April 24, 2020

Helping learners (and my Mum!) to connect in a digital way in a ‘COVID-19’ world

I was lucky enough to specialise in using technology for learning, long before most companies had a focus on it. This was a great opportunity for me to really understand what was happening and what was just a ‘fad’ (not always clear at the beginning).

I landed an amazing role as ‘Research and Development Consultant’. What this actually translated to was to spend 2 years of my life attending conferences and networking with companies to share best practice! I had a ball – it was an amazing job, as I was being paid to continually develop myself and learn new things.

Baby steps into technology

When I first started this role, I wasn’t really a fan of technology, as I thought it was trying to replace classroom training and I fought against it. Learning is a social experience and you must be in the same room as a group… with chocolate biscuits! Now I am a pretty good online facilitator. So, what happened? Well, I attended so many fascinating events that I began to see that they really did complement each other and work hand-in-hand.

Technology isn’t scary once we understand how to use it, and the benefits it can provide. In fact, technology needs to be embraced, as it can enhance what we do and help us. When I first started my journey to understand how technology can be used in learning, I became fascinated with Social Learning – it was a new idea at the time, and it did feel a bit like a buzz word (as everyone was using it meaning different things to different people).

I had to make my own mind up, so whilst I was studying my Level 7 CIPD qualification, I decided to do my dissertation (or work based project) on Social Learning. It was so interesting to research the truth behind a lot of the big ‘success stories’ out there. There were some really common stories being told, but some of them were actually only one-hit wonders, where others had made a genuine impact and changed the way people were working.

During this research, I heard a great question that I paraphrase here:

“You would never employ someone you don’t trust, so why stop trusting them once you employ them?”

This really struck home with me and was the answer why Social Learning wasn’t working everywhere. People were posting comments on Social Learning Platforms, but then the comments had to be approved or monitored before being published. This felt too much like Big Brother – why couldn’t it just be self-regulating? We should initiate, enable, and release potential – not suppress and control it.

Social Learning

So, what did this new terminology of Social Learning actually mean? Well, basically it was a platform designed for people to share their knowledge in an unstructured and unregulated way. It was a way of sharing knowledge easily and being able to ask questions and get quick responses from other people actually doing the job.

Social Learning really was the birth of understanding how technology could aid learning but HR and Learning and Development teams had to let go of the control – they don’t own the learning, they should just enable it to happen. This is the true secret to this day and determines whether your internal platforms fail or work. Don’t police them – trust your employees to support and help each other! At DPG we have 2 tools:

  1. Internal ‘Slack’ channels where staff interact on a day to day basis from (currently) 60 ‘offices’ across the UK, (see staff member Jess’s Blog on this) and
  2. a DPG Community that is a great example of how to do this for customers.

Technology Today

You may have thought by the title that this would be a focus on my Mum and the COVID-19 trends, yet this is the first time I’ve mentioned them. The reason being, is that some companies (and my Mum) have fought technology for a long time and now they are being forced to use it. They are only now realising the benefit of it and are now really valuing it, as many companies are still able to work during this hard time.

We need to embrace the technology, but in a careful way. It can’t replace the way we’ve done things, but it can help and support us. So, if you are looking to try and recreate the way of working with technology, you won’t get the same result, but if you understand how technology can help you, then you can re-design it to make it a success now.

Training using technology

Many companies are now looking to replace their classroom training with virtual training – this is great, as we can continue to develop people during this time. It is actually a great time to do it, as many people need that extra support, care an attention at the moment. But, you can’t try and replicate your classroom session online and expect the same results.

You need to completely redesign your training to suit a virtual environment. Things to consider when you are doing this:

  • Have much shorter sessions
  • Make the training modular
  • Have a break in a 90 min session (it’s a long time to sit at a computer)
  • Understand that people may be home-schooling at the same time
  • Make it accessible to everyone (don’t assume they will know how to work it)
  • Put people at ease straight away
  • Keep it highly interactive
  • Have great visuals to keep it visually appealing.

You can tell a lot about a company in how they are currently using technology. I deliver Level 3 Learning and Development CIPD qualification for DPG. As soon as the announcement was made for reducing travel, they were re-writing their blended programme. I’d already helped them design the blended material and the sessions work really well, but this was a whole new challenge – to teach L&D skills, without meeting in a classroom!

But as a professional team that really do ‘practice what we preach’, we turned this round in super quick time, so that no student’s learning was affected, and the classroom sessions had all been redesigned as virtual sessions – they are highly interactive and follow all the best practice!

The students are loving the new approach and my group has had extra people join, as some people have more time to devote to studying and they can do it all from home! This is the perfect time to look in to the courses DPG offer – you never know you may be lucky enough to get me as your facilitator! 😉

In Summary

Technology is great, so use it well and have fun connecting people – so what about my Mum?

Well, I’ve just taught my 70+ year old Mum to use Zoom (it was a long process!), but she now feels more connected to the world, even though she lives alone.

So, go out there and enjoy the connecting with technology & keep learning all the way!


By Rachel Powell – DPG Facilitator


Please note that the HR qualifications that appear on this page will be replaced in 2021. For more information on this change please read the CIPD’s announcement here.