Learning and development is one area that has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, given its reliance on classroom interaction.
Financial services provider Metropolitan recently found itself in a difficult position with the announcement of the lockdown in March, having appointed almost 200 advisors to begin on 1 April 2020.
Says Clelland Kruger, Head of Learning and Development at Metropolitan: “Ordinarily, these advisers would be required to attend our Trainee Adviser Programme (TAP) – a mandatory part of our onboarding process that is conducted nationally, and one that equips our advisers with the skills needed to be able to perform key functions of the role. Given that the programme is traditionally classroom-led, we were no longer able to offer this training to advisers – at least not in its existing format.
“Rather than freeze all new hires, we upheld our commitment to the new recruits in line with our values as a business. This was particularly important to us, given the sharp spike in unemployment around the lockdown period. We wanted to find an innovative and sustainable solution.
“We realised that we needed to rapidly adapt our programme, in order for us to be able to train our advisers remotely.”
“The majority of advisers are in their thirties; many of them with families of their own. While they have not had a great deal of exposure to new technologies, they were open and willing to upskill themselves in new ways.”
Given this buy-in, the financial services provider was able to successfully navigate the transition from an instructor-led modality, to a blended ‘Virtual Learning’ model, in only a few short weeks.
“Not only were we able to achieve this, we were able to retain the same calibre of training, as evidenced in the programme results, with 97% of learners successfully mandated as financial advisers. In addition, the productivity of trainees actually ranked higher than previous years, while the cost of delivering the programme was significantly lower.”
What is on-demand learning?
‘On-demand’ learning – also known as ’dirty learning’ – explains Kruger, refers to learning that is adapted on the fly or on-demand, using the existing tools at one’s disposal as the first port of call. “It is imperfect, but effective, she says, “It might compromise on tools and tactics, but not on outcomes.”
Kruger goes on to admit that in redesigning TAP, the initial aim was one of survival: “Ultimately, we needed to convert our existing programme as quickly as possible so that we could deliver the learning required. This is critical, as TAP equips our adviser with the knowledge they need to be able to offer our clients accurate information and sound guidance.
“When transitioning to virtual format, it is easy to fall into a rabbit hole, by believing that it is mission-imperative to develop expensive virtual content, eLearning and videos. However, the fact that we only had a matter of days to adapt the curriculum format ruled these tactics out, and forced us to think differently about how we were going to deliver the learning.
“Smartphone penetration in South Africa is currently pegged at around 80%, according to a recent report by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). So while our trainee advisers may not have been able to go to the workplace during lockdown, they all had mobile phones. We therefore knew that our programme needed to be mobile-enabled and light on data, given its high cost. We had to work with what we had.”
And so, platforms such as Zoom were utilised, mobile phones were used to record videos, voice notes doubled as makeshift podcasts, and training modules were converted to PDF and shared via WhatsApp.
Explains Kruger, “Neither our trainees nor our facilitators had ever used Zoom before for learning, and so we conducted a ‘crash course’ on the tool with our facilitators, enabling them to present virtually.
“We also used Zoom to conduct role-play assessments, and we allowed trainees to record videos on their mobiles and submit them to the facilitators for assessment, if they preferred this format.
“They were essentially learning a new skill, as well as the material covered in the programme.
Most were already familiar with messaging services such as WhatsApp, and so the financial services provider used it as a channel to deploy content. “We created voice notes on topics that required a more detailed explanation. This also meant that we worked smarter, as the pre-recorded clips were able to be used by all of our facilitators, saving time and resources.
“Rather than exert effort in developing new technologies and platforms, we remained focused on our objective: augmenting the knowledge of our trainees, by delivering training that would facilitate the successful servicing of our clients.”
In line with a ‘dirty learning’ approach, the programme material was far from polished. And it was this very authenticity that made the material all that more engaging, maintains Kruger. “You can hear dogs barking in the distance on a few of the voice notes, while several of our facilitator’s kids made their on-camera debuts during our Zoom sessions! she laughs.
“While striving for the best possible outcome should always be encouraged, insisting on perfection in all of the tools engaged along the journey will only delay one in achieving their goal.”
However, Kruger is quick to point out that ‘dirty learning’ does not mean that once a new method is working, one can relax.
“Naturally, when time is of essence and an interim solution is rapidly devised, the flaws in the process are soon revealed – therefore, continuous refinement and adjustment is critical, says Kruger. “While our blended Virtual Learning programme is currently working well for Metropolitan, we need to remain agile, adaptable and responsive to any changes within our environment.
“The key is to remain nimble, and to understand that continuous tweaking is par for the course. Being receptive to change and agile in our approach is a super skill that will become ever more essential in a post-Covid world.
“What we have done is by no means revolutionary – however, what is unique are the conditions under which we have done it, the speed of implementation, and the success that we’ve seen in a short space of time through engaging the tools that already exist in the everyday corporate citizen’s arsenal, she explains.
“Crisis is often a catalyst for innovation and ingenuity. The approach we employed is congruent with our ethos as a business; it is not always the most expensive plans and products that get you through difficult times – those that offer agility and affordability are often just as – if not more – effective.”