How to Leverage Online Learning in the Remote Workplace
Leadership is recognizing a challenge and responding creatively to that challenge.
Most corporations are now cancelling gatherings of managers and employees for training and development. But that should not halt learning and development. Rather, it should force new ways of thinking about how we learn and develop our employees. We may discover more efficient and more effective ways of getting the job done.
But how can a company make the most of online learning in our remote world? Here are some suggestions:
First, don’t promote a scattered approach in which you say, “Here’s a catalog of courses, go take what you want.” That sounds too much like “We don’t have any plan, so make up your own.” Far better to have a change strategy and assign courses that contribute to that strategy. If you are pursuing lean culture, then assign a course on that topic.
Employ a “blended learning” model that does not simply rely on watching videos or reading books, but combines knowledge acquisition, action-learning, group reflection, and accountability. Let’s break that down.
1. Make it an assignment
Let us assume you are pursuing lean management, eliminating waste and engaging all employees. Assign all the managers in a business unit to take that course over the next two months. Do not make it optional, a suggestion, or a nice thing to do. Explain that we are going to take this time to focus on developing the capacity of all of our teams to improve processes and eliminate waste. Let’s all do it together. There is power in group action. Be sure that the leadership teams in the organization are taking the same course and modeling the same behavior.
2. Structured reflection and action
Create a structure of virtual study circles. If you have 50 managers in an organization, create 8 to 10 groups who can go through the course together, and section by section, meet once a week via video conferencing to reflect on how they are applying their knowledge to their team. Sharing is critical to internalizing new habits. A good course presents assignments that are designed to turn knowledge into action in the workplace. By participating in a small group that shares the challenge of implementing the lessons, there is an inherent accountability. Learning often occurs from one’s peers who are discovering how best to develop a team scorecard, create standard work, employ process maps or problem solving.
3. Assign team coaches
You do not have to be a credentialed, certified coach to help others. Within every organization there is someone who can be selected to provide feedback, encouragement, and share knowledge and experience across teams. If you know that a coach is going to visit your team and observe your team meeting, and who then gives the leader feedback on how she facilitated the team, it is a strong encouragement to both learn and act.
4. Recognize and celebrate effort
At the outset of this structured learning process, make it clear that there are consequences for going through the course and for applying the knowledge to the workplace. What is the “so what?” of the effort to go through the course and make the effort, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing? One answer is to create a “belt” recognition within your company. You can award yellow, blue, whatever color belts for completing the course and for achieving results through action. Do not award recognition for simply watching videos. Award some symbol of recognition for action — behavior and performance.
These four components are essential to maximizing the value of remote learning. Of course, it is still beneficial to gather managers together for experiential learning, shared experience, and listening to brilliant speakers. But the current situation calls on all learning and development managers to experiment with improved methods of remote learning.