How we can #KeepLearningStrong

By Lars Hyland

The recent global crisis has knocked many of us for six. To say it has been a challenge to meet the immense learning challenges caused by the sudden shift to remote working and controlling and managing a global pandemic of this scale would be putting it lightly. That’s why Totara Partner Enovation has launched its #KeepLearningStrong movement, which celebrates learning and the huge role that learning professionals have to play in helping businesses stay resilient and agile in these strange times.

Totara’s Chief Learning Officer, Lars Hyland, spoke to Enovation as part of their new movement, and shared his thoughts on why it’s vital that we keep learning strong. Here’s what he had to say.

Learning is fundamental

Learning is pretty much as fundamental to us as human beings as breathing. From the day we are born we are learning naturally and rapidly - without fear of repeated failure and repetition. School tends to introduce that fear later, which is sad, so I would say keeping learning strong should mean staying curious, recognizing the opportunities around us to learn directly from our experiences and taking the time to reflect and deliberately apply new skills and knowledge. Failing to do so often means we revert back to old ways.

Prioritize flexibility

Flexibility and openness are the two words I would choose to describe the way that successful organizations are dealing with the current situation. Organizations that have cultures, processes and technology that are flexible and open have been far more adaptable and responsive to the radical changes the pandemic has brought on us. At Totara, like many in the digital learning industry, we have been able to smoothly switch to full remote-working with very little interruption to normal working practices. We were already flexible and open.

Black and white image of a woman about to run up stairs

Support from a distance

Having my immediate family separated during this pandemic, it’s brought home how essential our communications tools have become. I can talk with my son in Melbourne and my daughter in London simultaneously and with ease. Everyone has been able to support each other, through significant personal change. In my family alone, we’d had cases of catching and recovering from the virus, switching work to directly support COVID-19 research, and keeping in touch with wider family and friends. Well done WhatsApp and Zoom!

What successful distance learning looks like

In my view successful distance learning is the same as any successful learning experience. Technology now lies at the heart of the modern learning experience and it will catalyze and amplify both good and bad outcomes. So really, success is driven by good design and more importantly a deep investigation into whether learning is even the answer to the problem. In many cases it can be the tools we use, the processes and the culture and engagement of the work environment around us that is the root cause.

Open to change

Interesting question - I spent a good proportion of my time designing interactive learning experiences which on one level were attractive - award-winning even - and yet, because the support wasn’t there, or the environment was toxic, they failed to have any real lasting impact on individuals and the organization as whole. So before starting to get creative, ask “Why are we doing this? What are the outcomes we want to see? Can we solve this another way?”

Rapid adaptation across the industry

Our industry finds itself in the spotlight given that pretty much everyone in the workplace is having to work differently and communicating using technology. So we see that ALL learning and collaboration is happening through the types of tools and technologies that Totara and its partners provide. These cover formal learning, informal learning, collaboration, performance management and employee engagement.

How Totara is supporting employees

We have been able to transition our two main offices - Wellington, New Zealand and Brighton, UK to full remote working early on. Our technologies were already in place to support Zoom calls and asynchronous collaboration using Totara Social. The main challenge has been being sensitive to the impact the pandemic is having on staff personally as well as on their work. Our priority has been their health and wellbeing. 

Seeking support in the Totara Community

With 1,800 customers worldwide, our partners are solving the whole range of learning challenges across sectors and regions. Through our Totara Community we see a lot of interest in the best ways to work and learn remotely and mental health support. Totara is used extensively by the government and healthcare sectors, so we are seeing a lot of specific learning support for healthcare professionals and public sector key workers.

Recommended reading and resources

I’d point people to go back 10 years and read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. It pulls together research on what motivates us in the workplace and it is now more relevant than ever - mastery, autonomy and purpose work together, acting like a three-legged stool - you need to support and nurture all three if you want a successful workplace. It underpins my belief that our technology infrastructure should integrate learning management, performance management and employee engagement so you can coordinate this support. This is what Totara is working on right now - an integrated platform that will give organizations the tools to manage these motivators much better than ever before.

How learning professionals can stay relevant

Today everyone needs to be open to learning new skills and behaviors. Digital and data literacy are now critical to everyone but even more so to HR and learning professionals everywhere. In the workplace, everyone needs to have at least one deep skill and a broad general understanding of all areas of your business. That’s the T-professional model that has been around for some time. I think you need to go further and think of being a pi-professional - the greek pi symbol suggests you need two deep skills in addition to the broad complementary skills. Maybe even it’s even m-shaped - digital + core expertise + companion expertise. For L&D that could mean learning design + digital + data analysis.

T, pi and M diagrams

Keen to #KeepLearningStrong?

There are over 7,000 learning professionals in the Totara Community, who share resources, questions and advice every day. Join them for free and access best practice learning resources covering remote working, wellbeing and much, much more.

Take a look at Lars' full interview here: