Life beyond COVID: has learning in China changed forever?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected different parts of the world in different ways. Whilst India is still gripped by the crisis, countries such as China appear to have been successful in containing the virus. Are life and learning returning to ‘normal’ in countries where the threat from COVID appears to have diminished? Or has the learning landscape changed for good?
We spoke to our friends in China, Liang Yu, Director of Executive Education and Government Programs at Duke Kunshan University, Flora Tong, Assistant Director of Executive Education at Duke Kunshan University and William Gu, a retired SVP of Human Resources for Asia-Pacific, to find out more.
What was the corporate learning landscape in China like pre-COVID? Was learning mainly face-to-face, virtual or a mix?
William: “Pre-COVID, all corporate learning in China was face-to-face. There was very little virtual learning. Most companies were focused on leadership training programmes and talent development. Sales training was also in demand.”
Flora: “At Duke Kunshan, our campus has always been our advantage. Companies wanted to bring their employees here for immersive, face-to-face learning experiences.”
What was the immediate impact of COVID on business learning? Did everything just stop, or convert to online?
Liang: “The first impact of COVID-19 was that all face-to-face training was cancelled. We quickly had to develop virtual alternatives. This was a huge challenge, as most of our programmes are highly interactive and experiential. Participants were stuck in their homes and Zoom fatigued. What would have been 4 day-long sessions face-to-face, had to be converted into shorter sets of 2-hour sessions. We really had to dive very deep into the design, to condense and reinvent the content to engage with participants virtually. Time zones also became a new factor to consider, with participants logging on from different locations.”
Flora: “When Covid hit we knew we couldn’t do any more training on campus. We had to delay or convert our learning experiences to virtual. This was a real challenge for the team as we had never hosted anything completely virtual before.”
William: “Translating physical programmes into virtual experiences has been very difficult for training providers. Where we used to print handouts, we must now design interactive ebooks. Instead of one master trainer, we need additional training facilitators behind the scenes for technical support. The delivery is far more complicated than a traditional classroom face-to-face session.”
How are things settling down now? Are companies returning to face-to-face learning or continuing with virtual?
Liang: “This year, because we have a very good record of containing the virus, I have seen very strong demand return for face-to-face programmes. Our current limitation is that some faculty members cannot travel. Whilst Chinese people have returned to the office, travel is still restricted. Clients must understand that if they want best-in-class faculty, they will have to accept some form of blended learning until international travel restrictions are lifted. This means we continue to be constrained by time zones.”
Flora: “In terms of the requests for business learning, we don’t see any decrease in that. We still see strong demand for learning, especially from industries like pharmaceutical. Leadership development and learning around digital transformation remain the key learning areas in demand.”
Liang: “What’s important is that the context has changed. The challenges for leaders have changed. The core skills that leaders require haven’t changed. We still need leaders to be purposeful and to collaboratively solve problems, but they need to learn how to lead in this new context.”
How do you see the future learning landscape shaping up, in terms of how organisations will train their people?
Flora: “After the COVID experience, I think clients are more receptive to online and virtual learning. Especially Chinese clients, who were previously not used to completely virtual learning. We have proved that virtual learning might not be as good for the social aspects of a classroom, but it’s still a proper learning experience. I expect to see more hybrid programmes in the future, which will include virtual learning experiences like simulations.”
Liang: “I think the learning landscape will be quite different. People will still value the social, face-to-face component of programmes, especially for senior leaders. But they will be prepared to embrace some virtual learning as well. We are working on enhanced learning experiences with components of both in-person and online learning.
William: “People in China are developing new working habits. Companies have realized that travel costs can be saved and that employees can be productive from home. Local companies are realizing that they can reduce costs by embracing these new ways of working. This will impact learning, with more companies keen to use virtual learning to save on travel costs. But face-to-face programmes will still be critical. Bigger companies will still want to bring their employees to world-class learning institutions.
I expect to see increased demand for learning programmes about change management. Not so much in the crisis context, but longer-term, in the disruptive working environment which is now normal. How can leaders communicate even when they are not sure? A new intensity of communication skills is required, particularly with more virtual working and remote team collaboration. Leaders need to learn how to provide effective feedback and have difficult conversations when they can’t see body language.
Innovation skills will also be in high demand. Innovation is the key no matter what size of organization you work in. If you can’t innovate, you can’t remain competitive. Diversity and Inclusion will also become more relevant on a local scale. Digitalized industrialization is transforming industry models. Nobody knows how to operate, yet they need to learn fast and understand how to get everyone involved.
I expect learning to become far more segmented and modularized in terms of design. Employees are now more prepared to watch training videos and embrace self-paced learning, including mobile learning and social media-based learning. Design methodologies will be transformed to a more interactive, personalised and always-on learning culture.”
At Ososim we were delighted to partner with Duke Kunshan University recently on a development programme for a pharmaceutical client. Our partners at First Priority Consulting are also using our simulations in Mandarin, and we are looking forward to developing our work in the Chinese market as demand for corporate learning increases. Our digital simulations help participants put theory into practice, developing new skills in a safe environment, whether face-to-face or online.
Working in over 85 countries with major global companies, as well as government institutions, leading business schools and non-profit organisations, our digital learning experiences enable individuals, teams and companies to perform at their best.
To find out more about our virtual business simulations please contact us on +44 (0)1223 421 034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.