Anthony Tattersall is the vice president of Europe Middle East and Africa at Coursera
Business in the UAE has traditionally been face-to-face, and the same is true with enterprise learning. Many believe that stronger connections are built with in-person learning and that participants are more engaged with course material if they’re in physical sessions. Additionally, training is seen as a perk to recognise the success of hardworking employees.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic wiped the opportunity for face-to-face learning out almost entirely. According to WEF’s Future of Jobs Report, nearly 80 per cent of businesses in the UAE have accelerated their business digitisation because of Covid-19 - and a big part of this has been delivering virtual learning to ensure the skills and accreditations of their employees remain current.
But moving Learning and Development (L&D) online hasn’t been an easy task. Companies have had to find content and technology partners to deliver learning at scale to fit fast-changing business needs. They’ve had to work quickly to ensure that staff can access materials and, crucially, that employees realise that a move online doesn’t mean compromised quality. The good news is that a culture of open-mindedness and a willingness to diversify has always resulted in the UAE being at the forefront of embracing and deploying groundbreaking innovations and best practices. So how are businesses in the UAE transitioning to online learning, and what benefits are there for those who get it right?
Delivering against business objectives
The shift to virtual learning is likely to be a new approach for many businesses and it may take time to identify what works best. Even though speed has been the essence in the past few months, this mustn’t be at the expense of ongoing reflection and measurement. As programmes roll out, it’s important to continue reviewing, refining, and improving them to better understand what success looks like and secure support from learners and stakeholders.
Some companies meet this challenge by complementing ready-made courses from industry and university educators with content created by their own organisation. This is possible using tools Private Authoring tools, which allows businesses to create their own projects, courses, and assessments. Indeed, companies such as Hertz are already using this to develop courses in areas like IT, SaaS management, data visualisation, and software onboarding.
The companies best placed to succeed have a clear view of their learning objectives. These vary - from the need to attract and retain staff, to helping employees re-train and upskill to fit changing business needs. Whatever these needs are, learning strategies are more likely to permeate through an organisation if seen as a strategic business imperative linked to specific business outcomes - not ‘just’ a job for HR departments.
Driving employee uptake to ensure your investment pays off
Savvy companies in the region are not just looking to provide access and availability of learning resources. For them, employee adoption is a critical measure of success. Digital resources of any kind can be effective only if employees embrace them. While the change in organisational practices can be daunting, the benefits far outweigh any apprehensions.
While the C-suite cares about the bottom line, promoting more immediate benefits will resonate more with employees. These might include reduced travelling time, a quicker response rate to training needs and more convenient accessibility for a global audience.
Right now, it may well also mean the ability to better work remotely, fostering virtual collaboration through shared course experiences and interactions. It is also about emotional well-being - research shows that the act of learning helps cope with stress, and online learning can empower employees to continue investing in their futures - crucial in such an uncertain period. As an example, The Science of Wellbeing course by Yale University has become the most popular course on our platform this year, reaching over 2.5 million enrollments.
Notably, while companies in the region have perhaps previously favoured face-to-face training, staff must now be shown how virtual learning can deliver improved quality - through consistent and measurable learning experiences instead of the more free-flowing in-person classroom environment.
Focusing on the skills needed to meet new business challenges
The pandemic will likely encourage businesses to reassess the skills they need and how they deliver them to their workforce. As the region sets its sights on recovery, a robust and scalable virtual enterprise learning infrastructure is essential to ensuring that organisations can respond with agility. For example, Coursera’s Skills Development Dashboard enables companies to measure how their learning programme is helping employees - ensuring they’re making progress and delivering against objectives.
Rather than encouraging the development of narrow skill sets, many organisations are now looking to promote a resilient mindset. Indeed, McKinsey’s recent report cited ‘adaptability’ as an essential skills for employees in a post-Covid world. By prioritising this mindset, companies can cultivate employees who move from skill to skill with sufficient ease to hold and develop new roles as opportunities come and go.
This is partly why we’ve seen a greater focus on soft skills from companies across the globe. On Coursera, year on year enrollments for personal development courses grew by 500 per cent this year. Some of the most popular include Learning How to Learn by the University of California, How to Understand Arguments by Duke University and Communicating Effectively in Groups by the University of Colorado. As businesses navigate uncharted territory, developing these soft skills will become more critical.
One of the most important business priorities for companies right now is keeping employees engaged and supported. Offering learning opportunities signals continued investment in their professional development, even as companies tackle a challenging economic climate. And, of course, in cases where employees cannot do some or all of their job during the pandemic, learning can help them advance their skills so they come back better prepared when work resumes.
A final word
We know that companies in the UAE are quickly pivoting to online learning, driven by the need to continue adapting amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The most successful ones are aware that delivering against a well-designed enterprise learning strategy is not just a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute necessity that impacts business performance. They see L&D firmly as a boardroom issue, which determines profitability, resilience and their ability to grow.
Increasingly, companies in the region enjoy greater access to a diverse selection of courses, superior learning experience, and the ability to better measure progress. Although a short-term necessity has accelerated the move to online learning, the success companies are seeing means that it’s here to stay - long after the pandemic is over.