Rethinking (beyond COVID) Your Training Strategies

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 12-15-20

“For too long, L&D has focused on creating day-long training programs where employees are all on the same path, regardless of their individual knowledge or experience” states this article in Chief Learning Officer.


Covid-19 has forced us to test and challenge many of our assumptions, such as whether or not people can work remotely. It’s also forced some changes that we wanted to make, but either lacked the need or the will to get it done. Some of these forced experiments helped shape new ways of working, and some of them proved what doesn’t work, but there will inevitably be permanent changes across portions of the landscape (emphasize portions, as there will be a great amount of work that doesn’t change at all). 


Now is the time to start thinking about how we want learning to be different in our organizations post-covid, not because we have to but because there is an opportunity, an inflection point, that we can take advantage of. 


I was no longer involved in developing and delivering training about 5 years ago. Since then, I’ve helped others think about their training, and I’ve been a guest speaker at training events. I had grown frustrated with many problems with it – the disconnect from real work, the travel effort and expense, and the “cram everything in while we have you” mentality of the design. I’ve been experimenting all year long with solutions that solve these problems, and through the combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning activities integrated into one process has allowed me to make significant progress, with Covid only providing a fertile ground upon which to execute massive experimentation and the resulting accelerated learning. 


This is part of a bigger and longer-term push, as the article puts it….”Learning professionals must seize this moment to switch decisively from a content-centered model of education (dictated by a body of knowledge to master) to a human-centered learning experience that fits the immediate need of the learner (dictated by a problem at hand).”


There will remain some very good reasons to do in-person and even travel-required training. This will not, and should not, go away. For starters, in some cases, the social aspects of building relationships that occur both during the training and in the “white space” during breaks, before and after class, or even at the hotel bar, is often a critical objective, too often not made explicit but it should be. 


In other cases, the physical environment is part of the learning, whether it be a simulation (although I challenge us all to think beyond simulations) or work in the actual real environment, such as practicing direct observation of work. 


The push towards “just-in-time” training has been accelerated, although not created, by the pandemic. However, I encourage people not to take it too far. First, learning should go beyond solving the immediate problem in front of you or fulfilling the immediate need. That’s great for on-the-job training and information-based training, but changing the culture, the direction, or the capabilities of the organization should be strategic, and therefore not just about getting through the task, or through the day. I do fear that the just-in-time training push may go too far, breaking elements down too small, and we fail to integrate our learning into a comprehensive worldview of our work, or a comprehensive set of capabilities. That issue isn’t about remote learning or in-person workshops; but instead, it centers on how strategic leaders are thinking about their organization’s learning needs. 


And that’s the main point: while learning and development professionals experiment and push the boundaries of how we deliver training, leaders MUST take strategic ownership over their team’s, or organization’s, learning objectives. Developing people is just too damn important to leave it to chance. 




To see the ever-evolving results of my experimentation in this area, please check out my Learning Lab Workshops here