Professional services firms are enhancing employee learning by adopting virtual learning platforms in the short term and blended learning in the long run

HiTech Bytes

Pandemic-Proofing Learning and Development for Professional Services Firms

 
October 9, 2020

Come what may, supporting its clients and communities tops the agenda for any professional services firm. To be in line with this vision, they need to invest in digital learning and development and other training programs and upskill their workforce constantly. 

When it comes to training, face-to-face or in-person learning is more effective than online learning, and professional services firms have been investing in such strategic programs for many years. However, owing to its cost effectiveness and flexibility in catering to a vast remote workforce, virtual learning has gained equal traction even before COVID-19. To balance the trade-offs between the two models and take advantage of the right mix of benefits, professional services firms have implemented blended learning. 

Redesigning Learning and Development 

To design an engaging and effective greenfield learning program, firms need rigorous in-person collaboration. Online learning is not as simple as picking an in-person program and delivering it virtually. It demands a fundamental reset to everything – the content, facilitator, delivery approach, and learning objectives.  

We see two major behavioural changes emerging as a result of the pandemic: 

  • A preference towards virtual learning programs such as aspirational courses and online certifications that witnessed an uptick during the lockdown.  
  • With risk aversion becoming more prevalent, learners will avoid in-person training and will sign up for courses based on additional personal and professional criteria. 

Accordingly, professional services firms will devise new and innovative ways of delivering learning content using digital technologies:

  • Create new or redefine existing learning effectiveness measurement models suited for learning. 
  • Design a robust model to convert a vast amount of in-person learning material to personalized digital learning solutions. 
  • Implement live-streaming videos for remote learning platforms and online digital certification programs. 
  • Leverage technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). 

Building Effective Virtual Learning Experiences 

To address the unprecedented urgency for online learning, professional services firms can adopt short-term learning strategies underpinned by technology, innovation, and collaboration. However, in the long term, new blended learning models – which are a combination of virtual instructor-led and digital learning mediums, using personalised learning, role play, and other techniques – can help firms build competency, knowledge, and skill and in turn help them achieve their desired business outcomes, as described below: 

Short-term quick implementation ideas

  • Set up a new virtual team for effective learning: Firms can set up virtual centers of excellence (CoEs) and cross-functional learning response teams that comprise learning delivery personnel, human resources staff, subject matter experts, IT engineers, and vendors. Such cross-functional teams will define the communication strategy and set up the priorities for virtual or digital-only learnings programs. 
  • Enhance a learner’s participation with a facilitator: Facilitators can serve as the human element in virtual learning, along with faculty and participants. In addition to ensuring the learning objectives are met, facilitators can also enhance dialogue and maximize participation by engaging participants and trainers in expediting their tasks. For improved learning experience in future sessions, facilitators can record feedback and the challenges faced by participants in real time.  
  • Deploy virtual collaboration platforms: Firms can conduct virtual live sessions by using social collaboration tools such as WebEx and Citrix and innovative virtual collaboration platforms such as ON24. The content of learning sessions can be shared via social media, Web 2.0, blogs, communities of practice, webcasts, and more.  
  • Boost learners’ experience: To keep the participants engaged and energized, firms can use immersive and interactive activities such as gamification-based tasks. Ground rules during live video learning sessions, such as automatically muting audio during context setting or unmuting audio during discussions, can enhance interaction among participants. Further, online input tools like chat and polling apps such as Kahoot App can further facilitate interaction among users and enhance learning. 

Long-term strategies 

  • Analytics: Generate insights from user analytics to devise personalized learning strategies and solutions. 
  • Revamp learning experiences: Create learning solutions that will use technologies like AR, VR, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI).  
  • Organisational alignment: Devise a learning strategy based on the organization’s business strategy. Business groups, HR, and L&D should come together to define and measure learning objectives that achieve the larger organisation goals. 

Enabling Transformation through Upskilling

While the pandemic has brought organizational functioning to a standstill, professional services firms cannot afford to compromise on workforce capability building – be it reskilling at the business unit-level or a company-wide aspirational transformation. Such upskilling can be enabled by alternate virtual learning solutions in current times, which will help firms accelerate their growth. Businesses that adapt learning programs to fast-paced business changes will gain a head start in transforming themselves in the post-pandemic era.

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Mahalingam Chandrasekaran is a senior manager and customer leader in the Cognitive Business Operations division of TCS’ HiTech business unit. He is currently overseeing business process services for one of TCS’ leading clients – a  Big Four accounting firm – in Australia and the UK. He has over 15 years of experience in presales and operations management which includes managing leads and pipelines, account planning, and managing delivery, as well as driving innovative L&D projects and creating business proposals. Mahalingam holds a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from Anna University, Chennai, India, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Management with a specialization in Marketing from the Institute of Management Technology Centre for Distance Learning, Ghaziabad, India.

Anuradha Hastavaram is the presales and solution lead in the Cognitive Business Operations division of TCS’ HiTech business unit. Currently, she oversees the presales function for one of TCS’ leading clients – a Big Four accounting firm – where she handles and responds to proactive and reactive business inquiries. With over 20 years of experience in IT, ITES, and business process services, Anuradha has strong business analyst capabilities and a deep understanding of customer businesses.