Pat D’Amico, Founder and CEO, About-Face Development and Senior Performance Consultant, Matrix Achievement Group, Matrix Achievement GroupPat D’Amico, Founder and CEO, About-Face Development and Senior Performance Consultant, Matrix Achievement Group
To say that the COVID Pandemic has had a significant impact on the learning and development function would be a gross understatement. Ultimately, what would have taken years, or even decades to realize, were compressed into one unforgettable year – 2020. It was an interesting progression which provides invaluable insight and direction for the future.

The First Months

In the first couple months of the pandemic, we at Matrix experienced most organizations initially opted to simply postpone already planned in-person training programs under the hopes that the delay would be short term. When it became evident the situation would extend, those same organizations shifted to requesting the programs be delivered remotely.

Remote Delivery

Remote delivery began with great apprehension. Questions and concerns included: would the technology available provide an engaging experience for learners; what were the learner limits for remote delivery fatigue; was practical application and practice possible; and many others. One of the quickest learnings was that remote delivery technology (such as Zoom and Microsoft teams) had advanced to a place most had not realized. Organizations and participants were surprised at the functionality of these technologies and the better-than-expected engagement that was possible. At the same time, that engagement was significantly impacted by two distinct factors.

First, the need to have all learners on video. In sessions where learners were not required to have their video on, there was a clear and noticeable lack of engagement and interaction. As a training provider, we at Matrix quickly began to request that clients require participants to have their video on as, without that, we saw a domino effect – if everyone didn’t have their video on, many others would choose to follow suit and engagement and participation were decreased.

Second was the training providers expertise and comfort with delivering training through this modality. End of program evaluations provided organizations a clear indicator of which providers lacked expertise in remote delivery and/or had not effectively altered their content and delivery for maximum impact in a remote setting. Additionally, providers that effectively leveraged remote tools such as breakout rooms, polling, etc…were clearly viewed as more impactful and successful by participants.

In these first couple months, the excitement around remote training delivery led to opinions and comments from organizations that it would fully replace in-person training in the future post-pandemic world. This was easy to understand as cost and logistics benefits were so large and apparent that other potential issues were overshadowed.

Concerns Arise

As some organizations began to make adjustments and get back to work, even minimally, challenges with remote delivery began to reveal themselves. First, the captive-audience factor of the early pandemic months began to fade. Remote programs attendance started to drop as some employees were not as available as they had been early-on. Remote programs saw partial attendance due to employees’ other priorities, creating issues and disruptions to delivery and learning transfer.

Second, hybrid attendance (some in-person and some remote) received harsh feedback from both parties. In multiple hybrid example, when training evaluations were reviewed, every remote participant commented that the program should either be all in-person, or all remote, but not hybrid. Additionally, when comparing evaluation scores for in-person versus remote delivery, the following were noted; 1) program value scores for remote delivery were always slightly lower than in-person and, 2) participant feedback suggested anything over 90-120 minutes was viewed as “too long” to spend online for a remote program.

The Learnings

As the pandemic begins to fade, there are numerous high value learnings regarding training delivery that would not have been realized had we not lived through it:

1) The remote technologies available to effectively deliver training were largely unknown/appreciated until now.
2) Our data showed that remote delivery of training can achieve roughly 85% of the impact achieved in-person. The longer the program, the lesser impact achieved, suggesting the remote sweet spot is for shorter sessions versus full-day and/or multiple day programs.
3) Attendance for remote delivery (especially longer sessions) can be high when the participants are a captive audience (such as the unique situation of everyone at home during a pandemic) but drop drastically when workers are back to even some semblance of a normal work environment/schedule. In-person programs naturally have higher attendance achievement than remote as participants are captive.
4) Shorter remote sessions can be leveraged effectively for post in-person training to drive re-enforcement and practice. (Note that this was one of the pandemics greatest discoveries. The revelation that remote technology can address one of trainings biggest challenges, re-enforcement of skills, is a game changing benefit).

The Future

Forward-thinking organizations are already beginning to leverage their pandemic learnings as they plan for 2021. Including:

• Training programs of more than a couple hours have greater value, impact, and attendance when delivered in-person.
• Remote technology can be very effectively leveraged for pull-through, re-enforcement, and practice.
• A successful combination of in-person and remote training presents an opportunity for far greater skill adoption and behavior change than seen in the past.
• Not all training providers/organizations have the experience and expertise to deliver impactful remote training.

Ultimately, for those of us in the learning and development field, we will likely look back on the pandemic as a major milestone in our function; a time when we advanced further and quicker than would have happened without it.