What Does Learning Look Like in the Hybrid Workplace?

Written by: Christian Buckley
April 15, 2022

The switch to a hybrid work environment didn’t just affect the general corporate workforce; it also directly impacted workplace learning. But how much have things really changed for workplace educators, and how has the pandemic impacted workplace learning long-term?

In this week’s episode of #O365 Hours I sat down with Kirsty McGrath to discuss the short and long-term implications of the shift to hybrid work on learning in organizations. Watch our discussion below or read the full transcript at your convenience!

Guest: Kirsty McGrath, Microsoft MVP & Managing Director of OnPoint Solutions (visit their website here)

Topics Covered:

  • What happened to learning as a category during the pandemic?
  • Let’s talk about the hybrid organization — what do you think that will look like going forward? And now what has changed as organizations move back into the office, many of us in a hybrid model? How does that impact the learning strategies for organizations?
  • Will it look like this for the long-term? Or is this another transitory state?

What happened to learning as a category during the pandemic?

KM: The big programs we’d often do all crashed and burned when people were no longer in a learning mindset when the pandemic first hit. It was just “do your job.” So where before you might have spent time getting to learn a particular product, it suddenly became all about on-the-job experience. And it’s sort of back to the learn as you go. When we follow the “learn as you go” method, we often only pick up around 10% of a particular tool or a function because we’re learning as we go. It’s challenging, and we usually don’t have time to stop and ask questions.

CB: That’s happened in the past when I’ve been with companies where training budgets got cut and there are downturns in the economy.

KM: But you know, the challenge was the fact that when we go remote, when you’re learning by fire, you don’t get to turn to the person next to you and organically ask questions. Now we’re all undergoing death by meeting with the pandemic, because to try and keep connected we went into all these meetings. So the budgets for learning disappeared. I was having a lot of trainers coming to me going, “Do you have work? Is there something I can do?”

We were doing really short, sharp webinars. They were 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or one hour rather than spending the time we had on big programs around Australia. So the pandemic has had a massive impact on learning. We’re only just now seeing some things go back to normal, but we saw a huge spike in asynchronous learning. What did that actually look like for synchronous and asynchronous learning types?

Synchronous learning is when learning is occurring at the same time, in the same place, and we’re all together to do one course whether it’s online or in person.

Asynchronous learning is when you start different times at different places. So it’s putting on videos and e-learning via LinkedIn Learning or whatever designed more for the self-study.

So with the pandemic, we saw a lot more of “ we’re going to record this one hour session, go and watch it whenever you like.” We saw this shift to the learner having to pull the information rather than having a typical push-pull of learning. This has led to some real challenges across that space because we know that when it comes to asynchronous learning, approximately 26%—sometimes an awful lot lower—will actually do the self-learning and go out and find things themselves.

What do you think hybrid organization will look like going forward?

KM: It’s challenging as an instructor to run hybrid, because those who don’t come into the office kind of lose out compared to the in-person experience of being catered to in the room. Microsoft Teams’ video functionality where you can still see the instructor and you engage with your audience rather than sitting in front of a PC does help, but it’s still a very different experience. Are the online learners actually doing the exercises? Do I have to constantly check to see how they’re doing? So I have to not only instruct the room, but I have to allocate extra time to stop and check on our online learners. In short, you need more time to run a hybrid learning environment, and oftentimes people don’t have more time.

CB: When I helped run the North American Collaboration Summit the last two years, we always made sure we had moderators online whose roles were to ensure that what the instructor was teaching in person translated well for the online audience.

KM: The hard part about that is organizations don’t want to pay for two trainers.

CB: Right.

KM: We’re struggling to get them to make learning efficient. We’re struggling to get them to actually consider learning in online or hybrid environments instead of the traditional way. When we look at the different types of learners, like visual spatial learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, etc., there’re so many different types of learning styles to cater to.

CB: Exactly. We couldn’t always find moderators to cater to both online and in-person learners, but we found sessions were most successful when we had a moderator in the room and a moderator online so the instructor could focus on their content. Of course, the technology has to be able to enable that.

KM: It has to be very structured and you have to be really clear around that for your organization. You need to have several alternative digital strategies going on. You’ve got to be able to adapt to different delivery modes, whether it’s online, in person, or potentially hybrid, and have the people with the right skills to be able to enable that.

Will it look like this for the long-term, or is this another transitory state?

KM: I believe in two years, we’re going to see more and more people back in workshops in person, and it’s eventually going to turn back around. However, there will be components that will always be virtual.

CB: On the other hand, Microsoft has spent a lot of money and time building out hands-on lab modules, things that you can go and plug in to do which are self-driven. Things like that will always be in-person. But in many cases I agree, we’ll continue to see a mixture of digital and physical. It’s great having that classroom setting to be able to ask questions and interact with peers, but it’s also convenient to learn at your own speed. There are even certain tools and gamification methods organizations can use to track knowledge retention and progress.

KM: Yeah, absolutely. It’ll also depend on your role. A frontline worker will be hands-on most of the time and likely around 30% online. A lot of them aren’t overly tech savvy. Meanwhile, for an office worker, things will be more evenly split.

CB: One last thing I would add for organizations that are looking at their budgets: please don’t cut the training budgets now because they’re going to be even more critical. Having a refresher course on strict compliance and regulatory requirements is always helpful, especially in regulated industries.


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