Many firms slow to adopt virtual learning, report finds

Experts warn L&D teams lagging behind the ‘digital revolution’ risk exacerbating skills gaps, particularly in light of coronavirus 

The number of organisations still reliant on classroom-based learning is relatively high, a survey has found, raising concerns about the accessibility of L&D in lockdown. 

The CIPD and Accenture’s Learning and skills at work 2020 report surveyed more than 1,200 employers in February 2020, and found that one in five organisations (21 per cent) did not use any technology to support learning activities, with many continuing to rely on classroom-based training. It also found that only one in three (29 per cent) businesses claimed to have clear L&D plans for employees. 

The report suggested that “barriers” to virtual learning experiences still persisted, and called for organisations to harness digital learning to ensure skills development issues were not exacerbated by Covid-19. It found the top three barriers to the delivery of learning were a lack of learning time (41 per cent), limited budgets (40 per cent) and lack of management time or support (29 per cent). 

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said the report highlighted the “gap” between companies that knew learning was important, especially during the crisis, and followed it through with strategic investment, “versus those [that knew] the importance, but [allowed] it to be the first thing cut from the budget”. 

The report found learning technologies were now used by 79 per cent of employers. But the adoption of emerging technologies – which the report found to be “highly effective” – was low. Only 2 per cent had adopted augmented reality learning, 4 per cent had adopted virtual reality and 12 per cent were using mobile technologies for digital learning. 

Andy Young, managing director of talent and organisation at Accenture, said the pandemic had accelerated the need to harness human and digital skills, and warned that late digital adopters risked serious skills gaps. “Our report shows that many UK organisations have not invested in this as a competitive advantage, risking significant skills gaps,” said Young.

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“With new solutions such as virtual and augmented reality that simulate difficult situations, and gaming technology and films to encourage decision-making and new behaviours, employers can revolutionise their training plans at a time when their people need it the most.” 

The report also highlighted that many employers “lack the roles and skills needed” to deliver digital learning, claiming that in-house L&D roles were “dominated” by face-to-face trainers, with digital asset curators appearing in “fewer than one in 10 organisations”. 

Mark Dawe, Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive, suggested that businesses falling behind the “revolution” could seek help from expert consultants and training providers. “A new way of learning and assessing is likely to stay for many. Businesses that haven’t ramped up their offerings could usefully get advice from a government-registered training provider,” he said.

In a separate recent survey of 210 People Management readers, 75 per cent of respondents said they had changed the way some or all training was delivered at their organisation as a result of coronavirus, with 50 per cent saying they had made training available online. Only 15 per cent already offered courses online before the crisis hit.

When asked how courses had been adapted, 60 per cent said they had made courses shorter to support concentration levels, with 60 per cent creating a virtual classroom environment and 40 per cent including more video content. 

Three-fifths (62 per cent) of L&D professionals had not contended with a reduced budget but, for the 38 per cent who faced cuts, 58 per cent had seen budgets reduced by more than 75 per cent.