Deep Thoughts

How we can make workplace learning more inclusive

The future of work is always such a hot topic across the world, and even more so as all of us look to the hopeful end of the current pandemic.

As we look at how we’ll adopt the lessons we’ve learnt from the last 18-ish months in designing a better model for work and life, I can’t help to reflect on what this means for the good old workplace learning team.

You see, the coronavirus has accelerated not only the remote working revolution by at least a decade but the adoption of even more digital tech too. Of course, for many workplace learning teams, this has meant being dragged into the modern age.

Stepping away from the tried, trusted and safety of the classroom probably scared the shit out of many of you. I mean, how can you upskill people without a classroom? It’s sacrilege I hear you say!

Yet, if you’ve read any of my work before, you’re well aware that the classroom is not the holy venue, which too many workplace learning teams use to worship at, of developing people.

So, the digital transformation happened overnight and a lot of people were running around, trying to figure out – how the hell do we do this learning stuff now?

Then came Zoom… the almighty saviour for your local L&D team, or maybe not.

A lot of people (and LinkedIn demonstrates this oh so perfectly…) decided to deliver the exact same 100 slides of death experience via Zoom and pitched this as “Digital learning” – I’ve never chuckled so much in recent times. But look – what was quickly discovered, is that this didn’t work very well.

Zoom fatigue is real and people are less likely to put up with shitty experiences aimed at helping them grow, when they have to stare at a screen for 8 hrs +.

Some teams, despite this discovery, have continued torturing people by delivering useless knowledge transfer experiences over Zoom for days on end. Whilst others looked to different methods like building community focused experiences in Slack and MS Teams.

Whichever road you chose to invest your community driven experiences in, the nature of these are now forever changed. You see, with all this future of work talk, we are on the cusp of forever changing the model of where and when we work, and this has a massive effect on what a lot of workplace learning teams will do in the future.

I would say 90% of the people development industry still relies on classrooms as the sole source of delivery in transferring knowledge and skill building to people. The thing is, when we get out of this strange time, none of us are ever going to be able to be in the same place at the same time to engage in an experience, and this is where the fun begins.

With people dispersed across a multitude of locations of office, home or even the beach. We need to think about how our industry can build inclusive learning experiences that everyone can benefit from.

So, whether you’re the budding young upstart who loves being in the office, the super creative who loves working at home for deep focused work or the travelling exec who is here, there and everywhere. They must all have access to the same experiences.

No longer can you design experiences that just fit an office environment. You need to build an approach that allows anyone, anywhere to access the same experience. And, I know this scares the shit out of many traditional trainers.

None of this is new right. The learning industry has, for sometime, needed to evolve in how they make learning experiences for all. Many are familiar with the constant and pointless debate about LMS/LXP/EXP or whatever term is trendy right now, and your learning tech stack being the answer to accessible experiences for all.

To some extent, it’s a good solution but, it’s only part of the puzzle.

An LMS/LXP/EXP is not going to serve all the needs of a workforce in building world class skills. Yes, it’s going to provide the same experience but what if that experience is shit? I mean a lot of these tools are not known for their stellar user experiences.

So, where does this leave us in creating inclusive experiences for all?

Your learning tech is part of the solution. Yet, the other part, mostly focused on community driven sharing, is what we need to work on.

You’re not going to get everyone into a physical classroom environment anymore. So forget about that, don’t keep dreaming it’s coming back – it’s not.

This leaves us in an area of needing to design community experiences that anyone, anywhere can engage in. Here’s a few things you can do and should consider in creating community experiences that all can partake in:

Bring it into your collaboration platforms

Whether you’re team Slack or Microsoft Teams, you’ve got a lot of opportunity to create community experiences in these platforms.

The bonus here is that people use these tools daily – it’s basically where most time at work is spent, so makes sense to meet people where they usually are, right?

You can do really simple but super effective experiences with these tools. You can build dedicated channels (Slack) and teams (MS Teams) to engage with and create experiences for all communities.

From little things like sharing resources and in-house video content to AMA (ask me anything) sessions with subject matter experts. You can connect lots of people, ignite discussion and provide a space for sharing which is just the same or even better than that 4 walled room you once threw people into. Plus, it doesn’t feel forced! 

Host blended talks

If you’re still glued to the concept of knowledge transfer through the sage on the stage only, consider how you can amplify and connect that experience no matter where someone is based.

Create short experiences where people can join onsite and through the power of video conferencing tools together. You can create the same audience interactivity by using tools like Slido and Mentimeter, which allow people to participate in polls, ask questions and leave instant feedback through any device.

Take a remote first approach, if it won’t work online, don’t build it. 

Inclusive learning is for all, whether you’re able to get to an office or you’re a working parent who spends afternoons working from home to be closer to the family. Both deserve an equal experience and access to the same opportunities.

Interactive community of practices

Following closely on from our previous points.

Let’s look at how we can make better use of existing pieces of workplace tech to support community experiences. Consider how using tools like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams can work in a live community environment.

This includes working on the same documents together, building products, engaging in role plays with those onsite and those offsite working together. It can all be done, you’ve just got to explore the enormity of the possible.

Additional thoughts and advice on creating inclusive workplace learning

  • How can you bring the same experience, feel and emotions to anyone, anywhere? How do you transform your usual in-person activities to an environment with some physical participants and others online. 
  • Take a remote first approach, if it doesn’t work online, don’t build it.
  • Remote/online participants are not second class users in experiences, anything you design and deliver must work for all. Whether that’s a resource, video or interactive experience – how can anyone access the same level of experience? It should never be that the best experience is in the one delivered onsite only, this is elitist and not inclusive – inclusive learning is access to the same opps for all. 
  • Reframe your mind from one-dimensional experiences to multi-dimensional.
  • Be human focused – whatever you build must cater for all not the few. Like I’ve touched upon several times already, everything must be accessible to all. The office loving groups, the working parents, the home working focused creatives, the ever travelling senior leaders and many more. Make the experiences and opportunities equal for all.

These are just a few thoughts but I’d love to hear how you’ll be making your workplace learning inclusive for all as we move through these ever changing times.

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