As I type this article from the comfort (or confines?) of my home, the reality and severity of the coronavirus outbreak looms large on me. Earlier in the day, my hubby and I secured “our spots” – converting unused spaces in our living and dining area respectively into our make-shift workspaces. That we could flip open our laptops, connect to the trusty Wi-Fi to spin its magic and begin our “work” day – just like that – validated the positive impact of technology on our lives.

This is not to deviate from the crisis at hand. Or worse still to belittle the havoc created single-handedly by COVID-19, which is not just a human tragedy but is also a grave one that is denting the global economy. But what it is bringing out is the humanity in humans, the empathy in businesses, the digital in tech and the lessons in life.

Digital Transformation and L&D

Salesforce defines Digital Transformation (DT) as ‘the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements. This reimagining of business in the digital age is digital transformation.’ Wikipedia concises it to ‘the use of new, fast and frequently changing digital technology to solve problems.’

Whichever definition flies with you, the essence remains the same. DT is inevitable for organizations in today’s digital era. This implies the need to equip employees with the tools and mindset to perform, and hence be skilled, in a digital environment.

And this may perhaps be the starting point of intersection between L&D and digital transformation. Here’s how Tech-Enabled Learning is Changing HR’s Role. But what’s this got to do with the Corona mayhem, you may wonder. Allow me.

Below are some things our L&D friends can learn from the current pandemic situation:

  • L&D first, DT later

Since there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus disease 2019, the best way to protect yourself is exercising adequate prevention mechanisms rather than overthinking the medical prognosis and protocols to be followed on infection. It’s about keeping your eyes on the prize, in this case, prevention over cure.


Source: Gurnick Academy

Along the same lines, L&D initiatives and programs should be designed to promote the digital transformation of your entire organization, not the other way around. Why? Because with newer tools, technologies and processes comes the need to unlearn, learn and relearn, which can be best addressed by training interventions that focus on the key “digital skills” that your employees will need to remain competitive and productive. The lack of adequate learning resources and training programs with regard to digital transformation can adversely affect its adoption and success for the business.

An important point to keep in mind is, adopting a Learning Management System (LMS) with online learning content as a part of the DT journey is only the beginning. There is a need for a culture shift to happen for digital L&D programs to achieve their full potential. Here’s how you can rethink the LMS from a digital transformation POV.

  • Focus on Performance, not Training

God forbid, if you test positive for COVID-19, the line of treatment that your medical practitioner decides for you distils down to ‘your wellbeing’ and ‘restoration of health’. The administration of medicines to reduce fever, fluids to reduce the risk of dehydration, and supplemental oxygen (in more severe cases) are merely the steps to reach the destination.


Source: Gurnick Academy

In a similar vein, focusing on training outcomes alone without their alignment to the bigger picture leads to a myopic view to employee L&D. The focus needs to be shifted to the end outcomes, read performance.

In his 2018 article, The Digital Transformation Of Learning And Development: Part 1, David James says, “By looking past ‘learning’, refocusing on ‘performance’, and throwing off the shackles of the ‘course mindset’, L&D can focus on activities and outcomes that impact the work itself, embed learning in the workflow and help employees grow in line with the organization’s strategic goals.”

At the same time, it’s equally important to take routines, behaviors and procedures (includes learning pieces) into consideration as the route to a desired outcome are critical to the success of the performance achievement.

  • Data is King

If you were to believe every piece of information on coronavirus shared by your neighbor, which was shared by his friend, which the friend had read on her WhatsApp forward, which was…to cut the long story short, an inaccurate representation of data and facts. These rumors don’t just paint a false picture of the reality and create panic, for authorities (health workers, medical practitioners etc.) they fail to connect the dots and prescribing a roadmap to avoidance/ recovery.

Image: Dashboard showing India’s COVID status by Kiprosh

In L&D context, operating without a foundation of data and business intelligence is akin to shooting in the dark. If the impact/ end result of a training intervention cannot be measured or if measured is not accounted for, true personalization and relevancy of employee L&D cannot be attained. On the other hand, making decisions with data helps L&D to weed out low performing programs and invest in high-performing, high-adoption interventions that not just deliver on outcomes but give high ROI too.

According to a research, 70% of organizations claim they lack the necessary “digital skills” to remain competitive, and nearly 50% of employees claim that they would leave their organizations if another offered them more and better digital skills development and training opportunities. The verdict is out.

Speaking of verdict, in an almost prophetic manner, Bill Gates, in his 2015 Ted Talk ‘The next outbreak? We’re not ready’ had predicted that microbes might be the reason for our worry (and doom!). In his words, “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war”. His talk wasn’t just a fear-instiller, it was a wake-up call infused with learnings, which should have dwelled upon, solutioned and implemented. *sigh*

With a good chunk of my growth stemming out of personal tragedies and challenges, I am an ardent believer in adversities as our best teachers. I am optimistic that together we will beat this monster and emerge victorious and wiser on the other side. As for my extended HR and Learning and Development fraternity, it’s in our best interest to flip our view to COVID-19 and leverage it to fuel our drive to do better for our people. We owe it to our people.