development of engaging and impactful online educational experiences for employees, the payoff is well worth the expense. Sophisticated, technology-enabled training gives employees the confidence to excel without implicit biases that often occur during in-person training. Technology-rich education offers employees opportunities for experimentation and to safely make mistakes. Data collected from online education provides information that will help to improve the training and offer insights into where employees are having difficulty with concepts or skills. All of this will lead to a better educated and skilled workforce that will help companies grow, adapt, and maintain a competitive edge.
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Deirdre Woods is an Eleven Canterbury executive expert. She is Founder and Principal of Deirdre Woods Advisors, a consultancy focused on providing expertise on digital transformation. She was the CIO & Associate Dean at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and served as the Executive Director of the Penn Online Learning Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania. She sits on the boards of iThinking Consultancy and Shen Milson & Wilke, and has served on several non-profit boards in Philadelphia.