When enterprises finally started sending people home because of the coronavirus, Gartner undertook a survey of 800 global HR executives to find out to what degree remote working had become a reality. The survey indicated that 88% of organizations have encouraged or required employees to work from home, regardless of whether they showed coronavirus-related symptoms.Nearly all organizations (97%) had, even then, canceled work-related travel, more than an 80% increase on the two weeks that preceded.

In a statement Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice said of the findings: “As the COVID-19 crisis disrupts organizations across the globe, HR leaders must respond quickly and comprehensively, considering both immediate and long-term talent consequences.”

The Importance of Training

While there are many work-related changes that enterprises and workers will experience, one of them will be the need to introduce online, or remote, training in order to keep existing talent. Even as early as 2016 Gallup’s report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, revealed that 59% of millennials said that opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important to them when applying for a job.

It also showed that Millennials care deeply about their development when looking for jobs and — naturally — in their current roles. In all, 87% of millennials rate "professional or career growth and development opportunities" as important to them in a job — far more than the 69% of non-millennials who say the same.

So remote learning is important in the digital workplace? Or is it online learning? There is a significant difference between the two — a difference that enterprise leaders need to understand in order to develop the most effective learning programs and, as a result, ensure talent retention.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers and trainers across the country to move their content online and begin teaching and training remotely, Leann Poston, a physician, educator at and instructional designer at Kennewick, Wash.-based Invigor Medical, told us. Remote teaching takes talent, patience, commitment, and stamina, but remote teaching is not the thoughtful, science-based method of course design that is used to develop online courses. There was not enough time or training to make this happen. There is a considerable difference between online and remote learning. She defines them as follows:

1. Remote Teaching

Skype or Zoom lectures, reading assignments, possibly, essays or written assignments, few assessments, little use of group work, or discussion boards. Essentially moving content to an online space.

2. Online Education

Interactive modules, assessments based on real-world scenarios, discussion forums designed to discuss and solve problems, synchronous learning sessions that involve discussions and problem solving not recorded lectures.

Online vs. Remote Training

Mette Gottlieb is chief commercial officer at Edgewater, Md.-based LMS365, which provides distance learning on Microsoft products like Office 365 and SharePoint. She said that with the current health crisis, remote learning has become the norm. Remote learning, she said, occurs when employees and instructors are in distanced locations as opposed to a traditional classroom setting and all information is disseminated through technology, such as discussion boards, video conferencing, etc. As the pandemic places constraints on physical presence, remote learning has rapidly become the new normal. A lot of organizations have made the jump to both remote working and learning in a very ad hoc manner — without having a strategic plan in place and without truly exploiting the potential of their digital collaboration toolbox. “There seems to be a great opportunity for enterprises to become more intentional and strategic about making remote working a part of their cultural DNA and way of doing business — and key to success will be to empower employees with effective and collaborative training,” she said.

This differs with online learning where information and collaboration are facilitated online, but learners and instructors can be in the same classroom while working through lessons. Regardless of whether learning is delivered remotely or online, keeping employees engaged in their training and enabling instructors to track progress is critical to supporting a productive workforce, technology adoption, organizational security and compliance requirements-and this requires having the right tools for learning in place.

Learning Opportunities

Elaine Richards, president and COO at Chicago-based Wyzant, a digital marketplace that connect students to independent tutors, agrees. She believes that the term remote learning is certainly helpful in differentiating between the ad-hoc efforts to move traditional classes online vs online-native learning, but that is as far as it goes. The two are not the same.

When referring to what's happening today as online learning, many people get the impression that the current experience is similar to what they’d get in a class that was developed for a virtual setting, when that's not the case, she shared. Online education is specially tailored to maximize the experience and provide quality interaction and value for the students. It takes advantage of technology and curriculums that are optimized for the setting.

By contrast, today's instruction due to the pandemic response is an emergency transition that put teachers in a rush to learn new technology that they had not incorporated into their lesson plans. Wyzant’s lesson volume grew 81% year over year in April. Richards believes that the growth has been driven by both the shortcomings of remote learning adaptations, as well as adult professionals looking for the best way to increase their skills and marketability during this challenging time. For example, the number of new online learners in April for major languages are all up significantly YOY (Spanish 148%, French 137% and Japanese 215%). New online computer programming learners increased 168% in the same period.

Learning in the Future

According to Sandi Lin, CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Skilljar, they too are seeing record-breaking demand for online education hosted on their platform in the last two months. This demand is coming from a combination of learners who are scrambling to adapt to the new, remote world of work, and from organizations who can no longer educate their audiences via in-person modalities. “COVID-19 marks an inflection point in the adoption of online learning, and this promises to have many positive downstream educational, social, and economic benefits,” she said. With this view, it is important to see how online learning is changing. She identified two major changes happening in the world of learning:

  1. Traditional Online Learning — Traditional online learning typically involves a curriculum that was specifically designed for that purpose. In other words, lessons and the technology used to conduct them are created and optimized with a virtual audience in mind. If you sign up for an online university course, there is no expectation that students will have to show up to a physical classroom, in-person, for example. Lecture videos and accompanying materials are often designed to be viewed electronically and class interactions are generally facilitated by technologies expressly built for that purpose.
  2. Reactive Online Learning — One the other hand, remote learning, in the way that many of us are currently experiencing it, is a largely reactionary experience. Rather than creating lessons that are intended to be taught online, many organizations are scrambling to adapt the in-person, face-to-face courses they have historically relied on, and modifying them for a virtual, remote audience. These efforts are conducted with the express purpose of getting information to the desired audience, as soon as possible.

The Road Ahead

In the coming months, Lin concluded, as organizations move past the initial shock and scramble of shifting online, and settle into whatever may be our new normal, we expect learners to get more accustomed to remote learning from businesses and educational institutions alike. So long as content creators are at home, and unable to access studios and equipment, users will continue to welcome educational materials of varying production quality, and access to information will be the most crucial element of the experience.

Regardless of whether traditional instructional design principles are applied, the ability to achieve learning outcomes will override perfection. This precedent has already been set across the internet, and anyone with a cell phone can create an instructional video. This trend, she said, is unlikely to slow down.