Q&A

Why it’s a good time to double down on e-learning

A conversation with online learning executive Leah Belsky

benefits of an elearning training and development program

How do you keep employees engaged when they’re working from home?

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, research suggested at least one compelling answer: Offer workers e-learning, re-skilling, and other types of training and development programs. According to a 2018 study by online learning platform Udemy, 52% of companies with high levels of employee engagement offered workers between 31 and 50 hours per year of online learning. Only 1 in 5 companies with low employee engagement offered the equivalent amount of time.

While some employers are looking to bolster employees’ digital skills during the pandemic, others are turning to e-learning to support and engage their teams, says Leah Belsky, chief enterprise officer of Coursera, a leading online learning platform that partners with more than 2,300 businesses and organizations.

In a recent conversation with Workflow, Belsky explained how managers are using e-learning to foster engagement with employees during this crisis.

How do companies benefit from e-learning programs?

We’re seeing them use it as a tool of engagement, retention, and motivation. It’s a simple way for a company to say, “We care about your future, and this is a time when we need you to be advancing.” We’re seeing companies using it to both engage and motivate employees.

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Novartis is a great example. It has been focused on employee engagement and upskilling. The pharma industry has been going through a massive digital transition over the past few years. We began partnering with Novartis in 2019, focusing on digital skills and data science to drive medical innovation. After the COVID crisis hit, they decided to make online courses free to every employee worldwide, as well as to friends and family.

They see it as their way of making sure their employees stay engaged and keep learning. It’s made a really big splash.

How can e-learning help workers and managers who are new to remote work?

Many companies are having employees take courses to help them transition. For example, there are many courses on how to lead a digital company, remote management, and communication strategies. There’s also a famous course from University of Toronto—“Work Smarter, Not Harder”—that teaches time management for personal productivity. We’ve put together a curated list of courses like these to help employees make the transition.

Learning platforms are a signal that the people who are going to be staying on board are the ones who are investing in their own skills development.

I’m also seeing a lot of engagement with courses related to emotional well-being. Historically, the vast majority of learners were really focused on hard skills, business technology, and data science. During the pandemic, we’re seeing a much greater focus on soft skills, psychology, and mental health courses.

There’s a lot of research that explains how learning helps people manage stress. One course that’s gone viral during this period, developed at Yale, is called “The Science of Well-Being.” Courses on positive psychology have done the same. Obviously, it’s a stressful time for many people, and this is a way employers can help employees cope and manage.

Do businesses also view this as an opportunity to close the digital skills gap?

We’ve seen a number of companies doubling down on digital skills. For example, we have a large company in the oil and gas industry that was thinking about putting together a digital skills program. They had been waiting to launch it in the fall, and all of a sudden they went really big with it.

Closing the skills gap isn’t the only reason companies are doing this. Many realize that technology is accelerating, and people are home now and have more time. They’re also anticipating a recession and the need to shrink their workforce. Learning platforms are a signal that the people who are going to be staying on board are the ones who are investing in their own skills development. By investing in their workers, they’re investing in the future.