Learning to play the banjo. Brushing up on your second or
third language. Trying new recipes from all those cookbooks gathering dust.
These and countless other examples are the kind of learning people are
undertaking from home during this time of COVID-19 coronavirus social
Even with more entertainment options than ever—from endless
television streaming to second- generation board games, and much more—humans
have a very strong desire to learn, both to improve themselves and as boredom
relief valve. And we don’t stop being human in this way while at work.
The Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity
by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) has consistently found that promoting
a strong organizational learning culture correlates to stronger market
performance, increased employee engagement, and importantly—especially during
times like this—stronger organizational agility.
Leading organizations have been following the steps to build
a learning culture outlined in i4cp’s
Strategic Guide to Building a Learning Culture, developed in partnership
with Upskill America.
But even in organizations with the strongest learning
cultures, one element is often missing to take full advantage: time. There is a
tension between short-terms goals and productivity and the time needed to learn
new skills for use in the future. This tension ebbs and flows for each
individual throughout the year, but the scarcest commodity in the equation is
constant, as all activity—administrative, creative, learning, and more requires
For some, the current COVID-19 coronavirus period means they
are busier than ever. Some are on the front lines, helping to fight the disease
or coordinate the efforts of others. Some have needed to shift how they work
while still working—akin to upgrading their car while driving down the highway.
And leaders are generally working overtime to support all of these efforts, while
also supporting their other group of employees: those who suddenly have lots of
time on their hands (but have not been laid off or furloughed).
With the first few weeks of adjustment now past, many organizations
have a massive opportunity in front of them: upskilling. This is fortunate given
technology trends demanding significant upskilling and reskilling today or just
around the corner from the rapid increase in the use of advanced work
automation including AI, machine learning, robotics, etc. In 2019 i4cp
found a significant capability gap (knowledge, skills, etc.) due to these
technologies looming for many organizations, with only 16% of survey participants
indicating their organizations have focused upskilling/reskilling programs to
close this capability gap.
While the benefits of and need for upskilling are easy to
understand, finding the time to do something about it has been a challenge. Now,
whether employees have 30%, 50%, or all of their time available, they can use
this COVID-19 period to gain new knowledge and skills and set up both themselves and their organizations for a prosperous
future. In short, the time afforded for some employees to focus on upskilling
is an important silver lining to the otherwise awful cloud of the COVID-19
Learning and Development Can be Heroes
Everyone can be a hero at work at some point: CFOs and
accountants during a financial crisis, IT professionals during a data hack, and
maintenance staff during a plumbing fiasco. While some savvy managers might
jump on upskilling opportunities for their team members, the more impactful
approach will be for learning and development professionals to step up and be
heroes to their organizations.
i4cp has created many resources on upskilling (see Soft
Skills Upskilling Planning Guide, Rotation
Programs as Upskilling Strategies, Digital
Upskilling at Scale, and more), but here are some considerations specific
to the current COVID-19 time period:
- Cross-training. A great way to promote
upskilling and reskilling is to leverage the people with the desired skills as
teachers or coaches, as it not only leads to skill transfer but can often
further sharpen the skills of the expert. Doing this within social distancing
constraints can be a challenge, but many demonstrations can be done with six
feet of space between participants, and others can be conducted over video
- User-generated content. Subject matter experts
can record procedure steps or their expert commentary on a topic using their
smartphone, and then post that to the relevant LMS, LXP, or other learning or
collaboration platform. Such videos can then be consumed as learners have time,
asynchronously and thus at no risk from person-to-person proximity. (See also Is
the Coronavirus Driving User-Generated Learning Content?)
- Lunch-n-Learns. A tried-and-true approach
to informally sharing knowledge, the lunch-n-learn meeting can continue even
with social distancing. If in-person, take a page from the White House’s press
conferences and have attendees sit several seats a part in the audience. Or for
employees working remotely, gather on your favorite video conferencing
platform, encourage attendees to bring their lunch (stay on mute!), and have
presentations, panels, or open discussions as appropriate to the topic.
- E-Learning from the LMS or LXP. While poor-quality
content is one reason for low utilization rates for self-paced e-learning, the
biggest reason is employees simply lacking time. Enter COVID-19, and some
employees now have the time to explore all that your learning management system
(LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP) has to offer. Organizations that
have already created individual development plans (IDPs) and curated learning
paths will be ahead of those who are now scrambling to do so. One place to
start for many is a focus on remote work, virtual leadership, and the
technologies increasingly in use to support these trends—see LinkedIn
Learning’s set of 16 free programs on these topics.
- Virtual Classroom Training. Organizations
that have already created virtual classroom programs or converted several
instructor-led programs (ILT) to be virtual instructor-led (vILT), will be
ahead here as well. While formal training is a small percentage of the learning
that occurs at most organizations, it can be particularly important for
upskilling or reskilling when the need is to provide new baseline skills or
teach a cohort of learners some adjacent skills to what they already know. Many
organizations have already looked at their classroom training portfolio and
prioritized which programs their instructional designers and trainers should
redesign and then deliver leveraging their virtual classroom platform. This is
also a great opportunity to re-evaluate lengthy formal training programs and
determine if some of that content doesn’t not be delivered synchronously (live
with other participants and an instructor) at all, and could instead of
provided as e-Learning modules, performance support materials, etc.
Politician Rahm Emanuel once said “You never let a serious
crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things
you think you could not do before.” Organizations that can do so should marshal
resources creatively during this unprecedented time, with learning and
development professionals leading the way to focus on upskilling wherever possible.
Those that do will not only see the direct benefits of added skills, but also
long-range effects in the forms of engagement, employee retention, and overall
strengthening and reinforcement of the learning culture boost.
encourage you to visit i4cp.com/coronavirus for other employer resources including discussion forums, next
practices, useful resources, and more.