The COVID-19 pandemic has required a dramatic shift in ways of working. For many learning and development professionals, this has meant a rapid change in the use of digital learning technology.  

Our research, in collaboration with Affinity Health at Work, draws on the experiences of independent L&D practitioners, who were confronted with the sudden need to adapt their businesses – not only to reconfigure their programmes for digital platforms, but to make them appealing to stakeholders within an increasingly competitive market.

Our evidence was collected from a vital source – practitioner expertise. It identifies the common barriers to transitioning to this new context and the technological, personal and relational resources needed to overcome them. It also considers how L&D will change and evolve in the coming years. 

People practitioners with responsibility for learning and skills development can use these practical insights to understand how digital learning can be adopted and blended effectively with face-to-face learning in the future. 

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Impact of COVID-19 on the L&D profession

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Key challenges and solutions 

Some of the main challenges or barriers encountered by L&D professionals during the pandemic include: 

  • lack of confidence and the need to upskill to facilitate online learning effectively  
  • reduced natural interactivity and rapport-building among learning groups 
  • self-doubt due to the different sensory cues from the online learning environment compared to the more familiar face-to-face environment 
  • mental and physical exhaustion associated with managing new technology platforms  
  • clients’ reluctance to invest in new learning content.

In response, the key approaches that were taken to overcome the challenges include: 

  • renewing their focus on learning and experimenting with new skills and approaches  
  • stepping outside their comfort zone to discover new strategies that enhance interaction 
  • requesting feedback and evaluating what works and what doesn’t to continuously improve their offering 
  • reprioritising one’s own health and wellbeing 
  • demonstrating the value of online learning to keep existing clients on board. 

Practical tips for delivering successful digital L&D 

Drawing on the insights, some practical tips for practitioners are: 

  • actively promote collaboration and social learning opportunities throughout online learning – use technical tools to promote interaction, including breakout rooms, polls, whiteboards and chat boxes  
  • avoid direct conversion of in-person to digital learning – reduce and simplify content where needed 
  • be prepared to show your own ‘humanness’ – learners will take cues from you and be more likely to interact if they feel safe 
  • learn from failures, show courage in piloting new approaches, and be kind to yourself 
  • play a collaborative, consultative role with clients, using experience and insight to inform investment and decision-making 
  • look to the future and identify where you can add value to support organisational change. 

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