Has the UK pandemic signalled the end of the digital learning debate?

Claudine Charles looks at the future of post-pandemic blended learning.

For years, learning practitioners have participated, or at least observed debates throughout the industry comparing the virtues of in-person learning to virtual learning. The latter of which for many years, never embedded itself into many organisations. Cue Covid-19 and it was impossible for any practitioner to avoid virtual or digital learning.

With most lockdown restrictions ending on July 19 and our Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalling a gradual return to work, as employees will no longer be asked to work from home, what impact will this have on learning in the workplace? Will the gradual return to the workplace initiate the return to mainly face-to-face learning?

The pandemic has changed our working landscape irrevocably, As organisations were forced to pivot to virtual learning, many will continue that trend. The world of work is changing and the future for many involves a more flexible hybrid model – and employees will demand this. 

Many employees got over the initial challenges that work from home presented and successfully achieved a better work-life balance, and that permeated into how they learned.

The world of work is changing and the future for many involves a more flexible hybrid model – and employees will demand this. 

Reasons to maintain the learning boom

Employers and employees alike globally can reap the benefits of virtual learning over the past few years, as it’s become part of business as usual.  Along with improvements to employee work-life balance, there are notable tons of other benefits such as:

  • Improved accessibility and convenience
  • Increased learning inclusion and diversity
  • Cost-effectiveness as learning can be delivered in larger groups
  • Time-efficient, as virtual learning sessions are shorter
  • Increased employee connectivity in global organisations
  • Increased learning retention (25 – 60%) compared with (10- 20%) for face-to-face learning according to experts


Emerging learning trends in the post-Covid era

So as employees return to the workplace and other organisations adopt more flexible working practices and hybrid working models, what will emerge in its place? Flexible learning in its truest sense, as it’s not a new term, but something that we could never truly introduce in our old world confined to office buildings. 

Five trends will surely emerge and many of them are not new but they will include:

  • Good old face-to-face and in-person learning – will always be there and based on learning preferences and necessity of learning transfer
  • Virtual learning events – with increased learning participation and engagement using effective learning methods and digital learning add-ons such as polls and quizzes
  • Reverse ‘classrooms’ – where learners complete the educational content upfront before using a virtual or a face-to-face context for practical application and further discussion
  • Self-directed learning – reflecting how people live and learn in our natural environment, think YouTube where learning practitioners are responsible for curating content and nudging learners to relevant content
  • Blended learning programs – have always worked well but even those programs can incorporate more flexibility to make them even more accessible and preferable to learners

What does this mean for learning practitioners?

Building an organisational learning culture that introduces more flexibility creates the need for more expertise, a diversity of learning job roles and it will increase the required competence of learning practitioners such as:

  • Effective learning operational management – one of the bedrock skills of learning practitioners but it will be required on a complex scale especially within integrated global organisations with centralised learning functions.
  • Learning reactive design skills – although being reactive is not sustainable, practitioners should have the necessary learning skills to respond and become engrossed in the design process especially around critical learning gaps.
  • Effective learning curation – alongside learning design skills, understanding what good looks like to curate and develop learning solutions will be required.
  • Relationship management – always a key skill especially when working with senior stakeholders but practitioners can utilise this skill even more to submerge and integrate themselves into their organisations to identify learning curators, learning champions and advocates, online facilitators and learning designers in the workforce.  Learning practitioners can truly partner and have a drone view of the emerging trends within the workforce and diminish any information bottlenecks.

These changes of course, take time; resource; expertise; advocacy and involves changing learning culture within many organisations but we are further along and its more realistic than it was several years ago.  As we emerge from the third wave of lockdown, we could argue that we are simultaneously ushering in the new flexible way of learning. 

So, regardless of what learning practitioners prefer in terms of learning formats; more choice and virtual learning will be an ongoing trend especially in mature organisations who can fund and sustain it. Research shows that the global elearning market was predicted to surpass $250bn in 2020 and its anticipated to grow by 21% between 2021 and 2027.

What will drive and sustain this? Many experts have suggested that the market growth of digital learning will be influenced by VR, cloud-based LMS and AI but these predictions and technologies have been in place and prophesised as drivers for years. 

As with all evolutions, chaos such as political upheavals and this pandemic will lead to creativity and new changes, and this will be driven by the people. Even if many employees go back into the workplace full-time, digital and virtual learning will stay as it saves time, money and for many leads to better learning outcomes.


About the author

Claudine Charles is Founder and Director, Blended Learning Studio.



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