The accelerated urgency that led to the explosion of eLearning has helped to close the love-hate relationship between internal training activities and the budget allocation issues that existed throughout their existence. The tumultuous history of internal training is often described as something akin to bringing your best friend along on a date. The tagalong is tolerated as long as things are going well, but the moment an unexpected event shrinks the discretionary funds, it’s easier to justify kicking your best friend to the curb.

The Renaissance of Training

The training industry has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts thanks to the advent of software development, the renaming of training and development to learning and development (L&D), and the emergence of online technology as a critical process for eLearning and continuous improvement in employee performance. The sharp left turn taken on the heels of the 2008 financial meltdown created huge cross-training needs that traditional training approaches could not accommodate at same speed and pace of technology.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, when there is a return to “normalcy” and organizations try to ramp up to pre-pandemic levels, will the focus on eLearning remain a strategic goal for maintaining organizational competitiveness or will productivity demands dictate that the business’ best friend receive a kick to the curb?

The eLearning community enjoys an integral and lofty role denied to its training and development predecessors. The ability to upgrade content on a moment’s notice ensures that learning recipients receive performance-improving knowledge in real time. The software technology that seamlessly links workstations to PCs to laptops to cellphones ensures that content knowledge is available on a 24-hour basis, accessible at a time when mind, body and spirit are synchronous with an environment that is conducive to individual learning.

The time spent by training managers in front of the annual organizational hearings committee to “justify training for this year” has been reduced, if not completely eliminated, by employees’ increasing use of eLearning. The eLearning movement has done more to minimize the conflict of words between managers and employees that was a common occurrence when a day of training was perceived as a respite from being productive and as a drain on a limited discretionary budget. As a result of this change, the option to continuously improve has given way to the expectation to continually improve.

The Opportunity for eLearning

History has proven to be a great teacher of predictable events, and as the inevitable return to the corporate workplace reinvigorates the economy, the eLearning community has a marvelous opportunity to solidify its role as a strategic partner by recognizing that every economic upturn is productivity-focused, not learning-focused. The urgent need to produce and sell, while critical to organizational sustainability, becomes the most singular priority of priorities. The expectation for all employees who survive with their jobs intact will be to increase their personal productivity to align with the sustainability needs of the organization.

Critical to this understanding is the recognition that “sustainability” has, historically, not included a surge in training, development, learning or any other activity that does not have an immediate measurable outcome. The strategic need to sustain will always take precedent over the personal need to learn, unless the eLearning community learns from the mistakes of its predecessors. The language of business was rarely used in academic training courses, which created a gap between what business needs and what training does. Being relegated to a secondary conversation at the conference table was the norm for organizations experiencing a crisis, because:

    • There was no room at the table.
    • The need for training was not discussed in business language.
    • Training was seen as an organizational luxury with no strategic value.

The eLearning community has less of a chance for that kind of reoccurrence, but history has an odd way of repeating itself when its students aren’t paying attention. While an argument can be made that software, laptops and accessibility have minimized the boardroom discussions about the importance of learning, the productivity needs of the organization will demand more individual time to accomplish goals than before the pandemic.

If anecdotal conversations are any indication, the time we’ve spent being productive at home has increased in levels not seen within the corporate setting — and those levels are being measured on a daily basis. The pandemic has revealed just how productive employees can be when commuter and cubicle lounge time has been eliminated.

This increased productivity should come as no surprise to any corporate entity with a curiosity for performance levels. The hope is that in those measures, leaders and consultants will include the amount of individual learning that took place. How much time did employees spend on individual learning and improvement, given the access to a multitude of eLearning platforms? Did the pandemic reaffirm the learn-by-doing model as the most productive and tangible of organizational performance measures? Did “working remotely” align with “learning remotely”? The eLearning community must make the answers to these questions tangible in order to avoid being relegated to a secondary conversation.