For many organisations there has been a big shift in the number of people working remotely. This mix of people in different locations - offices or remotely - and at different times is reflected in the term hybrid working. One question many organisations are wrestling with is how best to support learning and development needs in this context - in other words, how do we support a hybrid learning experience?
What are learning channels?
Marketers have long talked about ‘channels’ - the ways in which they reach the customer. Whilst this language is not as familiar perhaps in HR or L&D teams it is a good model of thinking about where your people spend their time and what that means for the ‘products & services’ you want to provide to them. How will you deliver the learning experience to them in a hybrid working model - we can broadly break channels into two categories:
Non-digital channels - the physical workplace - the buildings or spaces the organisation owns or uses that people spend time in. You can think about this as the ways in which to provide an in-person learning experience.
Digital channels - the digital workplace - the software applications the organisation provides and people are using in their daily work. Think of this as how you support a virtual or remote learning experience.
How has hybrid working affected the choice of learning channels?
Whilst non-digital channels may not have significantly changed there are still important differences to consider. Whilst some learning may be best experienced in instructional spaces (e.g. classrooms) there are those that perhaps are best experienced in the workplace. It is increasingly common for organisations to think about how they configure the physical spaces they have available and L&D needs a stake in that - to ensure there are spaces that support experiences that need to be more collaborative or inspirational.
In a hybrid working model, it is the digital workplace that is shared by everyone. However, in many organisations the digital workplace does not have the same ownership or thought around how it is designed and what experience that provides to the individual as may be the case for the physical workplace.
The complexity of digital channels
In terms of digital channels the picture is also becoming increasingly complex. The number of software applications used within an organisation continues to grow and at the same time applications not specifically designed for learning, especially collaboration and communication tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, have become adopted as quick and easy to use solutions to deliver some part of the learning experience. At other times these more general channels play a key role in how you drive awareness and engagement of the learning offer.
Sometimes more specialist learning channels are needed to provide the best experience - whether to make the discovery of learning easier or to support a particular organisational process such as HR, Finance or Sales, where those systems may be the best place to deliver just in time learning at the moment of need. There are also digital channels that are adopted by a specific team to fit with their micro-culture or specific needs, or those that are used to connect with peers, even those outside of the organisation. Consideration should certainly be given as to how and when to leverage these more specialist channels.
What the hybrid context requires is for more consideration to be given to what you have, or need and for you to be deliberate in how you use it. If you are looking to invest in a new learning technology then consider whether you can bring in something which is flexible enough to meet a number of needs, is quick and agile to deploy, without requiring lengthy configuration, or focus on a specific problem area for your people and bring in a more targeted solution for that alongside your existing technology.
‘Customer’ experience considerations
Having identified the channels that you have available you should then consider the context of the learning experience you are looking to provide.
Who - is the learning need driven primarily by the individual the team or the organisation?
When - which components of the learning solution are best delivered to many people at the same time (synchronous) or can be delivered on-demand, when it suits the individual (asynchronous)?
Where - are there practical considerations based on the location of people, from those that are widely distributed to those that are, or could be, co-located?
It is likely that you will use a multi-channel experience in a hybrid learning solution. Perhaps this could be more accurately seen an omnichannel approach - one that puts the ‘customer’ at the heart of the experience and more purposefully integrates multiple channels into the learning experience.
But there are challenges to providing a good experience. In our recent webinar on Hybrid Working one of the discussions was around ‘hybrid meetings’ - one where participants are both in the room and joining via video. Panellist Gemma Dale suggested it was something that would require expert facilitation and potentially specialist equipment in the room to ensure that all participants felt equal and included in the experience. It is important to consider that just because something is possible does not mean it will deliver a positive experience for all.
How do you choose the right channel?
What channels you choose will depend on what is available within your organisation of course, but also about the people and the culture. Consider using a simple framework for thinking about digital literacy and how it can help you determine which are the most suitable channels, either digital or in person, to create the learning experience.
Can/can’t – do people have the skills to learn in this channel?
Have/haven’t – do people have the technology and resources to learn in this channel?
Will/won’t – do people want to learn on this channel?
Should/shouldn’t – do better options exist?
Having selected a learning channel it is important to gather as much data as you can, both quantitative and qualitative, to understand how it works and what actions to take. One channel may work well for a particular programme type or area but not for another. An understanding of the performance of a channel allows you to shift investment of time and money from where it isn’t delivering the value and to optimise it further where it is.
Depending on the complexity of your organisation and the channels you need to consider, this shift in thinking may seem overwhelming. Don’t start by trying to design the perfect learning channel strategy - start somewhere, anywhere, but start as soon as you can.
To support hybrid learning you need a flexible learning platform that can be a standalone digital channel and support your existing channels. 5App can be a great addition to your L&D solution and support your hybrid learning channel mix.
Get in touch to find out more and see 5app in action.