Digital learning has surged during pandemic

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The Covid pandemic has led to a surge in the use of digital learning by employers and has pushed the learning profession to become more forward-looking.

Research by CIPD and Accenture, published in the latest Learning and Skills at Work report, has found that seven in 10 organisations had increased their use of digital and online solutions over the past year.

More than a third of organisations (36%) have also increased their investment in learning technology in the last year.

The pandemic is catalysing shifts in learning capabilities that are much needed” – Peter Cheese, chief executive, CIPD

Overall, the rapid switch to more digital models of learning has progressed well, the researchers said, with 77% of organisations saying they’re successfully using learning technology and 69% saying they’re innovating in their use of learning technology.

Learning professionals had also been prompted to consider how the Covid crisis should influence their work in future with half (51%) assessing the impact of automation on roles and how talent could be redeployed – up from 40% in 2020.

An increasing number of learning professionals had also used time during the pandemic to assess which roles are changing and how employees should be reskilled (64%, up from 56% the previous year).

However, a third of learning professionals had also witnessed significant reductions in headcount (32%), and a similar proportion had seen budgets decreased.

The research revealed that although the use of more basic digital learning such as webinars had increased, the rise of more sophisticated modes of digital learning had stalled. For example, the proportion of organisations using mobile apps in 2021 (13%) is level with 2020 (12%). This, surmised the researchers, suggested that organisations were transferring their face-to-face content online and only a minority were making the most of learning technology and its benefits.

The report’s authors recommended that a digital learning strategy should be at the core of an overall learning strategy, with leaders tapping into more advanced learning methods beyond webinars and e-learning.

Another less positive finding from the study was the evidence that learning professionals were not widely using evidence to inform their learning offer. Only around a third (32%) said they were proactive in identifying the performance issue before recommending a solution.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, welcome the findings, noting that a lot had been achieved despite budget and headcount reductions. He said: 
“The pandemic is catalysing shifts in learning capabilities that are much needed. It has also proven to be a prompt for learning professionals to take stock of other changes coming down the track that they need to be prepared for, particularly in relation to automation. We hope to see the innovation and adaptability they’ve demonstrated over the past year continue as they help individuals and organisations adjust – and excel – in the ever-changing world of work.”

managing director within the Talent & Organisation practice, Andy Young, said businesses were needing better technology skills and more human ingenuity as the pandemic continues and that people wanted growth and development at work, wherever they were located. “To cope with this, learning professionals have had to reset plans and they should be congratulated on their resilience,” said Young.

He added: “This report also provides clear messages for the CEO and other business leaders with clear differences between the ‘haves’, who have good sponsorship, funding and sophisticated learning technology and data – where outcomes have accelerated in the last year – versus the ‘have nots’, who are getting by with reduced funding, limited infrastructure or no professional learning support.”

Further recommendations for the learning profession included a proposal that businesses should establish a clear role for line managers when it comes to learning provision and encouraging peer collaboration
. Also, learning professionals should work with senior leaders to understand the future of the work and the skills that will be needed in the organisation, ensuring the workforce is digitally fluent with essential human skills. In addition, professionals should ensure that the design and delivery of learning in the organisation is evidence-based by harnessing new skilling analytics.

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