• Mansour K. Mansour, PhD

Disrupting Corporate Learning During and Post COVID-19


The purpose of this post is to present a practical approach to learning and development that organizations might consider adopting and implementing. A number of doubts and questions were posed before the COVID-19 time whether the traditional learning and development methodologies are still fit for the current and future times. The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of new learning and development methodologies that are essential for the survival of our workforce. I cover the following topics in this article:

  • Why Do We Need a New Learning & Development Paradigm?

  • Learning and Development Teams - Face-to-Face vs Technology Based Training Delivery

  • COVID-19 Related Unemployment Deepens the Need for Upskilling and Reskilling

  • The Capability Building Continues

  • Building Long Term Organizational Resilience in the Era of Constant Change and Uncertainty

  • A Practical Approach Utilizing Mastery of Skills and Emerging Technologies to Prepare an Agile Workforce

  • The Agile Learning Platform of the Future

Deloitte in 2017 published a report titled “Rewriting the rules for the digital age” that is based on the results of a survey they conducted of more than 10,000 business and HR leaders from 140 countries. The survey revealed 10 areas for businesses to focus on to better organize, manage, develop, and align people at work. The report identified new trends in careers and learning summarized in the diagram below:

Why Do We Need a New Learning & Development Paradigm?

Steve Glaveski in his article titled “Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development” and published in the Harvard Business Review on October 2nd, 2019 argued that the return on investment of $359 billion spent by organizations in 2016 on training was not worth it. The diagram below presents a summary of his justifications for that conclusion.

Steve in his article goes on and identifies the reasons why the current learning and development practices are broken. The diagram below presents a summary of the reasons. In addition, the diagram below also presents information on flawed training methodologies presented by Stephen P. Anderson, speaker, educator, and design leader, in an article titled “Toward A New Model for Corporate Learning and Development (Part 1)” and published on Medium.

In addition to identifying the reasons why the current learning and development practices are broken, Steve proposes a number of strategies to improve the return on investment of the learning and development activities. More on those strategies are covered in the article below.

Learning and Development Teams - Face-to-Face vs Technology Based Training Delivery

In a post on LinkedIn back in November 2019 by Donald H Taylor, the Chairman of The Learning and Performance Institute, and titled “Can you help? There's a storm gathering over L&D and people are looking for advice”, he posed a number of Learning and Development questions from experts in the field on face-to-face versus technology based training delivery. Many experts in the field provided responses on that post which could be accessed using the post link. Before addressing those issues and concerns, it is worth noting that those issues and concerns are still lingering around creating confusion and causing the loss of valuable opportunities.

Donald brought up intriguing topic and questions and the following was my response then on the post and is still true now:

  • I agree with the statement you mentioned “The technology they can buy.” This is the easiest part of the online journey assuming the organization have the resources to buy the technology. The real challenge is to achieve employee engagement leading to results and added value. The idea of simply generating digital content that would replace a textbook or replacing face-to-face delivery by virtual meeting engagement is not effective and does not add real value to the training process. We need to be able to move from Substitution to Redefinition on the SAMR Model in our approach to digital content. The following video provides an overview of the SAMR Model:

  • In my view, a number of elements within the organization need to be present to help achieve the required employee engagement, namely culture, mentoring, social learning, innovative digital learning content, etc ... Learning & Development Teams ought not solely bear the responsibility of the employee engagement process which is in my view a shared responsibility driven by the leaders of the organization.

  • I would highly recommend utilizing the Knowledge/Skills/Application methodology to map the training objectives first to the blended model (in-class versus online) and then to the digital learning environment tools. For example, an ePortfolio could be utilized to demonstrate mastery of the application components of the training. I strongly believe that mentoring is very essential during the application phase of the learning process to achieve the required impact as well as to achieve learners' engagement. Please refer to my article titled “Utilizing Emerging Technologies to Prepare an Agile Workforce: A Practical Approach” for more on the practical approach that I utilized.

  • In the above article, I am also referring to the change management and the knowledge management plan that I implemented to bring the trainers, assessors, and managers up to speed to the newly implemented training model. Diagram 7 of the article shows the different components of the change management and knowledge transfer plan that I implemented. To help facilitate this change, the virtual learning environment (VLE) implementation was integrated with social learning tools that allowed for professional development, sharing best practices, and building knowledge communities.

  • I am in favor of agile digital e-learning environments where the learners are recipients and contributors of the learning content. This would allow for more engaging discussions and would eliminate the silos. Unfortunately, many digital learning environments are built around the strategy that learners are only recipients for the most part. I like the expression "Learning is fundamentally a social phenomenon." I described in some detail the agile learning environment in my article titled: "Social Learning in the Social Enterprise".

  • Moreover, I would like to bring to your attention a well-written article titled “Cracking the Code of Sustained Collaboration” that would add value to this discussion. Please refer to my short article "Guide to Sustained Collaboration" that provides a summary of that article. In my view, leaders are responsible for inducing the right culture of respect and collaboration leading to innovation and employee engagement.

Other models that help us in understanding technology integrations are the TPACK Model and Bloom's Digital Taxonomy. The following videos provide overviews of those models respectively:

Another issue that many in the field of Learning and Development are concerned about is the trainee engagement. Their argument is that technology based training results in a diminished learners engagement. I love the quotation “Training is an event; learning is a process”. The reality is when organizations as well as Learning and Development Teams expect one or two days of training to magically transform their cultures, they're setting themselves up for disappointment. True behavior change happens when the heads and hearts of learners are engaged both in the classroom and beyond.

I personally adopt the training methodology mentioned above that utilizes the Knowledge, Skills, and Application components. This methodology in my view requires an agile digital learning environment coupled with mentorship opportunities at the workplace. I would add that the digital learning environment allows for competency based learning, evidence and portfolio based training, and analytics allowing benchmarking and measuring added value. It is crucial that we move from content substitution consumed by learners to the creation of digital content by learners.

COVID-19 Related Unemployment Deepens the Need for Upskilling and Reskilling

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap between labor supply and demand was a problem for business leaders and finding employees with the right skills was a key concern. Valerie Bolden-Barrett reported in her article titled “Skill deficits affect workers of all skill levels, managers say” and published in HRDIVE on December 6, 2019 on the survey of 1,499 HR, operational and business managers conducted by the staffing firm TrueBlue. “The nationwide poll revealed that 32% of managers said they can't find employees to fill low-skill positions, 46% can't fill middle-skill positions and 35% can't find workers to fill high-skill openings.”

In a report by The World Economic Forum published on July 27, 2017 and titled “Accelerating Workforce Reskilling for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, it was reported that “While 35% of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020, at least 1 in 4 workers in OECD countries is already reporting a skills mismatch with regards to the skills demanded by their current jobs. Thus, enabling and empowering workers to transform and update their skills is a key concern for businesses and societies across the globe.” The diagram below presents some of the report findings:

Recently unemployed individuals said they struggle to understand or articulate the skills which will benefit them most in today's job market, a May 28, 2020 survey by LiveCareer revealed. "The survey data collection occurred over a period of five days, May 6–May 11, 2020. During the online survey administration, a total population of 36,492,000 U.S. workers had already filed jobless claims between March 21 and May 9 due to the economic collapse caused by COVID-19. The sample collected (n = 1,519) is representative of the U.S. labor force according to known distributions of gender, geographical region and age group, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. At a 95% confidence level, the margin of error is +/- 2.5%." The diagram below presents a summary of the survey results:

Aman Kidwai argues in his article “Many employers place the onus on workers to gain the skills needed to succeed in the modern workplace, but those needs are evolving so rapidly that employers are involving themselves in the upskilling process. Many business leaders believe it will be far too complex and costly to be shuffling employees in and out if their skills become obsolete so quickly.”

"If we take collective action to help develop the right blend of technical and soft skills, people will augment rather than compete with technology and employers will be able to find and nurture the talent they need for the open jobs," Becky Frankiewicz, President of ManpowerGroup North America, told HR Dive in an interview.

Aman in his article concludes with the following argument "While some unemployed workers are having trouble finding jobs, a recent survey found that a third of workers who lost jobs, income or hours during the pandemic have started a new job. Ultimately, the pandemic will continue to shake up the labor market; employers that help their workers keep up may be better positioned for future success."

The Capability Building Continues

Alok Kshirsagar, Tarek Mansour, Liz McNally, and Marc Metakis from McKinsey published on March 17, 2020 an article in the McKinsey Accelerate titled "Adapting workplace learning in the time of coronavirus". In their article, they stress that organizations and businesses can’t afford to pause their capability building efforts. “Whether the effort is reskilling at the business-unit level or a company-wide aspirational transformation, companies can’t simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning, even as they move rapidly to put employee safety first.” Learning leaders at those organizations need to consider a number of tactical and strategic steps to continue enabling and delivering value-creating efforts. The diagram below summarizes those strategies that learning leaders and organizations can consider:

  • tactical steps include protect employees, adapt programs and delivery, and establish and expand virtual live learning noting that digital and virtual learning programs were already on the rise before COVID-19 struck.

  • strategic measures include exploring alternative digital learning strategies, that managers can develop during this time of social distancing where the stronger learning capabilities that emerge could stand as a positive long-term outcome.

To help creating engagement and community feel during the live sessions, the authors of the above article offer a number of strategies before, during, and after the event. Those strategies are summarized in the diagram below.

In a slightly different approach and focusing on the importance of developing soft skills, Pedro Cardoso published on March 14, 2020 an Association for Talent Development (atd) Insight article titled “Optimizing Your Leadership Development Program During the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak”. He argues that "good leadership is needed now more than ever to keep business moving forward and emerge strongly from the current challenge. For leadership development, it is time to pivot, not pause." It is crucial that businesses modify their development programs to support and grow their leaders at this time of greatest need. The diagram below provides a summary of the strategies Pedro propose to help businesses optimize their learning and development programs.

Other reports that address the importance of learning and development as a key strategy in ensuring employee growth and you might like to review are the following:

  • According to a report from Manpower Group titled “Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want” that surveyed U.S.-based employees, learning and development are part of a holistic needs structure that leads to employee success.

  • A report from LinkedIn titled “4th Annual 2020 Workplace Learning Report” revealed that this growth starts with leadership, where CEOs and managers should lead the way in learning and development initiatives.

Building Long Term Organizational Resilience in the Era of Constant Change and Uncertainty

Deloitte in their 2020 Global Human Capital Trends - The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward tackled the following question “How can organizations remain distinctly human in a technology-driven world?” In this year’s Global Human Capital Trends report, the authors call upon organizations to embrace three attributes—purpose, potential, and perspective—that characterize what it means to fuse people and technology to perform as a social enterprise at work.

The report is based on the Global Human Capital Trends survey conducted by Deloitte. Fifty percent of respondents which polled nearly 9,000 business and HR leaders in 119 countries, categorized their organization’s purpose as broadening extensively to include all stakeholders, including the communities they serve and society at large.

In the Introduction of that report, the authors, present "a view that fuses the human and the technological—one that calls us to work with a world shaped by technology—can enable people and organizations to transcend the most challenging conflicts that exist in organizations today by making three bold shifts:"

  • Fostering belonging amid a desire for individuality

  • Creating security in a world of reinvention

  • Taking bold action in an age of uncertainty

"These three shifts represent a new set of attributes that characterize what it means to truly become a social enterprise at work (refer to the figure below):

  • Purpose: An organization that doesn’t just talk about purpose, but embeds meaning into every aspect of work every day

  • Potential: An organization that is designed and organized to maximize what humans are capable of thinking, creating, and doing in a world of machines

  • Perspective: An organization that encourages and embraces a future orientation, asking not just how to optimize for today, but how to create value tomorrow"

In the section titled “Beyond reskilling - Investing in resilience for uncertain futures”, the authors of the report present five shifts that can help organizations build resilience. Those shifts translate to organizations implementing “a system that invests not just in workers’ near-term skill needs but also in workers’ long-term resilience can help build long-term organizational resilience in a world where the only constant is change.” The diagram below presents the five shifts that can help organizations build long term resilience for individuals and for the organizations:

The diagram below summarizes the results of the survey on those five shifts:

While the following diagram presents Deloitte's perspective and conclusions based on research results:

The authors under the last section of that article, section title: "Learning by example”, present concrete examples of organizations that have already begun the journey to building resilience by distinguishing themselves as leaders in one or more of the five areas. The following is a summary of those initiatives:

  • Some organizations, like Latin American pharmaceutical company Megalabs and Banco Santander, are shifting their focus from building skills to cultivating capabilities first.

  • American Water is piloting a leadership program to develop capabilities essential for being a leader in the “age of disruption” such as innovating, problem-solving, and leveraging diversity of thought and ideas.

  • Other organizations are using experiential learning to help their people learn in the flow of work.

  • Some, like Walmart and Chipotle, are working with companies such as Guild Education to offer workers debt-free pathways to pursue degrees, certificates, and the option to receive school credit for on-the-job training. Guild Education connects employers to a network of educational institutions to enable workers engaged in training to earn credits toward professional certifications from nonprofit accredited universities. The following video presents David's story who is working for Walmart. David is a truck driver, husband, and father from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. With the help of his employer's education benefits, he’s earning a college degree debt-free.

The section concludes with the following statement "In a world where the only constant is change, supporting workers in reinventing themselves offers organizations a sustainable path forward as they aim to equip their workforces to do the work of today—and the future."

A Practical Approach Utilizing Mastery of Skills and Emerging Technologies to Prepare an Agile Workforce

I am presenting in this section the essential elements of a practical approach that enterprises might consider to prepare their agile workforce. The approach utilizes mastery of skills and competencies based methodologies combined with emerging technologies that best fit the selected learning and assessment strategies.

Lean Learning - Steve Glaveski in his article titled “Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development” suggests that "Today’s fast-moving business landscape calls for organizations and their people to adapt to changing circumstances rapidly, and to always be learning" as a way to fix the broken learning and development paradigms. He then adds "Lean learning, which pays homage to Toyota’s lean manufacturing system, stresses using effort only when it’s needed, improving outcomes, and cutting waste; it’s short, affordable, and provides employees and organizations with an immediate capability update." The diagram below summarizes the lean learning strategies that enterprises could apply as suggested by Steve.

Steve then concludes his article by saying "In order to begin practicing lean learning, organizations need to move from measuring continuous professional education (CPE) credits earned to measuring business outcomes created. Lean learning ensures that employees not only learn the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reasons, but also that they retain what they learn."

Competency Based Learning vs Traditional Learning - Dr. Greg Blackburn, Senior Business Manager for IMC AG, in his article titled “Skills Mastery Series: Part 1 - Introduction To Skills Mastery” and published in eLearning Industry on January 12, 2020 concludes the following after he lists 8 reasons why typical eLearning isn’t effective “It is, therefore, important to deliver effective training that will have a direct impact on your organization because learning must help businesses achieve better outcomes. This is where competency-based learning plays its part." The diagram below presents a comparison between competency based learning versus traditional learning over a number of factors.

In Part 2 titled “Skills Mastery Series: Part 2 - Pros, Cons, And Essential Elements” and published on February 9, 2020, Dr. Greg Blackburn addresses the pros and cons of competency-based and personalized learning as well as the elements of the competency based learning model. Please refer to that article for more details.

The Competency and Skills Mastery Model - Stephen P. Anderson in his article titled “Toward A New Model for Corporate Learning and Development (Part 1)” and published on June 18, 2019 in the Medium recognizes the importance of classifying what will be learned and he adds "I knew, implicitly, that How we teach or learn something depends a great deal on What it is we’re learning." he adds "You can’t assess How learning should happen, if we don’t also have a structured way to talk about the What we hope people will learn."

Skills mastery, competency as well as outcome based learning and certain qualification frameworks utilize a learning model based on the knowledge, skills, and application methodologies as depicted in the diagram below. This includes qualification frameworks like the Australian Technical and Further Education (TAFE), City & Guilds, SCOTVEC, the QFEmirates of the United Arab Emirates, Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), etc .

Stephen P. Anderson in his article titled “Toward A New Model for Corporate Learning and Development (Part 1)” stated that "I felt there were more than just these three things to consider (especially if we want to move from the theoretical to something more actionable)." Ultimately, he ended up with ‘10 Kinds of Learning Topics’, grouped into the following four categories as depicted in the diagram below:

Please refer to his article for more details on this topic.

Structure of Outcome Based Training and Supporting Technology - Generally speaking, a qualification or a training program structure follows the structure presented in the diagram below. Utilizing technology to support the delivery of this program or qualification, the diagram is also showing a competency structure framework taxonomy mapping. This particular taxonomy mapping is for Moodle LMS based platforms. Other virtual learning environments that support such structure are available in the market. I documented my experience designing and implementing a competency based learning qualification based on the QFEmirates of the United Arab Emirates National Qualifications Authority (NQA) framework in the following article "Utilizing Emerging Technologies to Prepare an Agile Workforce: A Practical Approach". The platform used for that implementation was the Brightspace virtual learning environment (VLE).

In Part 3 titled “Skills Mastery Series: Part 3 - How Technology Supports Skills Mastery” and published on March 1, 2020, Dr. Greg Blackburn presented a technology framework that can help support the competency based learning and make this training methodology a reality. The diagram below offers a summary of that framework. Dr. Blackburn concludes his article with the following statements "Linking organizational goals to learning outcomes promises to increase your organization's competitiveness with competency-based trained employees possessing the skills your business needs. Technology that supports you with delivering competency-based learning allows you to change your learners’ training experience and focus on your core mission: training and retaining a productive workforce."

The diagram below presents the virtual learning environment (VLE) digital tools that are usually used based on my experience to support the skills mastery training methodology.

Advancing, Assessment, and Verification Process under Skills Mastery Training - Louis Soares, who is currently the Chief Learning and Innovation Officer at American Council on Education, in his report titled “A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education” and published on June 2012 talks about assessment in competency-based learning as being embedded in every step of the learning process in order to provide learners with guidance and support toward mastery. He adds that “This heightened level of assessment is designed to build competencies in real time.” Louis includes in his report the below diagram that provides a simple yet powerful visual of the competency-based approach to learning and assessment.

Dr. Greg Blackburn in Part 2 of his Skills Mastery Series titled “Skills Mastery Series: Part 2 - Pros, Cons, And Essential Elements” and published on February 9, 2020, addresses the elements of the competency based learning model. The diagram below provides a summary of those elements and in particular the topics of Advancing and Assessment relevant to our discussion here.

From my experience of long years in the area of human capital development, the diagram below presents a host of assessment strategies that might be utilized to proof mastery of skills and competence.

In some cases, organizations might wish their employees to pursue qualifications towards their Competency Based Learning. The diagram below presents a sample portfolio based assessment and the associated verification process. Qualification frameworks like the Australian Technical and Further Education (TAFE), City & Guilds, SCOTVEC, the QFEmirates of the United Arab Emirates, and the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) utilize similar process.

Change Management and Knowledge Transfer Plan - A number of steps need to be adopted by your organization to help you manage the change introduced by the implementation of this new approach to learning and development. The diagram below presents the change management and knowledge transfer plan that I designed and implemented during a fairly recent experience. That experience included designing and implementing a competency based learning qualification based on the QFEmirates of the United Arab Emirates National Qualifications Authority (NQA) framework and is documented in the following article "Utilizing Emerging Technologies to Prepare an Agile Workforce: A Practical Approach". To help facilitate this change, the VLE implementation was integrated with social learning tools that allowed for professional development, sharing best practices, and building knowledge communities.

The Agile Learning Platform of the Future

John Kroger, Chief Learning Officer of the U.S. Navy and the author of the Leadership in Higher Education Blog, published on May 26, 2020 an article titled “10 Predictions for Higher Education’s Future”. In his article and under his 10th prediction titled “A new ubiquitous learning platform will emerge”, he states that “As more learning moves online, expect a major effort to develop and deploy a Facebook for learning, a ubiquitous and highly personal site, powered by AI, that curates individual learning opportunities and documents outcomes. Many are trying to develop that platform now; the winner will make billions of dollars.” Almost two years ago, I talked in my article mentioned above and titled “Social Learning in the Social Enterprise” about the agile learning environment. I present in the diagram below the main feature of my model for the agile learning platform of the future.

This would allow for building the community of learners with one stop venue for all their learning needs and would stimulate learners' engagement and would eliminate silos. Unfortunately, many existing digital learning environments are built around the strategy that learners are recipients of knowledge for the most part. The proposed model would allow learners to be consumers of knowledge and at the same time contributors of knowledge. I like the expression "Learning is fundamentally a social phenomenon."

An excellent case study that could offer some insight to some of the features of the proposed agile platform described here is reported by Susanna Ray in her report titled “High tech for higher ed: An Australian engineering professor revamps student learning with Teams”. She describes this implementation saying "Kellermann wanted to move the students from “500 islands” to a single team, working together no matter where they are or what their individual situations might be. So, he put together a platform that combines just about every product Microsoft offers into a unique experience for learning – from a Question bot that is capable of answering students’ queries on its own and can find and deliver relevant video clips from past lectures, to a Power BI dashboard that shows how students’ exam answers compare to peers’ and helps build personalized study packs for future tests based on previous performance." Even though this case study is an implementation within the higher education context, the approach of building the community of learners and engaging learners applies as well to enterprise learning and development practices.

Listen in the video below to Professor David Kellermann, a senior lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at The University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, talking about his experience using Microsoft products with Teams in the middle of it to create this digital environment and the community of learning.

To probe further, refer to the following recent video by Dr. David Kellerman where he talks in depth about his implementation using MS Teams. It is interesting to see how he used Augmented Reality (AR) to bring the lab into the learning environment.


The skills mastery and competency based learning is proposed as a sustainable model for the workforce skills development in place of the traditional one size fits all approach. The proposed model would allow for a personalized learning experience augmented with mentorship practices that caters for the individual learning needs resulting in benefits for both the enterprise and the individual. The current and the emerging technologies play a pivotal role supporting the new proposed learning methodology to prepare an agile workforce required for the skills based economy. It is essential to adopt the appropriate change management strategies to achieve successful digital transformation leading to successful implementation of the new learning model.

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