Training and skills development to meet the COVID-19 Challenge

The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.

Research suggests that online learning has been shown to increase retention of information, and take less time, meaning the changes coronavirus has caused might be here to stay. The right mix of learning technology and content is important to achieve learning goals.

To empower learners with relevant knowledge that will help them in career advancement, companies need to cater to learners’ needs and adopt strategies that have proven to have a high impact on company’s growth.

The high impact learning strategies that can impact company’s growth include:

Learner-centric – By clearly understanding learner needs and the skills they need to accomplish daily tasks successfully; companies can incorporate training that will clearly address “what’s in it for me” question for the learner.

Personalized learning – When companies provide a learning plan that is customized to every individual’s needs and is aligned with their career path, learners are motivated to engage with the content. With the right foundation of Learning Management System (LMS) technology and content, companies can provide adaptive learning models to their employees.

Mobile – Mobile learning or mLearning is not new anymore. It’s a norm. According to Dawn Poulos, VP of Marketing at Xyleme, in an interview with Brandon Hall Group, “35% of people use their mobile phones to solve problems and as an industry, we are still very far from being able to deliver learning effectively on mobile. Users want a great experience and we aren’t giving it to them”. Indeed, having an eLearning platform that supports mobile is crucial to provide learners with information on-the-go, at the time of need.

Value to learners – All the efforts taken by companies towards training and development of their employees, need to demonstrate the value to the learner in order to keep them engaged and interested. Learners want to know that the organization is providing training to learners to meet not only their business objectives but also their personal goals.

For companies to be able to deploy these impactful tactics, technology plays a huge role in its execution.

Role of Technology

In order to meet the learning needs of both, baby boomers and millennials, technology needs to be able to support multiple learning formats that will meet the company’s learning targets and at the same time engage learners. Some of the ways technology can help make learning interesting are:

Skill Gap analysis – We have spoken previously that personalized learning is most valued by learners. But how can companies scale the process of identifying and delivering content that is personalized to thousands of their employees? This can be done with the help of learning platforms that support skill gap analysis. By identifying employees’ strengths and weakness, employers can deliver training that will strengthen individual’s strength and improve their weaknesses.

Multiple Learning Formats: Every company has a diverse mix of learning audience. From learners who have grown up learning from books to people who learn from their mobile devices and games. Organizations must be able to provide content that meets the learning needs of its diverse audience including formal and social learning.

MicroLearning – Attention span is continuously reducing. Most of the workplace learning happens in one to two- minute portions. According to Dawn, “People are better able to learn when they have resources that are tailored to their needs and can grab it on the fly: That means moving to bite-sized learning that is easily accessible and digestible in any language, in multiple forms, and on any mobile device.”

In these times of the pandemic, many higher learning institutions have adopted to the situation by deploying some of their courses on a Learning Management System.

One of the most effective system that higher learning institutions may adopt uses Blackboard Open Learning Management System (Open LMS) and Blackboard Collaborate as its main software platform for course delivery.The main motivations for the adopting this mode of learning are :

  • The desire to increase student enrollment by fighting fragmentation of student population. This condition appears when sections of the same course are cancelled due to low enrollment at various campus centers. Linking students from various campus centers in a synchronous course would avoid eliminating these sections and satisfy course loads.
  • The desire to provide added sections of courses that may not be offered regularly at campus centers due to unavailability of credentialed faculty for the specific disciplines.
  • The desire to increase the quantity of course offerings at campus centers and limit the number of cancellations to improve customer service.
  • Increase accessibility of our courses during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

Blackboard Collaborate facilitates most of the activities associated with traditional instruction:

  • A presentation window allows delivery of content. This window will be accessible to all course/workshop participants and is used extensively on discussions over course material. Premade PowerPoint presentations will be incorporated in this window, and participants could make annotations to their live display, facilitating the communication.
  • Participants could also interact with the instructor and each other on presentations using their voice and also a chat system. The chat system is used by participants to exchange messages among themselves without disturbing the class in progress and to answer instructor’s questions during class.
  • Participants are polled at various stages of the presentation to gauge the level of understanding and engagement with the class. The software platform facilitates this activity by having an automated polling mechanism that allows the instructor to present objective questions to participants and gather the answers. Polling questions can include “Is this concept understood?” and “Should we continue to another topic?”, but we can also have more sophisticated ones, such as presenting multiple choice questions based on the topic under study and allowing participants to answer with the choices provided by the system.
  • Blackboard Collaborate allows for the recording of its sessions. All sessions will be recorded and made available to all participants after the end of each class/ workshop and throughout the length of the course. This feature is used by participants who miss classes and the ones who want refreshers on the topics covered.
  • The software platform also allows for group work, which involves separating participants into teams through the use of the breakout room feature. Participants use this feature to work in teams on additional exercises, designed to reinforce concepts explained in that class/workshop session. Break- out rooms are created randomly, so students can interact with different individuals every class meeting. Participants can interact with members of their groups using their voice and another presentation window specific to that group. The instructor can rotate amongst the various breakout rooms, verifying progress and giving advice when necessary.
  • Syllabus, assignments, and other course material are delivered synchronously to participants during class sessions, but copies of these documents are also stored in Open LMS ( for students’/ participants’ reference.

All these activities are performed seamlessly, and instructor and students became more adept at using all these platform features rather rapidly in the course.

Synchronous teaching also deals with the same pedagogical issues present in other learning environments. The instructor employs various policies and strategies common to other teaching modalities:

  • Attendance is required of participants for all Courses. It is well-known that regular participant attendance increases course scores and overall learning. Even though participants could review recordings of Course sessions, attendance is still required.
  • Regarding attendance, this teaching modality also achieves what might have been difficult to do in other modalities. The participants can attend the sessions from wherever they are thereby increasing mobility. This is an important and unexpected benefit of this teaching modality, one that could be aptly employed for teaching mobility-challenged individuals such as handicapped persons and participants who are not able to leave their houses.
  • Participants are also engaged by their interaction with the presentation window. At various times during presentations, participants are queried about the topic at hand and requested to write in the presentation window solutions to problems. More often, participants will complement these solutions with oral comments and chat entries. These are very effective mechanisms to keep participants engaged in the subject matter.
  • The breakout rooms prove to be an invaluable technique for participant understanding and assimilation of concepts. After the presentation of a main topic with exercises for the whole group, similar exercises are provided to teams in separate breakout rooms.
  • Although these presentations are viewable on Course recordings, participants also want to have independent access to them after hours. The instructor will provide access to the PowerPoint presentations before and after the Course.

The eLearning option provides a good alternative to traditional face-to-face and online offerings considering the limitation in physical contact due to Covid-19 pandemic. It requires from participants the same time commitment as face- to-face Courses, but gives flexibility to remote participants to connect from wherever they may be.

Higher learning institutions are encouraged to adopt to the new way of learning despite the challenges that come with it. This mode of learning has been made popular due to restrictions in physical meetings. As John Dewey states “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

Abiud Ogechi has a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Nairobi, Prince2 holder, DIP Project Management from KIM, Certified Monitoring and Evaluation Professional, MSP holder from Quint Wellington Redwood, CISI Awb holder and is a certified Trustee by TDPK training.

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