Webinar round up: L&D’s role in helping managers support virtual learning

On September 2, our Senior Research Analyst, Gent Ahmetaj, was joined by Content Strategist and Head of Insights at Insights Media, Martin Couzins, for a lively and informative discussion. Together they explored how learning professionals can support their managers to better develop their teams.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 17 September 2020
Webinar round up: L&D’s role in helping managers support virtual learning

Managers are key to learning 

For many, the COVID-19 lockdown has made their role even more critical to organizational success, as they focus on supporting their teams to work and learn remotely. 

By diving into the latest Emerald Works Learning Health Check data, Gent and Martin were able to answer the following questions: 

How important are managers in championing and supporting learning in virtual environments? 

We asked the audience, made up of a 50/50 split of L&D managers and non-managers, via a poll. 91% answered that they are very important, and 9% that they are quite important.
So, it’s clear that managers have a vital role to play, but is this being transferred to the workplace? 

How well do we support managers really? 

We asked the mangers within the audience whether they felt they are currently well supported in helping their team learn. 51% responded that they were, and 49% that they were not. 

Interestingly, this response broadly matches the latest Emerald Works insights data taken from 5,000 surveyed L&D managers, of whom 55% responded that they are supported, with 45% not. The picture continues to be mixed, but the expectation from a manager’s viewpoint is still there. 

Speaking of his experience in working with L&D managers, Martin said that we want to help managers develop their teams, but they must be supported themselves. 

“We need to take stock of how we support and treat managers, we want them to be engaged in development on a broader level. They can't be left to their own devices as their time will be filled on other things, and we can't rely on annual appraisals only.” 

Gent went on to provide insights from a manager perspective. Only 46% agree they have a clear development plan, and this will not be cascaded down to team level. 

Worryingly, only 38% of managers believe that their own manager takes stock of what they are trying to achieve, highlighting that there is room for improvement in this digital-first environment we are moving into. 

The COVID-19 effect 

The 2020 LinkedIn Learning report states that 68% of L&D managers say that managers are actively promoting more learning resources to their teams than before COVID. 

Martin provided some context for the changes that are occurring in this new normal. 

“We are in a new place, and as we all know, a lot has been accelerated in the last six months. We are learning that there are definite approaches we can build on that can help managers and teams learn and be more effective in these turbulent times.” 

Gent then provided some of the data collected from organizations that have participated in the Learning Health Check post mid-April, from 248 learning leaders. The data has shown a huge shift in some strategic behaviors.  

With the rise in home working, there was a 14% increase (from 30% to 44%) of survey respondents who allow individuals to choose to learn at a place convenient to them, which may not be the office. It’s still not clear who is going back to the office and for how long. This will continually change, and is something to keep an eye on. 

The use of technology to help individuals build networks outside the organization also shifted from 9% to 18%, highlighting the adoption of communication channels such as Microsoft Teams and Slack. 

There was a large increase from 40% to 51% of respondents who are now ensuring that digital learning is integrated into the organization’s onboarding process. This provides a great opportunity for L&D managers to have an impact on how they work with wider teams across their organization. 

Unsurprisingly, there was an increase across all digital technologies being used to allow teams to communicate effectively, including webinars, virtual classrooms and VOIP* conferencing tools. There also continues to be a slow shift across the board from face-to-face to a blended approach to learning. 

Interestingly, the shift in involving managers in the design of learning solutions remained low at 5%. Four out of five managers don’t consider this is as important, based on the current Learning Health Check data. 

Gent explained that in normal circumstances, a shift in 1-2% is seen across the data. 

Have your managers taken a more active role in supporting learning as a result of COVID? 

Again, we polled the audience, and 62% responded that yes, they have, while 38% have not.  

Martin commented that overall, we are seeing a quick transition in learning and there is a need to influence those above. We need to get a sense of what is happening with managers within organizations by using feedback surveys. 

How do managers prefer to learn? 

Martin and Gent discussed the top ways of learning for managers. The key themes around this were: 

They value manager input  

It’s clear that managers value the support of their own manager, and they need input into learning from them. 

They value multi-channel and multi-format delivery 

Organizations are now communicating in different ways - just using an intranet is not enough. We know from our research into consumer learners that marketing learning is important in driving awareness, and L&D leaders should look at ways to actively engage their learners using these marketing techniques. 

People are struggling to find what they need to do their roles. The research shows that virtual managers are far more likely to look at resources that are available to them - including blogs, podcasts and videos - compared to their office-based counterparts. 

Mobile is key 

Having information available at any time is key – 65% of virtual managers surveyed want to access learning resources on a mobile device. They want this information at the point of need and it must be relevant. 

How virtual working affects the way managers learn 

New ways of learning need to be encouraged by managers. Virtual managers are displaying the preferences that L&D are looking for and we need to seize this moment. 

Worryingly, 28% of L&D leaders report a reluctance in general by managers to encourage new ways of learning and working. This is compared with only 3% in top-performing organizations. 

Barriers to optimizing virtual learning 

The Learning Health Check data tells us that managers are not feeling valued. 

22% of L&D leaders say they equip managers with resources so their teams get the most out of learning, compared with 76% in top-performing organizations. 

Managers are also not being developed as coaches themselves. Just 28% of L&D leaders report that they develop their managers to be line coaches, compared with 94% in top-performing organizations.  

What steps can you take to support learning in your organization? 

Martin summarized the discussion by explaining that for L&D leaders to be supported within their organization, they must:  

  • Take accountability for learning 

  • Align learning goals to the overall business strategic goals 

  • Encourage a shared vision for learning across all teams and stakeholders.  

Impact measurements must also be agreed and delivered to show impact. 

There are a number of tactical steps L&D can take. They should actively collaborate to build knowledge resources, and recommend resources based on need and job role. Resources must be made available at any time, on any device, and marketing techniques should be used to increase adoption, such as creating tasks to embed learning behaviors.  

Listen back 

A recording of this webinar is now available right here on our website.

Find out more 

You can download Back to the future: why tomorrow’s workforce needs a learning culture for free on our research reports page. It’s packed with insights and data that helped drive this discussion.

While you’re there, why not check out more of our insight-led research on the latest L&D trends, and get practical tips to drive performance in your organization? 

Join us at other events 

Keep up-to-date with our webinars, events and other company news. And find out how our performance solutions can inspire your people to work smarter, improve their well-being and enrich their careers. 


*Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is a technology that allows you to make voice calls using a broadband connection instead of a regular phone line. 


About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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