Virtual Learning: Rewriting the Playbook in Turbulent Times

Throw out your learning technology playbook. It’s time to write a new one. The Coronavirus is here and we’re all witnessing a plot twist of epic proportions.

Isolation is the new norm and rapid change is everywhere. Naturally, we all feel uneasy (or worse) about the future. But how we respond is a mark of character.

I’ve always been a positive, practical, forward-thinking fellow. And now, my first instinct is to offer help and guidance. So let’s start with the elephant in the room…

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Recently, many of you have contacted me to ask questions, exchange ideas or strategize about next-steps and beyond. I’ve been taking notes and I want to put them to good use by sharing them more broadly.

Below are tips and action items from three different viewpoints:

1) Tips for Learning Systems Vendors and Consultants
2) Tips for Learning Practitioners
3) Tips for Everyone Working From Home

 


1) Tips For Learning Systems Vendors and Consultants

Are you in the learning technology or content business? Congratulations. This industry has been leading the online revolution for several decades. As a result, we should be ready to help organizations adopt virtual learning solutions and integrate them into their workflows. Here are five ways you can make a difference now:

•  Emphasize Strategic, Short-Term Solutions
Just like you, your customers and prospects are grappling with unexpected disruption. And just like you, they’re trying to assess the situation, define their needs and prioritize effectively.

Put yourself in their shoes. How can learning technology help them resolve immediate issues? How would they describe a quick win? Could a near-term solution help set the stage for a more fundamental shift?

Now consider your strengths in light of these needs. How can you add the most value? Start there.

•  Move Customers Through the Learning Content Maturity Curve
Every LMS customer operates at a different point along the learning content journey, from live instructor-led-training to virtual classroom delivery to self-paced online content. The market clearly needs vendors who specialize in helping organizations efficiently move from one stage to the next – or through the entire migration cycle.

•  Offer a Path to Extended Enterprise Learning
Do your customers focus exclusively on employee training? Guess what? As of today, they’re also in the extended enterprise learning business. Many organizations must now reach outside their walls to train customers, prospects, partners and other external audiences.

Help them. Use this opportunity to fill gaps in your solution, so you’ll be prepared to pursue this high-growth market successfully.

•  Leave Your Trade Show Marketing Mindset Behind
Almost all learning solution vendors believe that a trade show presence is essential to build brand awareness and find new customers. It was. But no more.

Adapt. Use your trade show budget to fund your full online pivot.

•  Embrace a Content Marketing Frame of Mind
Once you’ve reassessed your business strengths and identified how you can best support customers in this brave new virtual learning world, you need to get the word out.

Double-down on blogs, webinars, whitepapers, podcasts and social media outreach. Share best practices, success stories and other resources that will attract the right type of buyer for your solution. (Need help? We’re a content marketing machine.)

2) Tips for Learning Practitioners

Are you a training specialist working for a corporation, association or continuing education provider? Congratulations! You’re also part of the “suddenly remote” global training solution. Your mission to educate continues.

Here’s just one example directly from the COVID-19 front lines. This week, 3M is distributing more than 500,000 respirators to areas of the U.S. where they’re needed most. To ensure proper use of this equipment, 3M will also need to provide immediate access to virtual learning.

What can your organization do navigate this crisis effectively? Consider these ideas:

•  Assess Your Learning Footprint
Organizations can no longer afford to delay the shift to virtual learning. This includes programs that serve external audiences. To avoid blind spots, start by assessing your current learning footprint. Answer these questions:

    1. Do you have a system in place to train customers, partners and other external audiences? How effective is that system?
    2. What is your instructor-led training coverage for all audiences? What’s scheduled in 2020? What classes will you cancel? Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, was classroom training demand increasing or decreasing? Do you know why?
    3. How many external learners are trained every day, week, month and year? What proportion of your potential employee/user population do you reach?
    4. Are you currently able to deliver training experiences through a virtual classroom tool? Is 100% of your content designed for virtual consumption? Or do you need to address some hands-on portions?
    5. Is your employee LMS currently serving any external audiences? How large and diverse are those audiences and their requirements? What kind of results have these programs achieved?
    6. What’s the status of your in-house content development capabilities? What is your capacity?
    7. How large is the budget you previously allocated to live training? Are you able to reallocate those funds as seed money for virtual learning?

•  Rethink Your Content Strategy
Just like vendors, you need to plan for immediate needs, as well as for the coming months. What must change now? What content access hurdles or other barriers do you need to overcome? What content can be shifted immediately to virtual learning? What are your priorities for self-paced content development?

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Develop a flexible “working” project roadmap. Assign team members, required resources, milestones, deadlines and costs.

To obtain budget approval, you’ll need to collect and consider all data that is available and relevant.

•  Pay Attention to External Audience Needs
From now on, your organization’s survival will likely depend on your ability to educate customers, prospects, channel partners and other external audiences, in addition to employees. Are you ready? Lead the way.

Can you expand your LMS footprint effectively and cost-efficiently? Or would it make more sense to invest in a second LMS designed specifically for extended enterprise training? Do business units or other groups in your organization currently develop and deliver their own external training? Are any external audiences being ignored?

•  Reaffirm Your LMS Strategy
If you’re suddenly moving all external training online, you’ll probably need more LMS licenses – assuming your LMS can handle it.

Many learning platforms aren’t ideal at supporting employees and external audiences, simultaneously. Often, issues with functionality, integration, single sign-on and audience segmentation lead to subpar learning experiences and administration.

Also, it’s not uncommon to serve a much larger number of external users than employees. It is critical to understand your platform’s expansion capabilities, as well as related pricing implications.

This knowledge should help you move forward confidently with expansion use scenarios. Or it may lead you to conclude that a rapid LMS switch is actually a more effective and budget-friendly choice.

•  Confirm Your Virtual Classroom Strategy
Virtual classroom functionality tends to be comparable across vendors, but pricing plans can vary dramatically. So it’s wise to shop around.

You may want to consider leading popular platforms like Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect and GoToMeeting/GoToWebinar. It is important to know which platform(s) you currently use – if any – as well as licensing limits and cost of expanding your reach. Regardless, you’ll want to verify that you can scale affordably.

Another important consideration is the level of out-of-the-box virtual classroom integration with your LMS. Ideally, you’ll want 2-way integration that lets you originate sessions within the LMS, so attendance tracking is automated and learners can launch a session directly from their LMS homepage.

If you currently don’t have this level of integration, you will be doing too much manual work – especially as the volume of participants increases.

3) Tips for Everyone Working From Home

Have you worked in an office throughout your career? I haven’t. For more than 20 years, I’ve worked from home while juggling busy kids, barking dogs, UPS delivery distractions and a lack of dedicated workspace.

If you’re struggling to acclimate to a remote working environment, here are some tips from my world that may help in yours:

•  Escape From Noise in Your “Back-Seat Office”
Although the flexibility of a home office is fantastic, it can be a nightmare when everyone is home and space is limited. But, like me, you may find a quiet retreat in the back seat of your car.

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Over the years, I’ve conducted many, many uninterrupted calls and meetings from this unconventional space. My car is parked within wi-fi range and the back seat is generally roomy enough for only one.

•  Stay Connected with Slack
Like many small virtual organizations, our team relies on Slack to stay connected. It feels like a combination of group chat and email, but it’s better because we can engage in multiple discussion topics simultaneously.

For example, at Talented Learning, we have over 30 active discussion “channels” that reflect our work priorities – everything from industry news to blog content development workflow to consulting project information. Different contributors are invited to participate in each channel. And all participants can post text messages, links and documents.

Slack is surprisingly easy to use and it’s one of the reasons our team seems so organized!

•  Rev-Up Your Diet and Exercise
This may sound unusual for a learning industry analyst to discuss, but if you’re like me, you may be carrying a few extra pounds that get harder and harder to work-off each year. Since we’re on lockdown for a while, there’s probably no better time to reduce your calorie intake, increase your activity level and drop a few. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself!)

•  Invest Your Extra Time
Working from home can free-up a surprising amount of time. In fact, the average two-way daily commute in the U.S. is 52.2 minutes. Plus, office workers typically spend another 50 minutes a day on water cooler chit-chat and other non-work activities. That translates into more than 50 hours a month of extra time you can invest in activities that truly matter to you. Choose well.

•  Make Family a Priority
Speaking of important choices, your family will tell stories about this Corona time-out for the rest of their lives. Keep your loved ones safe and use this time to reconnect at a whole new level.

We will look back on camping indoors, games, puzzles, preparing and eating meals together, tackling home improvement projects, planting a garden, Frisbee, learning a new language and binge-watching TV. What are you doing today that your family will recall with a smile in the future?

Conclusion

Virtual work and virtual learning have finally arrived as a mandatory, strategic priority. And they’re likely to stay with us long after the Coronavirus wave subsides.

All this may have started with an abrupt shock to global health. But the world will go on. And organizations everywhere are counting on us as learning professionals to step-up and aggressively drive short-term and long-term solutions.

How long will this initial phase last? Who knows? Maybe a few months. Maybe longer. But one thing we know for sure – the world will not return to old ways. So here’s my best advice. Prepare personally and organizationally for continued uncertainty, especially post-crisis.

Today’s downtime is a gift for learning tech pros. Let’s use this time to write a new playbook. Then let’s lead through execution. Our efforts can make a positive difference.

Thanks for reading!

 


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John Leh
About John Leh (208 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. Named among the “Top 20 Global Elearning Movers and Shakers” in 2018 and 2017, John is a fiercely independent LMS selection consultant, blogger and podcaster who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies – primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based on more than 20 years of industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to more than 100 learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $65 million. You can connect with John on Twitter at @JohnLeh or on LinkedIn.

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