Re-imagining Learning During a Critical Time: An ICELW 2020 Panel Discussion

by Evelyn Levine

At the recent ICELW 2020, the 13th International Conference on E-Learning in the Workplace, which was held online an international panel of experts, chaired by ICELW Conference Chair Dr. David Guralnick, discussed e-learning during this tumultuous time. The panelists were:

Imogen Casebourne, Oxford University Department of Education, Oxford, England, UK
Veronica Chehtman, Agua y Saneamientos Argentinos SA (AySA), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Iina Paarma, United Nations Development Programme, Copenhagen, Denmark
Antonella Poce, Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy

The panel chair and participants, spanning five countries, and with wide-ranging experience in both academia and industry, spoke of their many challenges. Remote work became the norm in a blink of the eye. All workplace learning immediately went online. Everything happened without plan or precedent.

The panel’s wide-ranging aspirational discussion focused on some key areas that came into sharp focus as the crisis unfolded and which can point towards fruitful areas of future development. We invite you to watch the full video of the ICELW panel here. Key areas that were discussed include:

Critical Skills

To quickly adapt to the new reality, some skills proved invaluable, most notably:

Digital skills 

There is now unanimous agreement that the digital workplace is here to stay. Not so surprisingly, the crisis highlighted that there was a widespread need to expand these skills. For some, there is a mismatch of skills, and for others a lack of necessary skills to fully operate in a digital-only environment. We need to acknowledge the fear of technology and support users to experiment with it.

Social skills 

The human skills of collaboration, communication, and empathy became and will continue to be vital to navigate the new workplace dynamics and norms and to work successfully with others who are not physically present.

Resilience

Skill in managing disruption and chaos is a key to success and will be prized as never before as organizations realize that unplanned change can happen in an instant.

Critical thinking

As change accelerates, the need for critical thinking to fully understand what is happening and to find solutions takes on even greater importance.

Changing Culture 

The sudden crisis required an ongoing balancing of conflicting needs of an organization – that of allowing flexibility with the need to maintain control. 

Organizations undertook rapid e-learning development and implementation. To meet organizational goals, immersive learning as well as learning which is more in-context and just-in-time were needed.  Many predict an increase in blended learning solutions as forced learning experiments with a captive audience will allow for more comfort with using technology to reach goals even in normal times.

Human habits are hard to change, especially in such an abrupt manner as happened during the crisis. Normal change management protocols gave way to a seat-of-the-pants improvisation. Also true is that behavioral change, and a change mindset, can be advanced at a time of turbulence and urgent need.

Workplaces did and will continue to give learners permission to engage in learning activities which will be leveraged to improve work performance. Workers will see themselves as life-long learners.

For instructor-led activities, the role of the teachers expanded and will continue to expand as they experiment with new technology. Instructional technicians are becoming a prevalent and critical resource to help with this change process. As new e-learning champions arise to meet the demands of the moment, their efforts need to be acknowledged, supported and sustained.

Learning communities expanded and will further expand to allow critical expertise to be more easily shared.         

Leveraging Technology

People are asking “Where would we be now without technology?,” an acknowledgment of just how critical technology has been during this crisis.

But “Where exactly are we with it?” should also be acknowledged. Technology is a tool and only as good as how it is utilized.

Some things that work: Build the technology around people and organizational goals to ensure it is more integrated into their world. Take into account issues of attention span and current distractions. Finally, make it a positive experience for users.

The focus should always be on the goals and on matching available technology with those goals. Also on designing technology that is more user friendly and feels more natural.

Once good solutions are found, technology allows organizations to scale up efficiently and effectively.

What Now and What’s Next?

As I write this, we are approximately 6 months into this critical time.

Now is when we can begin to make assessments of what worked well and what didn’t, take inventory of technology utilized and how it performed and was integrated, and be mindful of what additional supports and resources may be needed to nurture and expand skills.

It is also a time to prepare for the future. We need to focus on the future of work and how it may – or may not – change permanently due to this crisis. This critical time may present unprecedented opportunities to expand e-learning to meet personal and organizational goals.  

More on all that coming here in future blog posts. 

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ICELW Panel Participants

Panel Chair: David Guralnick, Kaleidoscope Learning, New York, New York, United States

Panelists: Imogen Casebourne, Oxford University Department of Education, Oxford, England, UK; Veronica Chehtman, Agua y Saneamientos Argentines SA (AySA), Buenos Aires, Argentina; Iina Paarma, United Nations Development Programme, Copenhagen, Denmark; Antonella Poce, Roma Tre University, Rome, Italy.

About the author: Evelyn Levine works as a Training and Staff Development Director for the U.S. Courts. She writes on worldwide learning and development trends in public and private sectors. She can be reached at levinee@prodigy.net.