Letter from Italy

By Federico Amicucci, Managing Partner of skilla

‘L&D in the time of Covid-19’ part 2 

Previously, I wrote about how the changing demand for eLearning in the UK was following the trajectory of Italy’s online learning scene, and as I write this, it seems that it continues to do so. 

Our team in the UK have reported that the initial reaction of companies was to work to produce content that taught digital skills quickly to employees who could work from home, and content that consolidated on-the-job skillsets for those who were unable to work due to the Covid-19 restrictions, just as it happened in Italy. 

As the UK is now in mitigation phase 3, looking towards recovery, Italy is entering phase 4 with the majority of lockdown restrictions having been lifted. Obviously, as recent news from Spain shows, there is no room for complacency. In terms of eLearning trends, therefore, I thought it might be useful to provide an update on the situation here, to give an idea of where the UK may be heading.

eLearning as a systemic solution

At first glance, the most noticeable change from two months ago is that eLearning has stopped being a stop-gap ‘emergency solution’, and become a desired ‘systemic solution’. To begin with, companies were scrambling to pivot from face-to-face to virtual learning, development and management, and needed to learn how to produce eLearning content, as well as how to function as a remote organisation in general.

As organisations grow more accustomed to this ‘new normal’, and can operate more efficiently and coherently online, they’ve turned their attention towards the quality of virtual learning on offer. An unfortunate and unintended consequence of pursuing eLearning as an ‘emergency’ solution was that businesses became inundated with low-quality, “quick-fix” content. 

The main priority of learning providers was to convert their successful face-to-face and blended training to 100% online, not necessarily to make it perfect. As a result, companies based here in Italy noticed that many employees, who were more used to classroom learning and preferred it as a result, weren’t engaging with eLearning. To them, it was boring and a poor substitute for the training they would get when they return to the office.

Counteracting this face-to-face replacement tendency, the demand for engaging and high-quality virtual learning content shot up. We, and other L&D professionals we’ve spoken to, feel a responsibility to provide high quality, fit for purpose eLearning that will make the online experience the experience of choice for learners, even if/when offices open again. 

The (learning) revolution will be multimedia

To get learners engaged, we wanted to look beyond the new default of video conferencing systems. Companies need to understand how to make and share engaging content, without being forced to dive too deeply into their wallets. 

Training the trainer, that is, teaching L&D staff how to produce great content online, is the way to ensure that your digital learning solutions can continue to engage and reach your workforce, even as they continue to upskill in all matters digital. Furthermore, businesses need to understand that good eLearning does not require a giant budget – the content doesn’t need to be overly flashy and laden with special effects, it just needs to be presented in a way that gets the continued attention of its diverse viewers. The ability to present andragogically sound content in multiple media makes an appreciable difference. 

For example, as part of our multimedia approach, we looked for inspiration from the medium that can always get people glued to their screen: the humble television. TV shows consistently pull in audiences of every demographic, so we wanted to try and apply that formula to digital learning, to see if we could keep both younger and older learners entertained and interested in what we taught. 

Our first run at this has been aimed at helping companies facing the problem I described above: they want better quality online resources so that employees continue to utilise them in the months and years following the end of the lockdown period. We ran the Exploring eLearning: Digital Edition (our major eLearning event) as a TV-style event with 35 speakers (and hired a film director to direct it), to help people understand that good eLearning exists, and, more importantly, it can be achieved with a limited budget. And I’m pleased to report it was a great success! Over 1,000 people signed up to Exploring eLearning: Digital Edition and to watch the event, proving in its own right the power of TV studio-based approach to learning content.

As Covid-19 continues to make eLearning an essential part of standard business practice, the demand for engaging and high-quality content is rising. More and more, I’m seeing that the virus and the lockdown it caused have accelerated the differences between those who have prepared to move learning online, and those who have not: the latter are left to play catch-up to those who have spent up to 20 years laying the groundwork for virtual teaching!