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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!

L&D in the time of COVID-19: which learning resources are in demand?

By Federico Amicucci

As a Managing Partner in skilla, a leading elearning supplier to organisations’ Learning and Development in both Italy and the UK, I’ve found myself in a prime position to observe how organisations are looking after their employees during the lockdown caused by Covid-19. In particular, I hear what L&D managers want to provide to most to their staff, who in turn have had no choice but to stay at home. In the working world there have been few times when sharing information and helping others has been so important, both for individuals, for society and for the economy, so I wanted to offer my insights into the learning and training challenges we are all facing, based on what’s happened over here in Italy. 

The demand for different courses in the UK seems to be following a similar trajectory to what we have seen in Italy. Though in terms of the number of cases of coronavirus, and preventative measures taken by its government, Italy has been 3-4 weeks ahead of the UK, the easing of lockdown in Italy is mirrored by the gradual relaxation of restrictions in the UK, albeit the latter at an earlier stage in the evolution of the pandemic (and with differences among the home nations). 

The UK put in place restrictive measures on 23 March. As we experienced in Italy, there was a mixed reception to the news. Whilst some people responded by rushing to supermarkets to stockpile essential items, some concerned companies reacted by suspending staff on-mass. Many companies had to accommodate colleagues dealing with childcare due to school closures and the logistics of managing the house-bound family for the duration of the lockdown, and this of course has had to take precedence over other considerations. Many of my colleagues are working shorter hours, particularly those with children whose grandparents may have been their primary source of childcare. This is perfectly natural and we, like other employers, have done everything we can to support them.

What happened next, though, was compelling, and this is what the UK has just begun to experience. Once domestic arrangements had been settled and colleagues were fully focussed once more on work, managers considered the business requirements of remote working, and how they needed to reorganise to optimise it. In Italy, HR managers saw a massive surge in demand for three types of courses, for different segments of the workforce:

  1. For colleagues on furlough who can’t physically work from home, organisations wanted to provide formal eLearning that consolidated skill sets, thereby ensuring that they are ready and able to return to work as soon as restrictions are lifted. 
  2. For those able to work from home, the demand for courses in digital skills shot up dramatically. Obviously, everyone needed to know how to access virtual networks and hubs, but also how to work remotely and coordinate work with other colleagues.
  3. Many companies wanted to provide ‘extra-curricular’ courses to workers too, like learning to cook or play an instrument. This was the most interesting trend, as it relates specifically to the unique circumstances created by the lockdown. Firstly, organisations wanted to keep spirits up in the workforce by offering stimulating content and creative alternatives to bingeing on TV shows. Secondly, the brain can be viewed as a muscle. You’ve got to keep exercising it with new learning opportunities, even if the learning isn’t work-related, in order to keep it stimulated. Organisations need to keep colleagues intellectually fit. 

These aren’t industry-specific trends. I’ve spoken to large companies such as luxury brand Gucci and telecommunications company Fastweb, and they all tend to ask for specific types of courses. However, I’ve recently received requests for courses that no-one was asking for 2 months ago. Our experience seems to be to some extent mirrored by recent UK trends, .

Much like the previous set of courses, there are three kinds of courses that are exploding in popularity:

  1. Wellbeing and work/life balance courses. Companies are noticing the toll remote working is taking on staff: being stuck at home, possibly on their own, with limited opportunities for healthy physical exercise. It can be draining for many. Having resources to teach them how to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy, to manage emotions and develop resilience will be crucial for many organisations in the coming weeks.
  2. Remote leadership courses. While at the start of this situation most organisations focused on technical practicalities to get everyone working online, leaders are now realising that managing a team remotely is very different from doing so face-to-face. They want courses that help them lead from behind the computer screen, and to establish a culture of trust and transparency in a world where tracking performance is tremendously difficult.
  3. ‘Smart working’ courses. Digital upskilling used to be a ‘nice thing to have’ in the workplace, but now it’s essential: partly for managers who want to know how to produce learning content quickly and run high-quality, educational webinars, and partly for those who don’t have the minimum required digital skills to function effectively in the online workspace. I’ve seen CEOs so used to having a personal assistant that they can’t even convert a Word document to a PDF!

Across the world, people and organisations are dealing with dramatic changes. Being ahead of the curve and cultivating a culture of agile leadership and supportive resource management, including digitalising large parts of their learning mix should enable organisations to operate with minimal drops in efficiency. However, even for the most vigilant amongst us, it would be prudent to prepare for a prolonged increase in interest in these three topics over the coming months, and we are seeing the list of in-demand courses expanding, of which more in a subsequent post!

Federico Amicucci is Managing Partner at skilla

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