Re-imagining Learning In The Post-COVID Era

Re-imagining Learning In The Post-COVID Era

We need to decide over the changes in L&D owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. And this crisis has created an environment which can be either viewed as terrifying or thrilling.


COVID-19 is changing the way people learn and work across the world. As organisations  have shifted to working remotely, to sustain learning during the pandemic, they have adapted to newer learning tools. COVID-19 has indeed forced us to relook at workplace learning offered by corporates.


How has the Learning and Development function in organisations responded to the crisis? Organisations that utilised digital learning platforms have transitioned fairly easily to virtual learning. Professional services firms, IT/ITES, and global firms across all sectors fall in this category. Firms with a bigger national footprint, or those that have recently expanded, are making a slower transition from the traditional instructor-led formats to virtual learning. Rajiv Krishnan, Managing Director, Korn Ferry Advisory Business, believes, “Firms which invested heavily in infrastructure for instructor-led training, which includes corporate learning centres modelled after Crotonville and the like, are now having to re-think their approach. However, what impresses me is the remarkable speed with which firms are digitising in this aspect.” He further adds, “Organisations with evolved HR practices have handled this crisis very well. They quickly analysed best practices from countries which were affected earlier than India and had worked out their game plan a couple of weeks prior to the lockdown. The advantage of those few days was vital. Where employees could not be loaded effectively when away from work and working from home, detailed learning schedules were formed and also funded, so that employees could use their time wisely and benefit themselves and the organisation.”


Initially, most organisations tried to create a substitute for classroom learning on virtual platforms. Once this was achieved, organisations also tried to reinforce engagement and make productive use of spare time, through online courses and webinars. Tata Management Training Centre (TMTC), the learning arm of the Tata Group, has delivered over 50 webinars on various topics critical to business success and personal development during the lockdown. They have also launched the Tata Tomorrow University, the digital arm of TMTC, responsible for digital offerings. A Mckinsey report, Adapting workplace learning in the time of coronavirus, reaffirms organisations cannot push the pause button on capability building. As the world copes with the COVID-19 crisis, the Learning and Development function across companies is adapting to lead with innovative digital solutions, to engage a remote workforce and influence their working.


Josh Bersin Academy reports that there has been an increase in the consumption of online learning in most organisations. Companies have rapidly deployed workathome programmes, well-being, and mental health programmes to build positive thinking and alignment. With people forced to stay at home, they want to make use of this time to learn about the crisis, their jobs, and what they can do to stay ahead. Experts from the learning community believe that today’s way of learning will not be the only way to learn in the future. This period of experimentation and collaborative creativity will likely shape some lasting changes. Josh Bersin firmly believes that the pandemic has accelerated one of the biggest business transformations for many organisations. It is an economic and health crisis, but for many organisations, it is also an incredible opportunity to transform. As Josh Bersin has emphatically stated, “L&D is one of the heroes of this crisis.”


Adapting to the New Normal


While we can anticipate an unforgiving period in the short-tomid-term, Learning & Development will be under greater scrutiny to make a significant contribution. Businesses are looking up to learning leaders to help organisations adjust to the new normal. Many believe that there is a real opportunity for learning teams to rise to the multiple challenges the pandemic has created. Let us examine some of the changes that we can anticipate in the Learning space in the days to come.


Prashant Pandey, Country Manager, Right Management, says, “Learning and Development needs to reimagine its “ Digital Version” and see where all they can add value.” He further adds, “Learning Events will change in duration. Days will become hours. Small learning capsules or nuggets will be popular. We will see uberization of learning and development.” From a learner’s perspective, Prashant anticipates a big change in the mindset of the learner. They will now be more aware and concerned about keeping themselves relevant in the hyper-dynamic talent landscape. Hence, there will now be a ‘pull’ factor (demand) for good content. This will also put a lot of pressure on content creators. If content fails to get the learner’s attention fast, the learner will move on. Instruction Design principles will now become critical. Also, companies with strong cultures and desire to place learning and people at the heart of what they do have a much higher chance of success.


For Dr Shalini Lal, Co-Founder, Unqbe, this pandemic has been the true accelerator for many L&D organisations. Organisations have demonstrated agility, and there are many lessons to be learnt during this crisis. She believes, “Sharply personalised learning recommendations (like Netflix) and intuitive technology will gain prominence in the days to come.” Kartik Mehrotra, Knolskape, adds, “The need to suddenly shift to work from home and the related barriers to communication and  relationships has given Capability Development experts the chance to prove the relevance of virtual and self-learning tools and technologies.” Learning and development teams must seem to understand how these experiences have changed (or not), how their colleagues engage with the digital ecosystem, and what implications this has for the relevance of their offer.


Also, the crisis is pushing the L&D function to rethink and reframe its true value and relevance to the business. It makes us ask, “why do we do what we do?” Dr. Pramod Solanki, Founder, Performance Enablers, says, “We need to ask questions as to the outcome that we are trying to achieve. For long, the Learning and Development function has been activity-oriented, instead of looking at metric around business outcomes. L&D needs to get aligned to what the business and people require.” In essence, the proof of impact will become a hard, inescapable requirement.

There has been a sudden rise in digital learning providers.



As more and more learners latch on to the bandwagon, there is a risk of being bombarded with anything and everything resulting in ‘digital dumping ground of content’.



Organisations need to be watchful and identify what is purposeful and intentional and offer the same to the learners. This pandemic is an opportunity to realign L&D from cost centre to organisational value creator.


The Way Forward



Those who pivot towards datadriven decision-making, experimentation, and agile solutions will prove their worth and are more likely to contribute to what their organisation will be trying to achieve under extremely testing circumstances



Those waiting for things to ‘get back to normal’ and run courses supplemented by elearning and generic content will struggle – both to convince their employers and make any difference at all.


There is a new demand for Agility. Whether the employees in the organisation are engaged in a digital or physical learning environment, the key focus should be to put the learner at the centre of the interaction, aligning user needs, and learning styles with business requirements. The catch now is to be optimistic that this new way of learning must lead to more substantial changes in behaviour and adoption of online learning, once things normalise. This is an amazing opportunity for the Learning community to show their true value, and once we are on the other side of the crisis, organisations do not feel the need or compulsion to go back to their ‘old ways’, but make a well-informed decision of choosing best of both worlds.


We need to decide the manner in which L&D will change owing to the COVID19 pandemic. And this crisis has created an environment which can either viewed as terrifying or thrilling. The way forward for us is completely dependent on what we do with what we have learned. L&D will have to reflect, rethink and re-engineer.




Dr. Manavi Pathak is Head - Talent & Leadership Development at Trent. She has professional expertise in area of Talent Management, Learning, Leadership Development & Executive Coaching. She has extensive experience in leadership and consultancy with global industry players across industries, PSUs and education/ social sector. She has been associated with Human Capital for the last 10 years.


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