Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.
Reflecting on 2020 and looking forward to the year ahead, one thing is abundantly clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education and training forever. The rise of eLearning for both children and adults has been huge, with players in the space innovating at record speeds to keep up with rapid and drastic demands, along with new legislation — and these changes have not been without their share of controversy and pushback, either. Social inequities, particularly with regards to access to technology, have been thrown into stark relief. Learners and workers without access, or with only limited access, to fast internet speeds, tablets and smartphones were at risk of being left in the cold, unable to learn and develop their skills at the same rate as others.
But while some things have been entirely transformed by the events of last year, other foundational principles of training and education have remained the same:
Content Is Still King
Training and eLearning have always relied heavily on high-quality content to ensure that learners stay engaged. The quality of training content may be even more important now, given that there are so many online courses and that competition for engaged eyeballs is at an all-time high.
eLearning content should, therefore, be as varied and multidisciplinary as possible to make room for different learning preferences. On-demand video and written content will each play its part in ensuring that content is both effective at conveying information entertaining to consume.
The Rise of Digital Platforms
Due to the pandemic, training is moving online more than ever. There are many aggregated platforms for online courses, but often, they don’t give trainers control of their brand or pricing. They have to give up a share of their sales, and they don’t have access to student information. Therefore, many training professionals are looking to create solutions that they can house on their own website. The training professionals who are ahead of the curve, carving out lucrative gaps in the market for themselves, are the ones who are levering cutting-edge technology to launch their own eLearning mobile and tablet apps.
With increased mobility, demand for on-the-go learning is high. Offering an eLearning app means people can learn offline — for example, when there is no signal on the subway. Learners who are used to entertainment apps such as Netflix and Spotify enjoy the easy intuitive experience of a streaming app. And, in the age of social media, incorporating community engagement into the app experience enhances the interactive training experience further. Push notifications are a convenient and powerful way to grab attention for remote learning when a class is starting in a noisy online world. The new wave of self-branded eLearning apps is achieving all of these goals.
The Rise of Audio and Video Content
An accelerating trend the rise of podcasts and other audio content as a preferred training format over videos. People are increasingly opting to learn on the go, during daily exercise or in the car, and are familiar with the podcast format now that organizations have widely adopted it. One company, which teaches university-level remote business courses, built an eLearning app to offer video, audio and written content in one place. The app has been enabling students to consume courses in video or audio format, just as they would listen to a podcast. This approach has proven effective.
Welcoming All Technical Abilities
It has always been challenging to accommodate audiences with limited technology skills, but the pandemic forced whole swathes of industries online, many of whose employees with little to no experience in online training— especially, in my experience, in the public sector. Many issues are easily fixed if one knows how but simultaneously have the potential to undermine a trainer’s efforts to lead a session confidently.
Online training, therefore, needs to adapt to cater for all technical abilities, including by providing seamless and intuitive tech to enable the easiest-possible user experience. One training provider has successfully moved its training program completely online, training social workers working in child protection across several local authorities in the U.K. The company uses traditional training on a videoconferencing platform, along with an app for learners to use as a digital companion to support live training with video interviews and digital materials.
Connection and Community
Community is also key to effective learning. In such isolating times, trainees want to be part of the learning community and conversation more than ever, so it’s vital to provide them with ample opportunity to build relationships with the other learners, as well as with the trainers, and to create spaces where dialogue and debate can deepen engagement with the subject matter. Dedicated eLearning apps will create private spaces for these special communities to thrive.
The quick transition to online training and eLearning in the wake of the global health crisis was a baptism of fire for trainers and training software providers, who have had to adapt or perish in the face of such increased global demand for their services. While it has been stressful for many, and there are still creases that need ironing out, this unplanned accelerated shift online has undoubtedly been (and will continue to be) a catalyst for significant innovations and breakthroughs, which will position the eLearning and digital training industries at the forefront of the education and technology sectors. The coming years are sure to see further leaps in progress and exciting new developments, and training providers can now ensure that learning can thrive in the midst of a global crisis.