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Exploring the virtual future of L&D

The world of work has gone virtual—and learning and development have had to quickly keep up.
By: | June 12, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

About a year ago, HR solutions provider Paychex started transitioning many of its learning and development programs to virtual settings. So, when the coronavirus pandemic forced American workplaces to transform nearly overnight, the company was ready.

“Within 24 hours, we had all of our training up and running virtually,” Jody Stolt, director of the Learning and Development Center at Paychex, said on a webinar moderated by HRE this week. “We already had the framework to do that.”

Transitioning from in-person to online training isn’t a simple endeavor, as many employers have learned in the last few months.

See also: How to take training virtual

Mike Mather, managing director of Human Capital Advisory at KPMG, noted that, while some organizations had implemented virtual programs before COVID-19, the new environment requires such initiatives are uniquely designed to minimize users’ time commitment, offer relevant content and are tailored to employees’ individual learning preferences.

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“We have to be putting our learning hats on and looking at how we’re enabling the workforce because we’ve lost that personal, physical side [of in-person L&D],” he said.

At Paychex, that meant offering engaging content, with attention to the learner experience.

It began its virtual-learning journey with the new-hire sales program, for which it grouped together cohorts of 10-15 new employees who went through the program together. Sessions were facilitated by a coach and, Stolt said, allowed for peer-to-peer learning.

Since then, it has incorporated mindfulness breaks into all virtual training—which encourage participants to explore their own space, focus on breathing or even go for a collective walk around their homes or offices. Learning is usually offered in blocks of less than 30 minutes, followed by an activity, largely gamification-driven. Paychex also created a just-in-time learning platform that allows users to ask questions and receive answers in real time. The organization has used podcast-type interviews of clients and business leaders, avatar interactions and clips of motivational speakers. It also aims to rely on a Netflix-like environment.

“We want [employees] to be pulling interesting content and learning as opposed to pushing it on them,” she said.

Such approaches allow employers to keep up with consumer trends, added David Barrett, chief commercial officer of Aon’s Assessment Solutions.

“You have to follow what people like and not force upon them what’s easy for you,” Barrett said.

Video is also essential, Stolt said, noting that all employees are asked to be dressed professionally for video-learning sessions.

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But that’s not to say the programs aren’t designed to be fun.

“We’ve tried it all,” including group dance parties, she laughed.

That ability to “innovate and try new things” will be essential as employers navigate the new virtual L&D environment, Mather said. Equally important is measuring outcomes.

“Are you actually driving results based on these new processes? That’s what the C-suite wants to hear,” he said.

Moving forward, virtual learning will likely continue to be expanded for areas like upskilling, onboarding and assessments, Barrett said.

“People have been forced into it for circumstances,” he said, “but we’ve learned massively in the last couple months about how to deploy this.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.

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