Back in 2020, I shared some tips on how businesses could create learning opportunities and programmes for their virtual employees working from home.
At the time, a lot of businesses that weren’t used to allowing (most) employees to work from home had to scramble to adapt to lockdown-enforced virtual working.
In 2022, many organisations have adopted hybrid working, partly because they’ve realised the business benefits of employees working from home and partly because many employees don’t want to work in the office full-time.
How is that affecting learning and development?
One study (by 360Learning) that asked employees and L&D leaders about learning opportunities found that the picture was complicated.
While 70% of L&D professionals preferred to offer online learning, only 29% of employees said it was their preferred method of learning. But things really get interesting when you delve into why.
Most people (61%) said that they preferred to learn from watching their teammates (so, shadowing, for example). Fifty-nine per cent favoured coaching and mentoring. Both can easily be included as part of a virtual learning programme.
It seems like the real issue when it comes to online learning for most respondents was a lack of regular feedback and support – 67% said that their L&D needs weren’t identified until annual review time – and a lack of time, with 47% saying they couldn’t fit the learning into their work.
While independent learning is a great tool to add to your L&D offering, it’s not something that suits everyone, and even the most independent learners need support, guidance and goals.
How can you create an effective virtual learning programme that people love?
- Offer multiple ways to learn
Create an online L&D programme that accommodates multiple learning styles. The main learning styles are visual, aural, kinesthetic, social, solitary, verbal and logical. We’re all probably some mixture of these – for example, you could learn best through watching a video of someone carrying out a task, but also favour solitary and logical learning (such as preferring things to be broken down into steps).
Other people learn better by shadowing a colleague as they work – buddy systems and roleplaying can help in these situations. Or maybe they like the social aspect combined with auditory and visual learning – this is where an engaging webinar could help.
Online learning is about doing as much as you can to personalise the learning experience for individuals, and this also means having an open and continuous dialogue about how learning and development is progressing.
- Offer ongoing support
Members of The Social Element team are based in various countries around the world and this is a huge benefit to learning as we all share our diversity of experience and knowledge (including cultural and social knowledge that’s important for us all to understand).
One of the best ways we’ve found to encourage this sort of sharing is through social breaks, where the team can get to know each other on a more personal level.
It also makes it easier for people to get to know each other’s communication styles, and find out the best way to contact each other when they need help.
Mentors work with mentees (who are sometimes based on different continents!) to offer guidance as they learn and develop. Our mentors often report that they prefer to mentor online as they find it easier to fit the sessions into their schedules.
The important thing is that employees feel that there’s always someone there they can get learning support from when they need it.
- Maintain motivation to learn
In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink argues that what truly motivates us is autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Effective virtual learning programmes have a good balance between support and autonomy – you want to give people the support they need, but not baby them.
Learners also need to know why they are learning the material (outside of having to for their job), is there a greater purpose – such as it opening up more opportunities for them?
Finally, learners need to see and feel the improvement they are making as they learn – this is where regular feedback comes in (via managers, mentors and things like gamification elements).
People are much more likely to excel at learning when working from home if they feel motivated, rather than obliged, to do so.
The important thing to remember is that creating an engaging learning environment for virtual workers is about more than creating a course that they can take online.
People who work from home need courses that offer different kinds of learning and engagement, courses that are more personalised to their learning and communication preferences.
Once you’ve mastered this, you’ll have a virtual learning experience that people rave about.