The Future of eLearning Post-Pandemic

What is the future of eLearning? Businesses learned many lessons by going through a pandemic, and one of them is the importance of having a well-designed eLearning system in place for leaders and staff. The business environment can change quickly, and companies that were prepared to address unforeseen circumstances in a way that enabled people to quickly adapt and remain productive were in a much better position to survive difficult economic times and remain in a strong position to move into the post-pandemic future.  

Combine this with the fact that employees at all levels are more computer-savvy and comfortable with mobile communication via smartphones and laptops. The continual development and utilization of new technologies and the future of eLearning are clear. eLearning post-pandemic will be the primary means of keeping on-site and remote employees informed, trained, productive and satisfied, which keeps the organization adaptable, flexible, innovative, and capable of achieving long-term success. In other words, eLearning is an employee engagement tool

What is eLearning? 

There are various definitions for eLearning, but they all have common concepts. eLearning is training, learning, education, and communication delivered online via a computer or mobile device and uses various technologies. In the business environment, eLearning can serve many purposes, including but not limited to: 

  • Leadership training 
  • Informing employees about things like benefits and assisting them with making good choices 
  • Reinforcing the reasons to stay union-free 
  • Onboarding new hires, which includes introducing the organizational culture 
  • Imparting job niche-specific knowledge 
  • Reskilling employees as job requirements change 
  • Upskilling employees for advancement  

 Whew! That makes eLearning sound ideal, and in most ways, it is because it offers what people and businesses need in the age of technology to be successful. The COVID-19 pandemic was a tragedy, but like most disasters, some good things can emerge. People are now more familiar and accepting of online learning delivery and virtual communication and collaboration with peers and business leaders. Employees are developing new learning habits and more readily taking new approaches needed to adapt to a changing workforce. The issue going forward is how on-site, remote, deskless workers and field workers will remain motivated and able to learn new skills.  

what is elearning

Importance of eLearning in 2021 and Beyond

Peter Senge said, “A learning organization is an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future.” That definition alone explains the importance of eLearning. If not nearly impossible, it’s difficult to continually expand workforce capacity without eLearning because it’s accessible to everyone without regard to location and is affordable, scalable, efficient, measurable, and effective.  

eLearning took on new importance in 2020 due to the pandemic forcing many new hires and current employees to work from home. Now it’s 2021, and eLearning continues to grow in importance to business success. A Gallup study found that employee development can have a significant impact on employee and business long-term health. Organizations that strategically invested in employee development experienced 11 percent greater profitability and were twice as likely to retain employees.  

Following are some of the top reasons that eLearning is essential in 2021 and beyond. In reading these reasons, keep in mind that each reason concerns developing positive employee relations through deep employee engagement

Leadership Training 

Projections, Inc. addressed the pros and cons of online leadership training, and the pros far outweigh the cons. As technology continues to advance, the cons boil down more to the business lacking understanding of how to structure the eLearning for leaders to get the highest ROI on investment. For example, a company chooses a one-size-fits-all leadership training program instead of choosing new leadership content each month based on training needs, like motivating a remote workforce or enhancing cultural sensitivity. 

Onboarding  

The onboarding process is not just an information sharing and culturalization process. It’s also a “first impression” process and making a good first impression sets the right tone for the employee, which in turn will increase employee retention. An effective eLearning onboarding program offers employees a roadmap for success. eLearning allows for more in-depth, customized, and self-paced learning interestingly and cost-effectively.  

eLearning allows for more in-depth, customized, and self-paced learning -- and it's cost-effective, too! #eLearning #leadershiptraining Click To Tweet

Upskilling for Job Automation 

As the author of New Frontiers in Re-Skilling and Upskilling discusses, upskilling requires learning skills in newer, deeper ways when a routine job is automated. In one example provided, a bank teller becomes a cross-selling ambassador for the bank. Building job-related social skills requires an immersive learning experience and plenty of opportunities to practice. The bank used a virtual reality avatar as a difficult customer that employees could interact with, providing provides feedback, AI-driven conversation, measurements of progress, but most importantly, an opportunity to practice across different contexts.   

Meeting a Variety of Employee Needs for Higher Retention  

Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker Survey: Is This Working? A Year In, Workers Adapting to Tomorrow’s Workplace found that 1-out-of-4 employees plan on looking for new jobs after the pandemic has subsided. For 80 percent of these employees, it’s concerns about career growth, and for 72 percent, it’s due to rethinking their skill sets. Employees don’t believe they are learning new skills, especially due to the acceleration of technological adoption.  

Rob Falzon, Prudential’s Vice Chair, says, “Leaders must be focused on cultivating thriving cultures of internal mobility, prioritizing continuous learning, and delivering robust benefits to support their workers.” Employers who cultivate cultures reflecting the things most important to workers, like remote work options, flexible work arrangements, opportunities for career development, mobility, and comprehensive benefits, will be the employers of choice in the talent war. eLearning plays a central role in every aspect. 

future of eLearning

Train and Develop Remote Workforce 

The same Prudential survey found that 87 percent of American workers who worked remotely during the pandemic want to continue working remotely at least one day a week in the future. For all workers, 68 percent indicated a hybrid workplace model is ideal. The remote workforce, including field workers and deskless workers, will remain a significant percentage of the post-pandemic workforce. eLearning is the best way to keep the remote workforce trained and engaged. By the way, the World Economic Forum’s research found businesses will significantly expand remote work in the future with a potential of up to 44 percent of the workforce to work remotely.   

Learn by Working  

According to a World Economic Forum (WEF) survey, 94 percent of business leaders expect employees to pick up new skills on the job. The top skills expected to rise in prominence moving forward to 2025 include critical thinking, analysis, problem-solving, and self-management skills like resilience, active learning, stress tolerance, and flexibility. The WEF found a 5-fold increase in online learning opportunities for employees with a larger emphasis on personal development courses.   

Develop Foundational Skills to Fill Open Positions Internally  

As discussed in the MIT Sloan Management Review article on the post-pandemic workforce learning needs, An Emerging Landscape of Skills for All, 40% of employees will require reskilling in six months or less. This includes workers in lower-paid jobs or frontline workers.  

Gateway jobs are positions people work in and then leverage to move up. They include jobs like customer service and sales that lead to higher-paying jobs. The employees who do move up have this in common. They developed foundational skills like listening, communication, empathy, judgment, and decision making and needed these skills to utilize technical skills. In turn, companies increased the ability to fill open jobs with internal people. 

High-Performance Development   

As Gallup data analysis on areas of employee development demonstrated, new approaches are required to create a high-performance workplace during a crisis and in the post-crisis years. It optimizes employee engagement and productivity in a future environment.  

The most effective interventions amplify human development. In a high-development workplace, performance is not “managed.” Instead, the workplace responds to workforce needs, empowers people to belong to a collaborative group with the same mission in mind, sets clear expectations, and provides a description of exceptional employee performance in each role and on each team. eLearning can once again play an important role in delivering the empowering training and information employees need on a regular basis, providing continuous learning on a personalized learning path. 

Staying Union-Free 

Staying union-free will be increasingly difficult in the future as the current federal administration, a union-friendly National Labor Relations Board, and the push to pass legislation like the PRO Act support and encourage union activity. Maintaining positive employee relations (PER) is crucial to keeping unions out. A key component of PER is meeting employee needs, and eLearning is focused on doing just that.   

Transfer of Knowledge  

The Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of Baby Boomers were retired as of September 2020, and more retired in the preceding 12 months than had retired in prior years. From 2019 to 2020, the number of retiring Boomers increased by 3.2 percent, and before that, the number since 2012 never went above 2.5 percent. 

Of course, Covid-19 job losses may be a contributing factor, but the U.S. Census Bureau says that by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be 65 years old or older. The transfer of knowledge to younger generations is critical now and in the coming years, and eLearning can manage the transfer in a way they appreciate – utilizing technology. 

What Makes eLearning Successful?  

The eLearning global market is expected to grow to more than $370 billion by the year 2026 (the future is here!). Certain features are essential to ensuring the future of eLearning investments produces the desired results. They include the following characteristics.  

Relevant to employees – Before planning an eLearning program, it’s important to first understand the end-users. An eLearning program should have relevance and specific and measurable goals. eLearning programs are offered to employees in many organizations but lack the connection between current employee needs and training and development. The missing link is due to the fact the training and development courses are not regularly updated for organizational changes.  

Accessibility – Learning programs should be accessible to all employees – remote and mobile workers, field workers, and deskless workers. A survey by the Brandon Hall Group, Transitioning to the New Realities of the Covid-19 Experience (2020), summarized by the sales training company Allego with permission, reports only 52 percent of organizations surveyed said they were ready for a remote workforce from a technology standpoint. 

Interactive – Dry videos are not engaging. Employees expect more today. One of the many success stories of the Projections’ team is the development of an engaging animated, interactive training module for Trader Joe’s, the specialty grocery store chain, on OSHA-compliant safety practices for employees. The interactive eLearning solution uses a humorous theme that improves employee information retention of information while engaging viewers in significant ways. Custom videos integrated into an interactive eLearning system are an impactful way to address various training needs, including employee orientation, process training, and benefits explanations. 

Content, Content, Content — One of the most important takeaways from the many statistics mentioned in the previous section is that eLearning content must be relevant and fulfill employee training and development needs. The ideal content trains employees for now and develops them for the future. People must be motivated to learn and fully engaged in order for eLearning to meet expectations.  

Easy to navigate and functional – Despite the fact the majority of people are digitally savvy today, they want to use easy-to-navigate eLearning websites and apps. They don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out how to utilize the programs.  

Links to critical documents: Include links to critical documents instead of just referencing them. For example, if an eLearning program communicates benefits, there should be links to company policies, enrollment forms, etc.  

Utilize a variety of engagement tools – eLearning is most engaging when it incorporates a variety of tools, including videos, podcasts, links to websites, question and answer, interactive role-play, downloadables, and other tools as they are developed.  

Balance with peer-to-peer learning: Learning and information sharing can take many forms. The company Degreed conducted a study and found that 55 percent of workers will ask their peers first about learning a new skill before asking their bosses.  

On the other hand, surveys have found that approximately 75 percent of employees consider collaboration and teamwork as important and critical skills for success. Incorporating peer-to-peer learning in eLearning finds the balance. Allow employees to communicate with and learn from each other to accelerate skills training while strengthening a collaborative culture.  

Make it on-demand: This is related to accessibility and may seem obvious, but eLearning should be on-demand. This ensures employees have every opportunity to access the training and development modules or programs when it best fits their schedule.  

elearning strategy

History and Trends 

The term eLearning originated in 1999, but eLearning principles have been around for a while. For example, in 1954, famed Harvard Professor BF Skinner invented the “teaching machine.” It was the first machine that enabled the administration of programmed instruction. The first computerized training program was PLATO-Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations used at the University of Illinois. In the 1970s, Britain’s Open University offered the first online learning system for students, and it was interactive.  

Now widely used in the business environment since the early 2000s, eLearning has evolved due to the regular introduction of new technologies. At the same time, the workforce needs to be changed, making ongoing skills training and knowledge sharing increasingly important. One of the advantages of eLearning courses is that they are cost-efficient compared to regularly hiring trainers and requiring workers to leave their jobs to attend a training session.  

They also deliver information in a standard, systematic and systemic way. For example, every employee is engaged, no matter where they are located, and learns the same information about the corporate culture. Some of the eLearning technology trends include, but are not limited to, the following. 

Microlearning (mLearning) – Microlearning is one of the top online learning future trends. It refers to the delivery of small learning units that are easy to digest. They are short content bursts of learning units or learning activities. The units can be things like quizzes, nudges, images or short videos, audio, or text. mLearning appeals to generations of employees who are used to the rapid delivery of information via the internet and mobile technology. The drawback is that mLearning is really only good for delivering simple information. However, it could also become an important tool for improving information retention.  

Increased use of gamification: Though gamification is used now, it’s more sophisticated each year and will move towards becoming further embedded in eLearning. It is one type of differential training that is entertaining, immersive, and can recreate real-world situations for learning purposes.  

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – AI and ML in eLearning will analyze data to guide training courses based on employee interests, needs, patterns of behavior, and so on. The AI-based eLearning platform is so impressive that AI can also create solutions based on analyzing things like speech patterns. It will be able to act as a tutor and ask real-time questions, generate fresh content, query and respond in the appropriate language, enhance gamification and perform many other remarkable “human intelligence” functions. 

Augmented Reality (AR) – AR is an interactive experience in which objects in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information. It’s a blend of the physical and virtual worlds (think Pokémon Go). Employees can learn and practice new skills in a real-life setting. 

Virtual Reality (VR) – VR is increasingly used as an eLearning tool because it places employees in a virtual world where they can interact. It is particularly useful for training employees on skills that are difficult to learn in the real world, i.e., response training in the event of a disaster like a hazardous materials spill. 

Adaptive learning: Adaptive learning means the platform responds with content and questions based on user responses. This feature considers the needs of all employees. For example, an employee would start a course and submit responses, and the program decides to bring up the next lesson, provide more basic information, ask more questions, deliver more advanced information, etc.  

The Future of eLearning 

The future of eLearning is summed up in one word: technology. However, it’s important to always remember the eLearning technology trends are about helping employees and organizations succeed. Continued digital transformation will enable success in a constantly evolving business environment. eLearning post-pandemic will become a stronger employee engagement tool that enables organizations to meet workforce needs. It’s a win-win for all involved. 

 The truly amazing impact of eLearning is that it can do it all – strengthen employee communication and engagement, leadership skills development, help organizations build a positive culture, create a UnionProof culture, develop positive employee relations, and so much more. Projections, Inc. can help employers across industries develop, implement and manage the ideal eLearning system for their organizations. The future of eLearning is NOW!

About the Author Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a culture of engagement. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.

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