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Changing Workforce Training During a Pandemic

Adapt training and mentoring programs to online and virtual interfaces

A woman is using a laptop to draw on a whiteboard.

​The spread of the coronavirus is challenging organizations to rethink their approach to training as governments mandate travel bans, telework and social distancing.

But simply using turning a lecture into PowerPoint slides on Webex is ineffective, said Jim E. Guilkey. He is the author of M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage—What All Executives Need to Know (Advantage Media Group, 2019) and holds a doctorate in instructional design and learning strategy.

"And Millennials hate it. The key is to use innovative, effective instructional design to maximize learning," added Guilkey. He also is president of S4 NetQuest, a company in Columbus, Ohio, that designs and develops learning solutions for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

For online training, instructors have to first learn the capabilities of the technology they are using, he noted, and maximize features such as virtual collaboration rooms.

"Instead of simply lecturing, put the impetus for learning on the learners," he said. He suggested implementing "teach-backs"—having students evaluate certain situations, suggest improvements and solve problems.

"You can create structured learning communities, and they can work between virtual sessions with the facilitator. But it can't be a simple chat room. You must create structured learning activities for these communities."


SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19



Mentorships, 'Nerd Clubs' 

Mentoring programs are easier to transform to a virtual format, such as through virtual conferencing, according to Guilkey, although the ease of converting a program can depend heavily on the knowledge or tasks the worker is learning from the mentor.

More critical, though, "is for the mentor to give the participant problem-based scenarios related to a particular set of knowledge or tasks" to solve the problem, he said. That should be followed by a debriefing with the mentor, who can offer additional insight and evaluation.

A micromodule could be used, for example, to show how the features and benefits of a company's product compare to the competition's, followed by the mentee giving a virtual sales presentation. The mentor then evaluates and provides feedback on the presentation.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining High-Performance Work Teams]

There are other innovative training approaches employers can take. Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research, suggested the following in a post for SHRM Blog:

  • Create a "nerd club" that encourages employees to use an hour during lunch "to show off their expertise, build the knowledge of others, and create stronger relationships."
  • Adopt a "flipped classroom" approach. Learn something on your own, then join a group discussion "to talk about what you learned, how you can implement it, and what others think is important," Eubanks wrote. It creates stronger social connections and better retention of the learning concepts, but it also allows time together to be productive learning, not just a one-way lecture where everyone listens to someone speak for an hour."

Gary Malhotra, vice president of product marketing at Whatfix, a San Jose, Calif.-based company that offers support for Web applications and software products used for training and development, suggests employers follow the 70:20:10 model for instruction: 70 percent "learning by doing" inside the online applications, 20 percent using virtual peer interaction and 10 percent of formal education involving an instructor lecturing via video.

The latter is done best, Malhotra said, "by making the employee do the step-by-step process on the live application with the digital adoption platform to guide them."


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