COVID-19 has undeniably affected all of society in one way or another, with much of the corporate world being pushed online. Around the globe, 18% of workers were able to work remotely to stop the spread of the virus, while the rest, particularly frontline workers and those in developing countries, ensured the continuity of our essential services.  

Organizations had to be agile to adapt working conditions to a digital world. In early months, the priority was to maintain operations and elaborate new ways of working efficiently online. As the pandemic wore on and processes fell into place, more aspects of office life found their digital equivalents: team building exercises, corporate training, social events, and even water-cooler chats. Now, as vaccination rates rise and offices reopen, there are questions as to which work habits, if any, will endure.  

The most consequential shift has been the rise of remote work, which increased by 400%. A Gallup poll found that two-thirds of workers want to continue working from home after the pandemic. What is emerging is a hybrid model, mixing both in-person and remote work. In fact, 80% of company leaders say they will let their staff work from home at least part-time after COVID.

Another, often underappreciated, trend that is likely to endure is the recourse to digital tools for corporate learning and development (L&D). Employees place particular importance on L&D, with 68% saying  they consider it to be the most important company policy. Despite the brutal transition online, 86% of employees managed to engage in professional development during the pandemic, in large part thanks to the increased use of digital learning tools.

Digital learning is not an entirely new trend. It dates back to the 1980s, when it was primarily used in an educational setting. In 1989, the University of Phoenix became the first institution to launch a fully online degree. By 2018, 35% of university students in the US were enrolled in at least one online class. Today, digital learning has grown and has grown popular into the corporate world as well.

For companies seeking to train employees across a wide range of geographies and functions, digital learning provides numerous advantages. One such example is NEQSOL Holding, an international group of energy, telecommunications, hi-tech, and construction companies with over 10,000 employees spread across subsidiaries in the UK, USA, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and the UAE. The Holding’s digital learning platform, NEQSOL Academy, builds bridges between colleagues across borders and industries.

The platform has a social element, encouraging users to exchange, discuss, and connect as they learn. As Aristotle wrote, humans are social animals . While we retain 5% of what we hear and 10% of what we read, we retain 50% of material when it is taught socially, through discussion and interaction. This social element is key and proved especially valuable during the pandemic, as reduced social interactions increased rates of depression and loneliness.

Digital learning is also advantageous as it facilitates access to top-tier educational resources. For example, NEQSOL Academy offers partner content from Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School. The growth of digital learning will further democratize  access to the world’s best academic institutions.

Digital learning also brings about a greater degree of flexibility, which can be helpful in increasing the quality of learning as well as its convenience. Compared to in-person training, digital learners can go at their own pace, following along when they have the time and interest.

Gamification is another important trend in digital learning. Making learning more fun helps increase engagement and in turn retention. Unilever, the consumer goods giant, has embraced gamification in its digital learning platform. Users get to know a fictional online character, Idris Lever, who shares company-wide updates. Employees across business units are encouraged to compete for prizes and rewards, which can be tracked. The platform also organized people into “tribes,” smaller learning groups that help maximize the social element of corporate training.

There is also a financial benefit to digital learning as it is much more cost-effective. There are no travel costs and no need to invest in expensive study materials. Instead, organizations can leverage their existing digital infrastructure and equipment, ensuring greater inclusivity.  

As business and HR leaders reflect on the lessons learned from the pandemic, digital learning is surely a worthwhile investment. Similar to remote work, a hybrid model, combining the best of in-person and digital learning, will likely emerge. Nevertheless, the many advantages of digital learning mean that platforms like NEQSOL Academy and will soon be the norm in companies across the globe.