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How Covid transformed learning in 2020

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My first experience of online learning was over 15 years ago. I was asked to present to an American bank using something called WebEx, and I only said yes because people said it was the future!

But frankly, in most of the years after that, online learning promised much but largely under-delivered.

Then Covid arrived, and everything changed.

Suddenly, Zoom, Teams, Meet, Remo and others were thrust into our daily routines. But it wasn’t only the technology that were forced to embrace. It was a way of communicating, and we witnessed a fundamental shift in our ability to adapt.

Many business people have noted that one of the most surprising aspects of the pandemic has been the capability and propensity – even enthusiasm – for change in organisations where inertia had previously been the norm. And in many cases, the changes have been fundamental to the way the company operates. It seems that when such a cataclysmic event forces us into action, and we realise that we will be at a huge operational and competitive disadvantage if we don’t make changes quickly, we can be surprisingly agile.

The new questions – for you and for us

Having made the changes, we are now faced with a number of intriguing questions as leaders:

Will face-to-face working re-emerge once everyone is vaccinated
and we are able to return to our physical work spaces and ways?

What will 2022 look like?

Why should we go back to the ‘old ways’?

As we begin to enter the next – and hopefully final – phases of lockdown, every business is assessing their options, and trying to piece together a formula that will enable them to optimise efficiency, cost-effectiveness and quality of delivery.

This is no less true here at the Henley Business School, where the revolution has almost certainly triggered irreversible changes to the way we teach, interact and communicate. And I’m very excited at the opportunities it presents.

How people have changed, and how the Henley Partnership will evolve

The shift towards online learning during the pandemic has given us a chance to watch changes in individual behaviour that few could have foreseen.

Perhaps predictably, online meetings have given extroverts a stage they can dominate (if allowed to!), but less predictably, it has also provided the introverts with new ways to express their own, more considered views. The technical functionality of breakout rooms, polls and chat boxes has given them the facility to comment and interact to an extent that either isn’t possible in the context of a big face-to-face meeting, or made them feel somewhat uncomfortable and inhibited.

People who would have felt conspicuous asking questions in a ‘live’ group meeting are finding their voice, ironically by not having to necessarily use their voice. So for many people, the relative anonymity of online meetings is increasing their interactivity, and we’ve seen extroverts and introverts being able to co-exist in the same sessions, albeit in their own ways.

Our online learning also opens up opportunities for a far wider audience to join in. Previously, we know that cost or sheer practicalities of travelling long distances prohibited many willing participants from enjoying the benefits of the Henley Partnership sessions.

Now, instead of being a whole day out of the office, or even a day and a half away from home, the time commitment for a session has been reduced to 2 hours. And provided that the timing is right, we can interact equally well with participants from all over the world.

And despite the beautiful Greenlands campus being rightly lauded as the jewel in the Henley Business School’s crown, and a much-loved sanctuary for learning, the physical size of each learning space does impose a cap on delegate numbers that doesn’t apply to online sessions.

With new facilities, additional numbers and great flexibility, our sessions have been re-energised, and we are hugely optimistic about the future.

Blending the old with the new to address your issues

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t relish the value of face-to-face human interaction, and miss it.

So, inevitably, the future for the Henley Partnership will be a blended approach, with a more liberal sprinkling of physical sessions at which a more immersive interaction will be possible, and more time given to reflection.

But there will be a greater emphasis on virtual and online learning, and I believe that the scalability of this will allow us to deliver a wider range of programmes to more people, and offer even more value.

We’ll still be answering important questions about the changing nature of leadership, and strategy and its practical application into execution. We’ll still be addressing issues such as changing organisational cultures, digital transformation and individual resilience. Only now, we offer more choice to those who want to access our insights, and want to be a part of developing more of them.

We’ve recently added a new Virtual Membership package, as well as a package designed to accommodate local medium-sized businesses. But the core of the Henley Partnership remains unchanged – we’re here to help leaders and senior managers to grow, learn, interact and succeed, and that will remain our focus, irrespective of how we are able to facilitate it.

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The Author

Narendra Laljani is a management educator, consultant and CEO coach with 25 years' experience in leadership development and helping organisations to become more effective. He has worked at board level with international corporations and has also taught on several leading MBA programmes. He is Director of The Henley Partnership and the Executive Management Programme at Henley Business School.

Published 20 May 2021

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