Four Ways to Upskill and Reskill in the Coronavirus Era
Virtual Learning, Simulation, and Virtual Reality
In a recent Gartner survey, 68% of HR executives placed building skills and competencies as their #1 priority for 2021. Given the likelihood that we will still be working remotely and avoiding such things as crowded classrooms or face-to-face coaching, how will organizations skill, reskill, or upskill their workforce?
Prior to this pandemic’s disruption, most corporate learning, if it existed at all, was traditional and was primarily one-way from the teacher to the student with little opportunity for feedback, questioning, or deep discussion. Even on-line programs were video lectures with PowerPoint slides. Many organizations eliminated or significantly reduced training and development over the past few decades to save money or because it seemed more cost-effective to simply hire the talent they needed. This has left them with little capability to develop their employees or fill-in skills gaps quickly.
But suddenly training and development have become important and the traditional ways to deliver training have become obsolete. Every institution, from public schools to universities to the corporation, is grappling with how to provide people with new or better skills. Most are using online platforms such as Zoom, Microsft Teams, Google Hangouts because they are ubiquitous and familiar. They allow an instructor to deliver training - but unfortunately, by only doing what was done in the classroom. The classes are still instructor to student and are often boring, too long, and ineffective. There are other technology platforms that deliver and enhance training. Since the advent of the Coronavirus these proprietary learning management platforms such as Skyprep, Docebo, and Litmos, which offer learning-specific functionality such as testing and tracking, have grown explosively (see Figure 1 below).
But there are other ways to provide employees with the necessary skills that are more immersive and effective.
There are learning methods that have been around for centuries and can be adapted to the virtual world.
Virtual Apprenticeships & Internships
Apprenticeships are powerful and were the mainstay of the 18th-century education. They directly couple a learner with an expert and place an expectation on both of producing performance.
Even today, thousands of skills are learned this way. Almost all manual skills, including running machinery, operating vehicles, handling chemicals, working in laboratories, or even learning to be a physician, are acquired through apprenticeships. Psychiatrists, priests, and army generals learn most of what they know by practicing under the eyes of an expert who guides them, tweaks performance, and provides instant performance feedback.
Today apprenticeships can be very effectively delivered by using simulations, virtual reality, and live video with feedback from an online expert.
Even management and leadership can be learned online through apprenticeships, practice sessions, and simulations. The classroom has never been a good place to learn leadership and is never a substitute for actually leading people and dealing with the day-to-day issues and concerns that people have. Through online feedback and simulations, leaders get a far more realistic learning experience.
Internships have also moved to the virtual world. Many university students are now participating in a virtual internship where they work on a project with a remote team. Internships can be widely focused on everything from marketing and communications to sales and coding.
Virtual worlds, simulations, and augmented reality are now emerging as primary ways to offer apprenticeships and internships safely and remotely. Emerging technology platforms for virtual apprenticeships include VirtualApprentice and Acadium.
Online and Informal learning
We learn the vast majority of what we know informally- without apprenticeships, textbooks, or teachers. We figure things out our own way; we ask questions; we find resources to tap into, such as Wikipedia or the Internet itself.
Eager learners reach out to others, often called crowdsourcing these days, to learn what they need to know. They also tap into their social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn for advice, guidance, and practical information.
The Internet has opened new dimensions to learning and made accessing information and facts easy. It has also made it possible to catalog all sorts of things: videos, movies, books, reports, letters, memos, drawings, and so forth, which can be tapped to provide the information and learning needed to achieve a goal.
Independent learners naturally gravitate toward the Internet, and Google is said to be the biggest teacher. Google is an “all-knowing being” who can provide magical answers. To be the most effective, even online search results need to be validated and mentored but the results do fill many learning needs.
Educators and corporate training folks can create curated portals to help direct employees to the best sources for relevant learning. Trainers can act as online advisors or coaches to lead discussions and provide additional advice or coaching.
Mentoring and Coaching
Mentoring is an informal apprenticeship, and because of that, is significantly different. With apprenticeship comes an element of performance mastery: each party is expected to play a role in building capability and performance. Mentoring is much less formal and implies a casual exchange of ideas, loose guidance, and even friendship.
Mentors are transmitters of wisdom and experience often gained by years of practice or just living. There is nothing formal in a mentoring relationship.
Coaching is a bit more formal with an expectation that there will be learning or performance improvement as a result.
Mobile Apps & Social Learning
One of the emerging trends is for organizations to use their internal communication tools and communities for sharing experiences and learning. Expert or knowledgable employees share their experiences, provide immediate guidance or answer questions, using existing tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.
There are also dozens of mobile apps, as well, that teach everything from languages to leadership.
There are apps for learning coding, engineering, math, accounting, and much more. Check out Coursera, EdX, or ITunes U, or even LinkedIn Learning for serious courses. A little exploring will open a multitude of learning opportunities.
Wise training professionals will understand that the enduring core of learning is finding ways to transfer knowledge, experience, and wisdom quickly and when needed. Their job is to make sure that there are a variety of tools and ways to learn that are not dependent on formal instruction, classrooms, or training departments.
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