Learning at Work in a Hybrid World

The new opportunities and challenges facing L&D.

Written by Jonathan Hancock
Published 13 October 2021
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Learning at Work in a Hybrid World
As COVID restrictions ease, many of us are now stepping back into shared workplaces. But hardly anyone is returning to “business as usual.”

In most sectors, lessons learned in lockdown are shaping the future of work. The pandemic proved what was possible. We carried on communicating and collaborating virtually. We had a chance to make some changes to our work-life balance. And now many of us want to continue working flexibly – often with a “hybrid” approach: sometimes in the office, sometimes not. [1]

But it’s not all plain sailing. Leaders everywhere are grappling with the challenges of long-term hybrid working.
If people choose where and when to work, how do teams stay connected? Will companies still meet all their targets? Are the new flexible arrangements fair for everyone?

The battle for talent is fierce, and expectations on employers are at an all-time high.

And a big part of meeting those expectations will be making learning fit for purpose in a post-pandemic world.
 

What learners need now

To respond to all this rapid change, L&D leaders need to provide tools that suit life now, not as it was pre-COVID. Only then will their people get the quality learning they crave – and need now more than ever.

But it won’t be good enough to simply run training sessions as Zoom meetings, or send out extra resources packs via email. Just swapping some learning from real-life to remote is not what hybrid learning is about.
 

What is hybrid learning?

Hybrid learning means creating a learning experience that people can engage with effectively either in person or virtually. It’s a form of synchronous learning because everyone does it at the same time.
Hybrid sessions can be part of a blended learning approach, where there are also some asynchronous elements for people to do in their own time – face-to-face discussion groups, for example, or materials to explore online.

What defines true hybrid learning is that it works well for everyone, however they’re taking part. And, as we’ll see, that’s easier said than done – but our own research shows that it’s well worth the effort, and gives organizations that embrace it a clear advantage. [2]
 

The advantages of hybrid learning

At its best, hybrid learning overcomes the practical challenges caused by people being in different places. It’s inclusive, so everyone can keep working in the best way for them – and still enjoy top-quality learning with others.

What’s more, learning in this way embeds many of the skills needed for hybrid working. It values the intelligent use of technology, strengthens remote communication and teamwork, and enhances people’s openness to change.

Hybrid learning cuts down on travelling and printing, too, so it saves time, money and energy – helping us and the planet. For sectors keen to improve their eco credentials that’s a major boon. [3]
 

The difficulties with hybrid learning

However, making hybrid learning work takes effort and expertise from L&D. And learning designers, trainers and teachers now have much more to think about, to ensure that everyone learns well.

Sometimes technology gets in the way, if people don’t have the right equipment – or a good enough connection – to participate fully. [4]

And even when everything’s working, learners joining from a distance can get a worse experience than those in the room. It’s easy for remote learning to become passive, and for people to get distracted and demotivated on their own. [5]
 

How to make hybrid learning work

So the benefits of hybrid learning are there – if you clear away the barriers. Here are seven ways to set yourself up for success:
 

1. Look after your learners.

Make sure that both the physical learning environment, and the virtual one, are appealing, well-equipped and welcoming. Remote learners may need some extra technical help, plus guidance about how to stay focused and effective in their own space.

2. Keep everything equal.

Involve your remote learners as much as those who’ve come in person. Use technology to level the playing field – maybe getting everyone to share their ideas via an app, or creating mixed, remote/real-life teams for collaborative tasks. Keep communicating with everyone, and encourage your participants to do the same. Learners thrive in communities. [4]

3. Try blended learning.

Back up hybrid sessions with a variety of other learning opportunities, both face-to-face and online. Your people could keep the discussion going in a wiki, Slack chat or WhatsApp group, for instance. Or you could give them materials to explore in their own time before or after a hybrid event.

4. Use parallel presenters.

It can be a challenge for one person to support everyone taking part. So, if possible, get someone to give extra support to those in the room, while someone else helps those online. Swapping these roles during the session will also add variety for everyone, and further connect the group.

5. Get everyone involved.

If people aren’t doing things, it’s easy for them to switch off – especially if they’re remote. Making learning interactive boosts attention and creates new options for collaboration. Use all the features of your communications tools to the full – but don’t be afraid to get remote learners writing, drawing or making things physically, too.

6. Enable learning in the flow of work.

Use the flexibility of hybrid working to let people get the learning they need – to do their job or to face a particular challenge. And encourage them to practice what they learn as part of their role, so that they embed it, share it with others, and contribute to a culture of learning at work. [6]

7. Develop hybrid learning skills.

Your people need the right tech know-how to make hybrid learning work. But just as important are skills like focus, resilience and adaptability. So give those the priority they deserve in your overall L&D plan.
 

Hybrid working requires hybrid learning

Early evidence about the benefits of hybrid learning is promising. [7] But, like hybrid working, it’s going to take the care and commitment of leaders – and the buy-in of their people – to realize its full potential.
At its best, hybrid working lets us work in ways that suit us, and helps us to contribute fully to our organization.
And hybrid learning can also be a win-win – matching our personal needs and preferences, but also making us better learners.

What’s more, it enriches and embeds the very skills that will let us thrive in the new-style, fast-changing workplace. It sets us up to be more tech-savvy, connected, adaptable and ambitious than ever.
To overcome the challenge and seize opportunities ahead, hybrid working and hybrid learning need to go hand in hand.


References 

[1] Webex, (2021). The future of work is hybrid [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[2] Emerald Works (2021). ‘Workplace Learning From Home.’ Available here
[3] Sweeney, M. (2021). Why Higher Education Must Evolve to Support the Hybrid Workplace [online]. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[4] McKinsey (2020). Back to school: a framework for remote and hybrid learning amid COVID-19. Available here.
[5] Weitze, C.L. (2015). ‘Pedagogical innovation in teacher teams: An organisational learning design model for continuous competence development.’ In A. Jefferies, & M. Cubric (Eds.), Proceedings of 14th European Conference on e-Learning ECEL-2015 (629-638). Academic Conferences and Publishing International. Proceedings of the European Conference on e-Learning. Available here
[6] KPMG (2021). Hybrid learning: time for L&D to influence the hybrid working debate. Available here. [Accessed September 30, 2021.]
[7] Raes, A. et al. (2021). ‘A systematic literature review on synchronous hybrid learning: gaps identified,’ Learning Environ Res 23, 269-290. Available here.

About the author

Jonathan Hancock

Jonathan Hancock

Digital Content Editor/Writer
After 15 years as a BBC current-affairs presenter and producer, Jonathan spent a decade in education, progressing from classroom teacher to school leader. He’s passionate about all aspects of learning, but has a special interest in memory, having won two Guinness world records and the title of World Memory Champion. Jonathan has published 14 books on thinking and learning, designed training programs and competitions, and consulted for TV shows. He also loves staying physically fit by competing in running events – from 5K races to ultramarathons.

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