‘I think the pandemic has shown how little need there is to attend training courses in a face-to-face setting’

To better understand the e-learning landscape, CoursesOnline hosted a roundtable discussion with a number of course providers to understand and unravel their thoughts for the future

The participants

Jonno Cox (JC), head of marketing, Learning People

Sean McCready (SMC), director of education, ICS Learn

Sarah-Jane McQueen (SJMQ), general manager, CoursesOnline

Gary Norris, Jenni Brooks and Tamasin Sutton (GN, JB & TS), course facilitators at DPG

What have been the breakout pieces of technology/software for enabling e-learning?

JC: For us, the launch of our new intelligent learning platform, Percipio was a game-changer. The innovative features allow our students to easily navigate their course material on any smart device, meaning they can learn anywhere at any time. This flexibility has proven to be extremely useful in recent changing times, making e-learning more accessible to those who need it.

SMC: Although e-learning has been around for many years, a lot of educational institutions have preferred to use more in-person methods of delivering courses. This reluctance to shift online comes down to many factors, but the pandemic has of course necessitated changes being made. I think that doing so will have highlighted just how flexible and cost effective e-learning can be and that the shift in attitudes is more significant than any singular piece of technology.

SJMQ: COVID-19 has accelerated the investment and growth of edtech and software to enable e-learning, with big strides and improvements made in LMS’s, SIS’s and assessment software, in addition to immersive learning with AR/VR and gamification tools. 2020 was the year for e-learning as a whole! It’s hard to pick just one…

“I think that doing so will have highlighted just how flexible and cost effective e-learning can be and that the shift in attitudes is more significant than any singular piece of technology” – Sean McCready, ICS Learn

GN, JB & TS: As a business, we have been focused on the breakout methods of collaborative learning to support the 100% virtual environment we are currently experiencing. This means developing our LMS platforms to be able to advertise live learning events, host online resources to support content within e-learning, enable forum discussions amongst learners and to enhance that direct contact with a support facilitator, all within the hosting platform. 

We have also invested in different software that can host online learning events which support our flipped learning experience, meaning e-learning first, then collaborative workshops if the blended route is chosen.

Have there been any particular challenges over the last year in terms of providing your courses?

JC: When times are tough, people can forget how rewarding it is to invest in themselves and to work towards their goals. By launching various initiatives throughout the year, most recently in our Training the nation: career support programme, we are able to offer further financial support to our students. This helped over 400 students get on track to career success in the tech and project management industry, many already in new roles and on bigger salaries than ever before.

SMC: Our business is online and we have seen a significant increase in interest in our courses as well as over 100% increase in student activity.  The greatest challenge has been ensuring we can keep up with demand.

SJMQ: We are very fortunate in that over 98% of our partners deliver their courses online – we’ve experienced a big surge in students seeking out ways to learn from home during the national lockdowns. April, September and October were record-breaking months for the business and our partners. The bigger issue for the wider industry has been convincing organisations to persist with investment in training their workforce, rather than reduce their spending in response to economic conditions.

GN, JB & TS: The obvious challenge is the unexpected pandemic, which resulted in moving all our face-to-face workshops into a virtual environment in a short space of time. We reacted quickly and through an experienced design team, re-designed the workshops to suit virtual delivery. The challenge here was twofold; ensuring our facilitators were upskilled to deliver an excellent online learning experience for our learners, and also be familiar with our chosen platform to deliver this training. Alongside this, we wanted the full day workshop to be a mixture of live delivery, group activities and collaborative learning – not just sitting looking at a computer screen for seven hours. 

“The bigger issue for the wider industry has been convincing organisations to persist with investment in training their workforce, rather than reduce their spending in response to economic conditions” –Sarah-Jane McQueen

Our other challenge was the change in learner behaviour. With so many students finding themselves with extra time, the pace in which learning was being completed through our 100% online routes halved almost overnight. This resulted in faster expectations around assessment marking, learner query response times and then larger attendance to live webcasts which supported these assessments. 

 Image source: saxarinka/Freepik

Once COVID has passed, do you think there will be a renewed desire for in-person training courses? 

JC: If anything, I think the pandemic has shown how little need there is to attend training courses in a face-to-face setting. People have realised how flexible online training is, not to mention how cost-effective it is compared to most classroom-based training. You’ve got everything you need in the comfort of your own home, ready to be accessed when you’re free to do it. Why would anyone want to give up that freedom?

Sean McCready: There will always be a place for in-person teaching/training, but now that organisations and individuals have seen the benefits, there may be fewer people in future who wish to return to more static forms of delivery.

SJMQ: In certain cases – yes, especially for more practical subjects. However, I believe that just as there are over 70 different learning styles which have been categorised by the likes of VARK or Howard Gardner, there will also be new edtech and software that continues to offer a holistic learning experience and caters to different needs and requirements. Blended models which were already gaining pace will become the norm and learning won’t just happen in the classroom. With more and more generations becoming digital natives, there is a paradigm shift to learning on-the-go, which places a great deal of value on the convenience of online learning.

GN, JB & TS: We think online learning will have increased in popularity because people have now experienced how practical and convenient online learning is. However, it’s likely we will see people that want to go back to in-person training. We are human beings after all and arguably wanting to see people face-to-face is in our nature. People will want to feel like they have control over their freedom to move again, they’ll grab opportunities that haven’t been on the table during the pandemic – understandably. Potentially, we’ll see a second wave of online learning popularity where an amount of people that go back to face-to-face learning gradually realise that the online learning they perhaps felt forced into wasn’t actually all that bad.

Has there been anything which you thought might happen at the start of the pandemic that failed to materialise? 

JC: There was a risk that the tech job market would decline, as the climate was so unpredictable. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. In fact, the IT sector proved to be the most resilient against the virus in terms of job opportunities.

SMC: We expected a lower rate of engagement during the pandemic, however, this has been quite the reverse. There has been plenty of interest for all sorts of subjects – people are definitely making the most of the spare time on their hands!

SJMQ: In all honesty not really, but one thing we have observed is that the biggest adopters of innovative edtech appear to have been schools, colleges and universities. The vocational education providers, in-house workforce training, and professional development accreditors, seem to have been much slower to invest in bringing this type of tech in, potentially because they offer traditional online courses with video and tutor support which have been successful during the pandemic.

GN, JB & TS: The biggest shock to us has been the drive for self-development through this pandemic. We could never have predicted the uptake of the professional CIPD courses and how quickly many people completed them. Many professionals are coming out of lockdown and furloughs fully HR and L&D qualified.

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