L&D’s challenges in the hybrid workspace

There are problems for learning and development in the post-pandemic, increasingly green world of work as Wendy Edie explores

In just a couple of years, the learning and development (L&D) industry has changed radically – to suit the needs of a changing, increasingly flexible, workplace and workforce. 

Today’s workplace now includes co-worker spaces, drop-in spaces for virtual organisations and biophilic design. This latter term refers to the concept of increasing occupant connectivity to the natural environment through, directly or indirectly, introducing ‘nature’ into the workplace. Used on both an individual building and city-scale, this idea aims to offer health, environmental and economic benefits for occupants of buildings and urban environments. 

This is in response to several issues. Workers are returning to offices – albeit not necessarily full-time anymore – as organisations and societies emerge from the Covid19 pandemic. In addition, climate change is fuelling the green agenda. Among other things, this promotes more flexible working and aims to reduce the carbon negative costs associated with business travelling, including face-to-face L&D activities. 

The economy needs both a skills system and a labour market that are more agile, proactive, responsive and resilient than ever before

Producing an agile workforce committed to lifelong learning is the best way for businesses to thrive as climate change forces the adoption of net zero-aligned technologies and business practices.

To meet net zero targets, the economy needs both a skills system and a labour market that are more agile, proactive, responsive and resilient than ever before. It’s important to focus on helping learners embrace the coming changes to industry, job roles and society by, among other things, embedding life-long learning, problem solving capabilities, adaptability and resilience. 

These skills can be grouped into the three broad categories of self-management (focusing, integrity, adapting, initiative); social intelligence (communicating, feeling, collaborating, leading), and innovation (curiosity, creativity, sense-making, critical thinking). 

Other issues, including an ageing population allied to a growing understanding of equality and diversity in the workplace, put pressure on HR and L&D departments to make recruitment, selection, L&D and related activities more relevant and accessible to all. In response, while organisations are becoming increasingly open to adopting 
technology-enabled blended learning solutions, this is challenging L&D professionals’ skillsets as never before – on both tactical and strategic levels.

Recent research illustrates a basic, tactical challenge to L&D professionals. It has found that, in a typical workplace, the standard Wi-Fi router – designed to handle up to five connections – is now tending to cope with the demands of at least ten PCs/laptops, eight smartphones, two printers and a couple of other peripherals such as external hard drives or a security camera. Where digital learning delivery is concerned, learners need fast, reliable internet connections – so this state-of-affairs poses challenges when, in addition, learners and L&D professionals need a constant connection to upload files. In response, eLearning market leaders are beginning to offer on- and off-line delivery of learning materials, synchronising learning and assessment. Some technology companies, such as Google and Microsoft, have introduced offline extensions to their products as they recognise the changing business and education world – thereby opening-up opportunities for organisations in areas that were previously unreachable by technology.

On a strategic level, workers’ growing use of learning and performance support materials, at various times, from a variety of sources and via various delivery methods, is putting pressure on L&D professionals. They have to manage and monitor all these development activities, as well as curate and recommend appropriate materials for an increasingly disparate, hybrid workforce.

These practical issues pose challenges for L&D professionals as they curate, deliver and manage this blended approach, while also keeping learners’ training records accurate. Setting aside practical issues for the moment, in the current circumstances it’s important to take a strategic approach to L&D activities – and to facilitate these activities via technology. 

The key to designing, identifying and delivering impactful learning is undertaking needs analyses to select an L&D approach that aligns with your organisation’s goals and overall strategy. Moreover, as today’s increasingly hybrid workforce consumes learning materials at various times, using a variety of sources and delivery methods, L&D professionals should have access to a competent learning management system (LMS) and, perhaps, a learning experience platform (LXP) to help them manage and monitor these disparate learning activities.

An LMS should support blended learning, including letting learners to book exams and competence assessments via the platform; help learners engage in Communities of Practice and forums to share best practices, and allow learners to share ideas. 

In addition, as more organisations are looking to take their L&D increasingly online, it’s important to consider the needs of all learners and ensure that, when it comes to L&D, no discrimination occurs. In other words – at simplest – L&D professionals must ensure that no would-be learners face discrimination through being unable to access their preferred learning materials online. 

The most recent regulation requires, as a minimum, for online delivery to meet level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG2.1). Moreover, content must work on most assistive technologies, including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools. 

The message from the Covid19 pandemic seems to be that it’s important for organisations to be ready to adapt their L&D delivery methods and to adopt technology-delivered learning materials – at least as part of a blended learning delivery strategy. The organisations that have thrived in recent times are those that have fully embraced technology and seen the benefits of online delivery prior to being forced to work in that way. 

In L&D terms, the current focus seems to be on how L&D professionals can successfully deliver both in-person and online L&D to suit learner needs. Other current focuses are on creating L&D content that’s accessible for all, regardless of ability, means or resources. Whoever the learner is – regardless of their accessibility issues, whether those be technological or personal – that person’s learning experience should be equable. This principle should remain constant, regardless of changing circumstances, technologies or fashions.

Wendy Edie is managing director of eCom Learning Solutions 


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