Training alone does not lead to proficiency.

There must be intentional knowledge transfer and sustainment activities.

A few weeks ago, a few of our change management and training experts got together on Parker Avery’s podcast, “Talk Retail to Me,” and discussed the quick evolution of training over 2020.  Kathi Toll, Carrie Habel, Heidi Csencsits, and LouAnn Villasor also emphasized the need for companies to adopt a mindset of “virtual learning.”  Here, we explore their key points.

In today’s remote environment, following a traditional shadowing or “on the job” (OTJ) training model is challenging, if not impossible.  As a result, many companies are focusing on technology investments to allow users to become more accustomed to virtual learning. In addition to Zoom, Teams, and other remote meeting platforms, we’ve seen increasing interest in using other technologies for training.  As an example, Walmart uses virtual reality (VR) to teach employees to handle Black Friday crowd control and confrontations during peak sale periods.

Even with new technologies, traditional training approaches often fail to teach users how to interpret results and absorb the content to perform their jobs. This is where the distinction between training and learning begins.

Understanding the Difference Between Training and Learning

Training and learning are very different. Training is event-based, while learning should be continual. Oftentimes we hear corporate leaders lament that, even though their team completed the training, they still don’t understand their job. Adult learners need time to absorb, learn, and practice what they were taught. When developing a training strategy for our clients, we often employ both formal and informal activities—most of which are now virtual. While probably not ideal, virtual training—or learning—is the only viable option in our current pandemic environment. Further, it is much more cost effective.

Beyond delivering the training content, sustainment and follow-up activities are critical to ensure users fully comprehend the material, embed it into their long-term memories, and can use it in their jobs. A comprehensive virtual learning strategy incorporates many different elements. Engaging e-learning courses, bite-sized learning activities, lunch & learn virtual events, and even a podcast or two top the learning list. Further, offering labs, workshops, and quick reference guides (QRGs) are often helpful in retention of content.

Moving To Virtual Learning

Companies should focus on leveraging learning solutions that seamlessly transfer content from in-person to remote learning environments.  As an example, in early 2020 Parker Avery supported a client’s global forecasting and replenishment solution implementation.  In addition to the system, the project involved new processes, roles, and teams.  The pandemic forced the team to change the training strategy mid-way through the project.  It was very uncomfortable initially.  The client’s training strategy shifted from hands-on, face-to-face activities and workshops to a completely virtual learning environment.

The virtual learning strategy Parker Avery developed for this client centered around three key elements:

  1. Development of e-learning content using Rise360 from Articulate. Parker Avery built “micro-learning” for the client using this innovative, user-friendly platform.  Throughout the project, the team leveraged Rise360 to develop smaller courses throughout the project and solicited the client’s feedback on the content. This enabled the client team to not only learn the materials in digestible portions, but become experts very quickly.
  2. Creation of an adoption team. This team embraced an ownership mentality for the training portion of the project. Individuals on the adoption team became the experts and ambassadors, which are absolutely critical from an adoption and sustainment perspective.
  3. Introduction of virtual mentors. This part of the virtual learning strategy was created after go-live, towards the project end. The adoption team experts mentored other users through activities like remote lunch-and-learn sessions. Parker Avery and the client brainstormed on fun and engaging activities which would give the opportunity for users to learn from one another.  These also provided a safe space for the learners to ask questions to ensure they understood the concepts and activities.  The client enjoyed owning this portion of the virtual learning environment because they incorporated their own culture into the venues and delivery methods.

Intentionally Leveraging Social Learning

Social learning is how we learn informally, peer-to-peer.  It entails understanding how people and teams are learning and what resonates with the audience.  For example, are teams getting their information from social media, YouTube, podcasts, or Google?  Are different ages or demographics engaging with content differently?  What devices are employed—phones, tablets? This doesn’t have to be just work-focused but is more a question of overall user behavior about which vehicles an audience is comfortable using.

Once these vehicles and methods are determined, messaging and training delivery should be tailored to fit the behaviors of the teams that require or desire training.  Individuals will absorb and retain information better if it’s delivered through familiar channels. This is particularly important because familiarity is typically non-threatening, where individuals are more comfortable asking for assistance or more detail about a subject.  These tactics should be embedded intentionally into a virtual training strategy, especially since we’ve lost the ability to simply walk down a hall and ask a quick question.

Engaging Leadership in Learning Strategy

Most importantly, leadership must be involved in outlining and championing the virtual learning strategy.  This includes alignment on what the overall training path entails.  Leaders also need to be vocal about encouraging their teams to embrace learning.  If the importance and messaging about learning doesn’t come from the leadership team, it simply won’t take hold.  Informing teams about the transformation to a virtual learning environment and maintaining the lines of communication going forward is critical to adoption.

Further, this move towards virtual learning requires agility.  Leaders need to get feedback from their teams. When one tactic proves unsuccessful, they must be quick to assess exactly why and then change course.

Maintaining the Content

Finally, training content needs to be maintained and enhanced going forward as training recipients provide feedback on processes and tools.  This is a diligence we don’t often see in our clients. The risk of an associate trying to learn from stale materials or delivery methods may cause confusion, improper use of tools, and insecurity in the learner.  Implications include not only reduced productivity, but also weakened associate confidence in the company and loyalty.

In conclusion, to successfully adapt virtual learning strategies and promote an environment of continuous advancement of proficiencies and expertise, companies must acknowledge that corporate training needs to be more intentional than in the past.  To fully engage teams, content must be delivered using familiar methods and channels which promote collaborative knowledge-sharing.  In doing so, training strategies will be positioned to capture and share what we often call the “art” behind the science in many areas. Lastly, company leadership must drive and champion learning as an overall priority. As a result, teams will embrace learning with more enthusiasm, gain proficiency more quickly, and be much more effective in their roles.

If you would like to discuss your own initiatives or challenges regarding training or virtual learning, we’d love to hear from you.

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