Posted: 19 Mar. 2020 5 min. read

Social distancing for COVID-19: Learning technology to the forefront

Posted by Michael GriffithsJason MagillRichard MitchellMinoo Italia, and Elam Lantz on March 19, 2020.

The impact that COVID-19 has had on peoples’ lives and work in recent days has been precipitous and significant. As organizations rise to meet the challenges associated with this disruption, one powerful strategy they can employ is leveraging the capabilities of digital learning technologies to enhance new ways of working and support business continuity by providing an engaging alternative to in-person programs.

Many companies are enacting social distancing and activating virtual work policies, work travel is being significantly limited, and many corporate conferences and meetings have been canceled or postponed. This is a global issue and a reality that’s likely to persist for the foreseeable future.1

An integrated learning strategy that includes digital options for learning is especially important now to help support workforce safety and well-being while still providing a modern and highly impactful learning experience.

The good news is that the learning technology market of today is filled with a variety of platforms that are highly innovative and contain engaging features conducive to a remote work environment. Many of these platforms are rapidly accessible if they are not already available in your technology portfolio. In many cases, select platforms can be implemented and deployed quickly (sometimes in as little as a few weeks) and at a manageable price point.

From in-person to virtual

Not surprisingly a lot of immediate focus has been placed onto virtual delivery platforms. These cover a wide spectrum from collaborative “systems of work” with meeting and video capability to providers of highly produced video learning events. These platforms offer a wealth of features around interacting with facilitators and fellow participants and simulating a live environment. Exponential improvements in communications bandwidth (e.g. cellular 5G broadband, fiberoptic technology improvement, gigabit internet access) have made virtual learning easier, more effective, and more productive.

Virtual learning facilitators frequently spend the first session of a multisession program setting norms for how to engage, and how learners can use a platform’s features (including videos, whiteboarding, and emojis) most effectively to help participants get acquainted. Establishing these norms can help improve engagement over the course of a program.

Going beyond

The technology ecosystem is full of viable options when it comes to rapidly converting what was intended to be an in-person event to virtual. They also provide an opportunity to redesign and enhance learning experiences.

For example, there are numerous sales-oriented learning platforms on the market that could be harnessed to replace a canceled sales kick-off event with a more targeted set of micro-learnings and ongoing reinforcement on new products and add gamification elements to encourage competition and interaction with their colleagues.

There are already numerous instances where it often makes sense to utilize digital technologies to deliver learning interactions virtually. These cover the spectrum from instant, mobile consumption of micro-content delivered via a learning experience platform to more involved, highly collaborative cohort programs delivered over time using a program delivery platform.

Learning technologies can even be used as an effective option to deliver rapidly changing, up-to-date learning on urgent issues. A channel or pathway on a learning experience platform can be built, surfaced to your workforce, and updated with the latest content, from videos to policies to links, in an instant.

The possibilities are varied and represent an opportunity to show creativity, agility, and flexibility around learning.

Where to start? 

Clearly learning technologies can be exceptionally useful in these uncertain times but having a strategy on when and how to effectively use learning technologies is a good practice even under more stable circumstances. As noted, when used effectively, they can enhance and improve the overall learning experience and associated business impact. They can also help drive efficiencies by reducing the cost of travel and classroom facilities and promote more efficient utilization of content and facilitators.

Adapting and responding to the current crisis can be done efficiently, but requires dedicated focus and potentially shifting resources to redesign around specific events. Many organizations already have virtual-enabled capabilities across collaborative systems of work and pure-play learning platforms that can be harnessed. Specific steps you can take in the short term might include:

  • Examining your learning technology portfolio to see where there are gaps and surveying the market to see what new platforms can be added quickly
  • Prioritizing critical learning interactions that can be deployed or redesigned for virtual environments
  • Allocating a targeted team of organizational resources to support learning technology and redesign efforts
  • Strengthening integration of learning technologies with existing collaborative work platforms that your workforce uses every day to get work done

Having an ongoing strategy for how and when to leverage learning technologies can enable your organization to be more agile in responding to unforeseen circumstances and more effective in supporting the overall workforce goals of the business. This involves:

  • Building and measuring KPI’s to measure virtual learning impact so that the virtual learning environment remains efficient and relevant

To conclude

The COVID-19 crisis is stretching organizations to respond in unforeseen and innovative ways in an effort to balance the needs of their business with the safety of their people. Digital learning technologies can be a valuable ally in rising to this challenge.


Jason Magill is a senior manager in Deloitte’s Learning & Leadership Consulting practice and is a leader in the Learning Technology practice in the United States.

Richard Mitchell is a manager in Deloitte’s Learning & Leadership Consulting practice.

Minoo Italia is a manager in Deloitte’s Learning & Leadership Consulting practice.

Elam Lantz is a senior consultant in Deloitte’s Learning & Leadership Consulting practice.


1How long will social distancing for coronavirus have to last? Depends on these factors” Washington Post.

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Michael Griffiths

Michael Griffiths

Principal, Lead for Workforce Development Practice

Michael is a partner in Deloitte’s Workforce Transformation practice; specifically leading Deloitte’s Workforce Development market offerings. With a global team, these offerings drive the market in learning transformations, knowledge management, leadership development and assisting clients to become skills- based. He is also the co-lead for Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends research and report. Griffiths is well published in the field of learning and talent, and is the leading market voice on becoming a skills-based organization.