Silver Linings Learning

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When we look back at this time of pandemic crisis, it will, no doubt, be framed in the lens of ‘before’ and ‘after.’ ‘Before’ will be the time when we learned together in physical spaces, such as classrooms and lecture halls. ‘After’ will be the time when we adapted to learn in isolation through remote access and online technology.

If history has taught us anything, it is that crisis forces ingenuity and seismic shifts to get from ‘before’ to ‘after.’ This article from the Harvard Business Review provides us with a brief exploration of the future for post-secondary education. It also highlights the significant changes that are required to make technology-based learning sustainable in a post-pandemic world.

As noted in the article, faculty all over the country are scrambling to make their existing and future courses accessible through remote or online learning platforms. There is a collective push for academic learning in place. Faculty want to provide students with the means to achieve the credentials that they set out to earn. At the same time, faculty are trying to figure out how to provide effective learning to others in the midst of learning how to do so for themselves. To say that it is challenging is an understatement—made worse in this time of fear and uncertainty about health concerns for those whom we love.

The article also addresses the traditional notion of post-secondary education as a commodity. In order to receive accredited and institutional learning, one must “pay to play.” Now, we know that learning materials can be open and accessible to anyone with internet access. This means that the commodity of education is shifting in its value. Learning can be affordable—it may even be free!

In the ‘before,’ access to education was unattainable for some because the metaphorical door, representing the commodification of education, was closed. Through this crisis, that door has been forced open. It will be difficult to close in the future. Once we move into the ‘after,’ in the post-pandemic world, we may see that learning and education will become an egalitarian opportunity, accessible by and for, everyone.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had to choose between in-class or online learning, which one would you prefer?
  2. Are there specific online courses that you think achieve the same learning results as those provided through an in-class environment?
  3. What type of classes or courses do you think still need to be offered through a physical (in-class) learning environment?

Credibility and Micro-credentials


The landscape for learning is shifting. In response to the need for filling an increasing skills gap, governments, post-secondary institutions, and employers are coming together to provide specific training and learning opportunities through online learning. The concept and practice of online learning is not new.

All post-secondary institutions provide online courses, which are typically linked to a designated program of study. These courses are credit-bearing, in order to meet the requirements for graduation from the program. What is new, is the recent announcement by the provincial government in Ontario to offer ‘micro-credentials’ through partnerships with post-secondary institutions and employers, which provide specific, short-term, skills-focused, credit-bearing courses in an online setting.

The announcement of this pilot project allows for the recognition of skills development through an online learning platform and treats credentials from online courses as assessable and valuable by both employers and employees. In order to upgrade specific skills, an employee does not have to go back to school for a set number of years. Instead, they can complete specific courses in a much shorter time frame that bear the credible authority of the post-secondary institution.

In the field of human resources, for example, a working HR practitioner may want to focus on developing a specific skill set in workplace negotiations. They could access a short-term, skills-targeted course that is recognized as a legitimate credential, instead of just a professional development refresher.

The competition for online learning is fierce. Anyone can access open-source learning sites, such as or LinkedIn Learning, which offer free courses to all in an online setting. The challenge that comes with these sites is the lack of recognition in the form of an accredited credential. Employers continue to look for the formal ‘seal of approval’ that comes from paying for accreditation, and outdated standards set by industry and institutional requirements.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your studies to date, do you see yourself continuing to learn through micro-skills development courses? Explain your rationale.
  2. Do you agree that skills development courses that provide a credential are beneficial in the current workforce? Explain your rationale.
  3. What types of industries would benefit from offering micro-credential programs to their employees for skills upgrading?

Virtual Training Is Real

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The time for change in technology based training is here.

The evolution of technological training tools, which used to be paper based and then moved to online or computer-based methodologies, has shifted to the rapid implementation of virtual reality as the go-to tool for employee training and development.

Walmart and Amazon both announced a shift from paper-based training and assessment tools to implementing virtual reality training for their respective employees.

Click here to read how Walmart and Amazon are implementing virtual reality training for their employees.

As noted in the article, virtual reality can provide effective training for employees through workplace simulations. These include complex customer service, decision-making, motivation and problem-solving scenarios. This type of training allows employees to familiarize themselves not only with what (the tasks) they must perform, along with building capacity for understanding how those tasks are impacted by their own reactions. Virtual reality training seems to offer a relatively safe environment where an error or a mistake made by the employee in training will not have a direct impact on a ‘live’ customer or colleague as an immediate result.

The article states that the benefits of this type of technology allow for training to be offered to employees on a mass scale with low cost, provided the purchase of hardware and software development has been made. Certainly, corporations like Walmart and Amazon, have significant resources which allow for the investment of this type of technology-based training. It does seem that they are leading the way for the rest of the business world to follow them into the future.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does virtual reality training provide empathy training? Why is this important?
  2. From you reading of the article,
    • identify three benefits of virtual reality training that impact employee motivation;
    • identify three challenges or negative implications of virtual reality training.
  3. In your current work environment, what types of training programs could be replaced with virtual reality training tools?

What Do Best Employers Do?

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Learning happens through training and development programs for employees in all types of organizations across the country. Some programs offer a wide variety of options for employee development, while others may be in place only to provide the minimum requirements to meet legislative or compliance standards. Too often the focus, in the public eye, is on companies that do not go beyond the minimum. These organizations provide sensationalist ‘how not to’ stories, which result from the negative consequences of poor employee training plans.

For a refreshing change of pace, there are numerous Canadian employers who are able to provide a positive ‘how to’ perspective on their constructive employee development plans. One of these organizations is LoyaltyOne, an award-winning Canadian organization dedicated to continuous employee growth through learning and professional development.

Click here to read about LoyaltyOne’s approach to employee learning.

In our training and development studies we categorize employee learning as either on-the-job or off-the-job. The approach used by LoyaltyOne shows us that work-related learning does not have to be one or the other. Learning happens all the time. What is most important is that ‘real-time’ learning can happen through any number of sources for individuals at any time. Perhaps it is time to recognize that the categorization of when and how learning can happen is artificially limiting.

Thanks to technology, the learning landscape has been transformed to one of limitless opportunities and potential challenges. The scope of employee expectations is much higher as access to training through technology becomes easier to navigate and manage.

What has not changed in its importance is an absolute commitment to learning and employee development, which must be put in place from and by the leaders at the top. There is a reason award-winning organizations receive the accolades they do. A commitment to excellence is not just a theoretical concept for Canadian companies who are the best in their field.

That commitment must be real if genuine, ongoing growth and development is to happen.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you were the training and development specialist at your current organization, what types of ‘real-time’ learning strategies would you recommend?
  2. As an employee, do you prefer on- or off-the-job training? Explain your rationale.
  3. What is the relationship between LoyaltyOne’s approach to employee learning and its organizational culture?
  4. Click into LoyaltyOne’s corporate website. What types of learning incentives are in place that would be attractive to a potential employee?

Lonely At The Top?

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It does not have to be!

One of the unspoken challenges that comes with the ascension into a senior leadership role is that there is no one to talk to.  When a leader takes on the role of the Chief Executive Officer, they are perceived as having the competencies and the abilities to enact all organizational decisions and strategies on their own.  As the leader of others, the CEO does not need to have a leader for themselves.  It is as if once the leader has assumed the role, they are fully formed and no longer need further development from others.

This view of a leadership practice flies in the face of the principles of life-long learning and the on-going development of a learning organization.  Leaders are human.  Humans are innately drawn to the need for constant development and continuous learning.  While the organizational leader may no longer need to have the same kind of formal professional development plans that they learned from as they moved into more senior leadership roles, once they are in the top position, the leader does need to continue learning and growing, just like everyone else.

Mentorship provides one of the most effective forms of leadership training and learning to those that move into the organizational leadership role.  The role of the leadership mentor is explored in a recent article in the Financial Post.

Click here to read the article.

The mentorship relationship can have a powerful effect, not only on the CEO, but on the organization as a whole.  When the leader is healthy, the organization is also healthy, as noted in the article.  A leader who has a mentor is able to shape and share ideas to problem solve in a safe environment that respects the leadership function and understands the challenges that come with the mantle of the organizational leader.  The mentor may be one of the few people who can hold the mirror up to the leader for healthy self-critique and continuation of personal and professional development.

We all need someone to talk to who understands and can support us, especially when we must face difficult or challenging decisions.  As with any type of relationship, the key to successful mentoring is to ensure that both the mentor and mentee understand their roles and respect each other’s boundaries.

The leader who keeps learning is a positive role model for the rest of us.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a Training and Development specialist, how would you develop a mentorship program for the CEO of your organization?
  2. Why would a CEO resist having a formal mentor as part of their personal leadership development plan?
  3. Identify three key characteristics of someone who has been a mentor for you. What made the mentoring relationship work for you?