The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives in so many unexpected ways, many of which have been profoundly challenging. It’s difficult to know what the ‘new normal’ could be, let alone when we know when we’ve got there.

That’s why I enjoyed this blog post from Ryan Tracey, in which he’s dispensed with the ‘new normal’ phrase entirely. Instead, he’s focused on what the ‘next normal’ might be, and what the role of L&D could be in this. It feels good to reflect on the role of L&D at this time: not only does it signal that we can start to look forward again, but it also reminds us that we have an important part to play in helping people and organisations adapt.

Here at Complete Learning Solutions, the lockdown has given us some time for reflection. We’re very fortunate that much of our business can be run remotely. However, I’ve often sat back in contemplation and wondered what all this is like for someone who’s never worked remotely or used an online tool before.

What do learners need?

I’ve also found myself thinking deeply about learners’ needs. How can we as L&D professionals support others when so much is changing?

It’s easy to assume that people automatically know what to do when it comes to online learning, but with so many tools now in use (are you using Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime or Google Hangouts?) plenty of us find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. And that’s before you factor in the intermittent wifi, shared computer and the complexities of working at home.

When I caught up with our candidate manager Nic Peacocke, she reminded me of some more challenges that learners are facing. She and her husband have been home-schooling their three children during the crisis, so as well as juggling a whole new set of priorities, she’s needed to find time for herself. (She’s rediscovered drawing and cooking, and has set herself some goals for after lockdown.)

eLearning courses aimed at people working from home clearly need to take work-life challenges into account.

Supporting others with time as well as tech

So, how can we meet these complex and changing needs? My answer for now isn’t radical, or about forging a different kind of normal. It’s about taking time.

If you’re running online training sessions or meetings, build in extra time for people’s internet to drop out, for them to have to deal with another priority or simply to struggle to focus. Give people time to get used to the software, the new passwords needed and the awkwardness of talking over one another. And keep meetings as short as you can to spare everyone the dreaded Zoom fatigue.

When it comes to putting together performance support or learning, take the time to do a full needs analysis. Make sure you include a learner analysis so you can tailor resources and support to people’s needs. Performance consulting will help you here to make sure your support addresses the real problem, and that you can measure the impact.

If you’re putting together content but can’t provide everything that’s being asked for straightaway, find your learners a go-to person or an interim solution while you give yourself time to explore the bigger picture. Think about learners’ time too. Microlearning can be brilliant. After all, who wants to sit through a 20-minute course at the moment?

It is people, people, people

Now more than ever, it’s important not to make assumptions about people’s prior skills and experience, or how the crisis could be affecting them. Techno-fear and feeling overwhelmed can seem crushing when in isolation. Above all, we need to take the time to be sensitive and compassionate, and to reach out to people who may be struggling.

It’s easy to see technology as the magic bullet at the moment. It’s certainly true that it’s kept us in touch with one another and offered us opportunities to share information and support, but it’s also bringing new challenges that not everyone is able to handle just now. Let’s focus on what we Kiwis are best at – giving each other the time and space we need to emerge into a new world.