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The majority of organisations are now turning to some form of online learning to support individuals in the way that they do their jobs, and yet 3 in 5 learning & development leaders say that their managers and users are reluctant to engage.

We are introducing new online learning courses, communities of practice and virtual classroom but are individuals actually prepared for the change?

Here we look at 6 questions to consider in order to find out if your staff are ready for learning online.
1.    Do your staff have the skills and confidence?
Learning online takes staff out of the classroom and into new media to learn what they need to do their job better. This often means that they need to be more self-sufficient and tech savvy to take full advantage of the opportunities available. Yet only 1 in 5 L&D leaders believe that their staff have the confidence to manage their own development and 3 in 5 feel that their staff are confident in using computers (dropping to just 2 in 5 in the charity sector).

If this is the case for you, here are some tips for increasing learner skills and confidence:

  • Check out your assumptions about staff confidence – in an increasingly technology enabled society, staff may not be as nervous as you think!
  • Use the classroom experience to build confidence in online learning, modelling new tools and techniques in a safe environment.
  • Meet staff where they are – if they are currently using technology to learn (e.g. using google or using social media)? If yes why not provide ideas to help them do it better.

2.    Can they get to what they need?
Another aspect of readiness is ensuring staff can access what they need. Do they know what is available and can they get hold of it when and where they need it? Relationships with IT are critical here, yet only half of L&D leaders have good links with their IT department. Perhaps what is more disappointing is that less than a third of L&D leaders have a communication plan in place for all key stakeholders.

Tips for increasing access:

  • Make life simple – single sign-on (SSO) helps (or no sign on at all – do you really need it in every situation?)
  • Consider the cloud – can your staff access at home or using their own technology?
  • Make friends with your IT manager – what technologies are already in place that can be used to support learning and sharing?
  • Tell people what is available – regularly!

3.    Do you have a culture of collaboration?
Over half of us are now looking at communities of practice or peer-to-peer networking sites as part of our support of learning online, yet only 15% of us believe that our staff know how to productively connect and share what they know. The skill of connecting is one thing but it’s also important to consider if your organisation welcomes innovation and contributions or has a culture that encourages reflection.

Tips for encouraging a culture of sharing:

  • Encourage reflection and sharing of ideas as part of your formal learning interventions.
  • Find out where staff are currently sharing their ideas and meet them there.
  • What other departments are interested in using online media to share ideas and communicate? Get alongside teams like marketing, HR and customer service to bring learning into the mix.

4.    Are they weighed down by poor past experience?
In our learning landscape study, we found that a third of all learners say that uninspiring content is a real barrier to learning online. In fact over half of L&D people feel that past experience of eLearning hasn’t fulfilled their expectations.

If your organisation has had bad experiences, here are some tips for shifting perceptions:

  • Find out what’s not working, and fix it!
  • Get your staff involved early to shape the online learning experience.
  • Break the mould of traditional ‘page turning’ online courses by including real life stories, video and active collaboration as part of the blend.

5.    Do your leaders ‘get it’?
Managers are critical in supporting learning yet are often reluctant to support online learning in their teams. This might be because they have not experienced the benefit for themselves, especially as only 1 in 5 of us use learning technologies to support the way we develop our managers and leaders.

Tips for helping your managers get ready for online learning:

  • Model excellence at a manager level – think about how to transform your leadership development projects.
  • Provide tips and toolkits for managers to help their staff put what they’ve learned into practice.
  • Communicate regularly with line managers to flag business successes of learning (not just course completions).

6.    Are your trainers ready?
Your trainers can make a significant difference to building confidence in staff for online learning yet again only 1 in 5 even train classroom trainers to use technology to extend learning beyond their classroom.

Tips for helping your trainers get ready:

  • Think about encouraging L&D staff to engage online as part of their own development (there are some great MOOC’s appearing for L&D professionals that will model new ways of learning).
  • Support their active participation in online communities to ask questions and build confidence.
  • Use evidence effectively with trainers – case studies and research help to demystify new learning approaches and build confidence. Why not discuss them at your team meetings?

Often with L&D, it’s been a case of ‘Ready or not, here I come’ when it comes to implementing online learning. Taking a step back to reflect on these questions will help us to prepare our staff for change and reduce the barriers to engagement.

laura-overton-NEW1Laura Overton is the MD of Towards Maturity, an independent, not-for-profit benchmark organisation that helps businesses examine their learning culture, with a view to improving their bottom line. Laura has more than 25 years of practical experience looking at learning innovation for business advantage and of implementing learning technologies in the workplace.