Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic-induced shift to widespread remote work and learning, emerging trends in training pedagogy have accelerated, creating a new opportunity for engaging tech-enabled learning experiences. Over the past two years, the digital connection between learner and instructor, employee and facilitator — and how to strengthen it in remote or hybrid settings — has come of age. Despite some level of a return to in-person training and upskilling, the way we help people develop is never going back to the way it was — nor should it.

Tech-enabled instruction, collaboration and evaluation enable improved employee assessment, access and learning experiences. According to a Harvard Business Review article, one meta-analysis of 96 studies showed virtual learning to be, on average, 19% more impactful than in-person learning. In fact, being in person can undermine the quality of learning because those experiences often force learners to spend many back-to-back hours in workshops to squeeze in as much as possible, with little time to digest or practice what’s being taught.

Digital Tools Enable Frictionless Collaboration

Slack, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, Google Docs, etc…. There is no shortage of online tools supporting virtual collaboration. A 2021 TechRepublic survey of 161 professionals showed the breadth of ways respondents use collaboration platforms and tools: connecting remote workers (91%); enabling better communication between co-workers, departments, and managers (84%); for team management (61%); and both project management and staff training and education (54%). Less popular uses for such digital tools included managerial training and education (31%), human resources (20%), and employee tracking (17%). Comprehensive platforms increasingly facilitate these various functions, reducing the number of needed platforms and seamlessly supporting the growing needs of an organization. As new purpose-built training tools enter the market and companies get more comfortable relying on technology to fulfill critical corporate functions, these percentages will rise.

Small Group Interaction Fosters Effective Problem Solving

The events of the past two years have also forced adjustments in the corporate learning experience. While existing conference and meeting platforms allowed a one-to-many approach — digitally recreating a speaker on a podium addressing a large group — they weren’t as effective at recreating the peer-to-peer connections that most directly support effective collaboration and problem solving. Technology can support small groups at scale, allowing for effective concurrent instruction of hundreds of employees or learners, fostering stronger group virtual connections, replicating the peer-to-peer community of an in-person study group, allowing for a collective focus on a shared assignment or task and enabling easy contact with other small groups or the instructor. Small groups of no more than 10 enable constructive conversation and collaboration while reducing fear and reluctance of asking questions or speaking up in front of fellow classmates. In particular, small group settings now make it easier to admit, “I didn’t get it. What was the instructor trying to say?” to peers, or to share and discuss what was (or wasn’t) going on outside of the session.

Flexible Access Supports All Employees Equally, Regardless of Circumstance

Technology can ensure equitable support for various employee needs by supporting flexible options including remote, hybrid or asynchronous access and participation to enable effective learning at the time and in the manner most helpful to the employee. It can also support employees with disabilities who may struggle to fully participate or effectively learn in in-person settings. For these employees, the ability to learn and connect with colleagues and instructors through chat, anonymous Q&A or direct message can enable fuller participation without the pressure of doing so in person. A shift toward more inclusive and equitable access will take an intense commitment on the part of workplaces, instructors, healthcare providers, aides and the employees themselves, but the technology we have can help bridge the gap.

Granular Measurement Facilitates Analysis and Improvement

The English mathematician Karl Pearson famously said, “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” Data collection has always been a challenge for large in-person classes, but new digital tools feature native capabilities that can offer granular insights into employee understanding, participation and even how well people are working together. Regular analysis of data can allow for tweaks and changes that lead to incremental improvement in how well employees are learning and retaining information and give instructors feedback that allows them to adjust their teaching or facilitating style. Online learning platforms can indicate individual and class-wide student sentiment and understanding via real-time feedback more easily than in a tech-free classroom. This firmly moves instruction into the 21st century where the real-time response has become as important as the traditional evaluation and gives learners and instructors faster, often nonverbal ways to engage “in the moment,” using technology to make this happen. For example, “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” icons can quickly and easily replace raised hands and calls for questions. Requests for help can be made in real time. And communication with other learners such as “Do you get this?” can also be made in the moment. Bottom line: tech-driven learning can improve interaction and provide real-time feedback so instructors can adjust their approach in ways not previously seen.

In the world of learning and development (L&D), change often comes when we least expect it and at a pace that forces us to keep up. But the change in recent years has led to new developments and insights that benefit everyone and — when thoughtfully incorporated — lead to better outcomes. While the learning situation caught us off guard at first, new technology and effective use of existing technology can enable engaging remote learning experiences that set businesses up for success in the future of work.