Deborah Chew - Aug 18, 2020

Transforming Learning for the New Reality of Work

The following article is based on a panel discussion on Transforming Learning for the New Reality of Work, the last of a four-part webinar on The New Reality of Work – The Impact on Employees, Teams and Organisations, organised by Emergenetics Asia Pacific and SkillsFuture Singapore and held on 14 August 2020.

The global pandemic has thrown a curveball at Learning and Development (L&D) and Training Development (TD) practitioners, many of whom have found themselves having to pivot and adjust quickly to remain relevant in this new reality.

With face-to-face training suspended indefinitely, many have turned to virtual training. But doing so presented its own set of challenges.

“Learning by a virtual means has its implications on retention and engagement,” highlights Deborah Peterson, a HR practitioner who has had vast working experience in the L&D sector in various MNCs. “For facilitators, there are many more things to manage that are above and beyond content – music, multiple streams of communication, knowing how to use the digital platforms for break out rooms, facilitating on a digital space etcetera.”

Adding on to this point, John Augustine Ong, Head of Learning & Development, Human Resources at Singapore Exchange shares, “In face-to-face trainings, you get instantaneous feedback. With that, you can adjust your pace as a facilitator. But it just doesn’t work the same way for virtual instructor-led training (VILT).”

In addition, getting employees to attend virtual training whilst working from home too, presented another set of problems.

"We are used to seeing people face-to-face, and so moving to a virtual space takes a bit of effort and definitely has an impact on engagement.”

- Leonard Lee, Senior Director, Leadership Development & Careers,
Asia Pacific, Hilton

“At Hilton, we are in a people-facing industry. We are used to seeing people face-to-face, and so moving to a virtual space takes a bit of effort and definitely has an impact on engagement,” Leonard Lee, Senior Director, Leadership Development & Careers, Asia Pacific, Hilton points out. 

“You get a lot of distractions while learning from home, and this robs us of our time for our own learning,” Ong states. “Further, while tech has been a disruptor in this new reality, it too, can disrupt our learning when it doesn’t work!” Ong laughs, citing WiFi issues as one of the common problems he has faced while conducting training virtually.

Learning from Home a Challenge

Reflecting the sentiments on the conduciveness of learning in this new reality is a survey conducted in July 2020 by Emergenetics APAC, where it was found that only 4 in 10 respondents don’t see picking up a new skill while working from home a challenge.

Webinar #4_challenge to pick up skills stats

“We have to first solve the accessibility issue for people to be able to learn from home,” Ong points out.

At Singapore Exchange, learners are actively engaged on online digital learning platforms such as LinkedIn Learning.

“Then we have to solve the connectivity issues,” Ong adds. “With many of our staff members working from home, many may feel a sense of isolation and this could lead to mental resilience issues. So, we ensured that we provided training that addressed those issues.”

Webinar #4_top 3 skills stats

Indeed, providing training on topics that are of relevance and interest to employees is one of the key ways to ensure employees remain motivated and engaged through learning.

In the same survey by Emergenetics APAC, respondents identified time management, communication and self-discipline as the top three skills they felt were most important to make working remotely work.

“It’s not surprising,” Peterson says. “These are super important now and will soon be the 101-skills needed in this new reality of work. We need to build on these skills and move it to a new level.”

“Time management is now a challenge because we all have multiple priorities as we work from home. To help, learning has to be presented in bite-sized formats,” Ong shares.

“Communication is a huge area to cover,” Lee points out. “I think that for staff who work away from the office, it is important that they learn how best to communicate to their bosses and fellow colleagues so that they become visible to them. That entails knowing not only how to communicate but knowing how often to communicate.”

Transforming Learning in the New Reality

Challenges faced whilst learning from home thus requires us to relook at the way we present learning and development opportunities in organisations.

“We need to put ourselves in the position of the learner,” Ong shares. “Create a psychologically safe space for people to learn. Keep things fun. Mix things up and remember that it should not be a monologue.”

Agreeing, Lee shares how Hilton has re-looked at their own training programme using a ‘curated learning’ approach.

“We’ve always believed in a structured approach to learning. At Hilton, we design a series of activities in various formats to ensure a flow in learning. For example, we mix virtual and face-to-face trainings and supplement it with some hands-on application, self-directed learning and reflection.”

Agreeing, Ong states, “This whole learning journey approach works. It is a fallacy to think that when we put someone through a 2-day programme, change will take place. The learning journey or cycle thus presents opportunities to increase the frequency of engagement with employees.

" This whole learning journey approach works. It presents opportunities to increase the frequency of engagement with employees."

- John Augustine Ong, Head of Learning & Development 
Human Resources, Singapore Exchange

Subscribing to the social constructivism theory of learning, Ong also believes that we can build communities of practice to enhance and augment learning.

“People can come together to co-create knowledge over the virtual space,” he shares. “We need to be cautious not to go too much into micro- and digital learning and lose the social interaction in learning.”

“Technology is only an enabler,” Ong points out. “We cannot get caught up with the latest tech and forget the learning outcomes.”

For Peterson, this new reality presents itself a “carnival of opportunities” to hone new skill sets to face the challenges of this “hyper-VUCA world”. These include:

  • The ability to think in non-binary ways: It’s not A or B, but a combination of both
  • The ability to flip presented dilemmas: To see dilemmas as means to find hidden opportunities
  • The ability to depolarise situations: Not us vs them; but rather, to create a space of psychological safety
  • The ability to practise urgent patience: A show of empathy
  • The ability to rapidly prototype solutions for teams and organisations: To create quickly and respond to changing needs of teams and organisations

Best Practices of Virtual Instructor-Led Training

When VILTs are conducted, it is also important to design it well so as to keep participants engaged whilst achieving its learning outcomes.

Ong elaborates, “You have to learn to break up the sessions and fully engage the senses. So, use break out rooms, videos, activities and provide plenty of breaks so that participants don’t spend long periods of time disengaged as you download information. Switch it up at least once every 45 minutes.”

“Learning needs to be bite-sized and easily consumed,” Peterson points out. “We need to be respectful of the learner’s time and so as trainers, we need to distil the core content and teach it in a short, concise way; otherwise, you’d lose your learner.”

“Learning needs to be bite-sized and easily consumed...otherwise, you'd lose your learner."

- Deborah Peterson, a HR practitioner

Sharing from his experience, Lee recalls how using different formats and different speakers can help increase interest and motivation in learning.

“We had a mix of speakers both from internal and external sources, and used different formats of presentation, from panel discussions to interviews to group discussions in virtual break out rooms. It creates freshness,” Lee shares.

Peterson was also quick to add that when we move into the digital space for learning, we may not be used to the idea of silence because we feel as if we have to keep our audience engaged always.

“Don’t be afraid to incorporate individual reflection time,” she points out. “You can then use break out rooms to have people share.

A Business Case for Learning & Development

However, as businesses fight to survive, how can L&D professionals present a business case to ensure continued training and engagement of its employees?

“We cannot divorce the fact that we are leaders in this space to ensure that employees are continually engaged and prepared for the future needs of the business,” Lee states.

“But there is a time for learning and there is a time for fire-fighting,” he adds. “As L&D professionals, we have to ask, ‘What does the business need at this point in time?’ and then curate the learning to meet these needs while being cost efficient at the same time.”

Adding to his point, Peterson shares her perspective, “You have to ask if your solution is providing value. Are you able to provide a solution that is fast for them to see the impact? Is it relevant? Is it affordable and of good quality? You have to know that you are delivering impact.”

Agreeing to this, Ong shares that it is important to help business leaders analyse the problem at hand through a learning needs analysis framework.

"We can align the learning strategy to the needs of the business, it would be easier to present our learning solutions."

- John Augustine Ong, Head of Learning & Development, Human Resources at Singapore Exchange

“When we can show them how the training is relevant and how the intervention meets those needs, and when we can align the learning strategy to the needs of the business, it would be easier to present our learning solutions,” Ong states. 

Thriving in the New Reality of Learning & Development

As we emerge into the new reality, we need to recognise that change has to happen in the role of learning and development in organisations.

“We are talent experts that help plug the gaps of the business, including talent acquisition, talent retention, engagement and diversity and inclusion.”

- Lincoln Lee, Senior Director, Leadership Development & Careers 
Asia Pacific, Hilton

“We need to look beyond being just an L&D specialist selling training programmes,” Lee states. “We are talent experts that help plug the gaps of the business, including talent acquisition, talent retention, engagement and diversity and inclusion.”

Agreeing, Ong adds, “The L&D role has evolved quite a fair bit over the years. We are custodians of the learning culture in the organisation, and when we use frameworks like the learning needs analysis, we are able to help businesses see the value proposition of our role and the work we do.”

Clearly, despite the crisis, there are opportunities for L&D professionals to thrive in this new reality. To quote a Chinese proverb shared by Ong, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

The question left for us to ask ourselves is then – when will we start building these windmills?

The video recording for this webinar is available online. Click on this link to watch the session.

Written by Deborah Chew