The world has changed, and there is an accelerated need for new working arrangements and greater workplace automation. We are in the era of the new normal, from telemedicine and streaming fitness classes to social distancing and “elbow bumps” and from online learning from Ivy League universities to remote workplace training and engagement.

COVID-19 emergency measures will define the new organizational life, which will be characterized by an increase in remote and flexible work arrangements. These arrangements are not new, and nor are the benefits and pitfalls. However, the size and scale of the remote workforce will increase dramatically. According to Buffer’s 2020 “State of Remote Work” report, 98% of workers who are currently working remotely would like to do so, at least part of the time, for the rest of their career. Some of the benefits of remote work include improved employee retention, reduced commuting, better work-life balance, a larger candidate pool, lower organizational costs, increased productivity, fewer sick and personal days, and a decrease in employee attrition.

Technology advancements have also made workers more accessible than ever before. As Notion Consulting senior partner Diana Vienne wrote for Fast Company, “The physical location in which we now work has merged with the places in which we eat, sleep, learn, exercise, and play.” In today’s work environment, it is technology, not a common workplace, that keeps people connected. According to KPMG’s Jane Gunn, after the pandemic is over, “work will be a thing you do, rather than a place you go.” These advancements will, likewise, replace face-to-face classroom training with distance learning.

The concept of remote learning has a long history, according to Florida National University, from 1840, when Isaac Pittman began teaching shorthand by mail; to the 1873 founding of The Society to Encourage Home Studies in Boston; to the first televised college courses in 1956 in Chicago; to 2011, when 89% of four-year public colleges and universities and 60% of four-year private institutions in the U.S. offered classes online.

The Financial Benefits of eLearning

As Dr. Ulrik Juul Christensen, chief executive officer of Area9 Group, wrote for TrainingIndustry.com, “Organizations worldwide spend more than $350 billion on corporate training and education each year, but much of it is ineffective.” Companies will continue to look for more effective and efficient ways of delivering training and particularly for methods that support the transfer of learning into behaviors that drive workplace performance. No longer will the key measures of training be the amount of money a company invests or the number of hours each employee spends in training. Training expenditures need to answer the same question as any other business investment: Is there a justifiable return?

There are obvious economic considerations that favor eLearning over traditional classroom instruction:

    • It reduces the impact of lost productivity due to time spent away from work and eliminates the cost of travel, hotels, training rooms and instructors. According to Panopto, Microsoft cut training costs from $320 to $17 using video, and Caterpillar reduced costs by between 40% and 80% using eLearning.
    • It provides greater flexibility than classroom instruction, which is bound by fixed schedules, fixed locations and a limited number of participants.
    • Traditional classroom instruction often attempts to convey too much content in a short period of time.
    • Learners participate at their own pace and can determine the time and location of their training.
    • Many eLearning platforms enable learners to log in from any location and at any device.
    • With classroom training, it is often more difficult to address the specific needs of individual learners.

But Does It Work?

Are economic reasons enough to invest in eLearning? The bigger question is whether this training modality is effective in developing skills that drive workplace performance. In a research report, Dr. Will Thalheimer, president of Work-Learning Research Inc., states:

“There is clear evidence to suggest that it is not the elearning modality that improves learning, but, instead, it is the learning methods typically used in elearning—and used more often than in classroom instruction—that create elearning’s benefits. These learning methods include such factors as providing learners with realistic practice, spaced repetitions, contextually-meaningful scenarios, and feedback.”

Some of the measurable impacts of eLearning include:

    • Greater consistency in delivery.
    • The ability to quickly deploy content across a geographically dispersed organization.
    • Accessibility for frontline employees, who typically make up a majority of a company’s workforce.
    • Participants’ ability to demonstrate skills mastery.
    • “Anytime, anywhere” access to learning materials.
    • Reduced time away from work.
    • The ability to use microlearning.
    • The ability to use blended learning.

Implementing eLearning effectively doesn’t mean transferring classroom content to an online format. Rather, it is about the quality of the content, visual design and training methods used. eLearning design should focus on providing engaging learning experiences, gamification, processes and tools that enable learner feedback to enhance skills mastery, and learning metrics.

Although distance learning is not the answer in every circumstance, it clearly has significant benefits. It is also our new collective reality. Getting ahead of the curve is imperative for companies looking to stay ahead of the competition. Remote learning also allows for social interaction in a time when people are begging to stay connected.

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