Covid-19 Restrictions Allowed L&D Leaders to Implement Significant Changes to Training Programs

The work world experienced a huge and sudden shift in March 2020, when offices and businesses shut down to slow the spread of Covid-19. Almost overnight, individuals went from working with their colleagues in offices to working at home. One of the biggest changes involved training. Learning and Development (L&D) teams everywhere scrambled to determine how to train people in separate locations. Some postponed training indefinitely, while others quickly switched from in-person training to eLearns or a combination of eLearns and instructor-led training. Let’s look at how the pandemic’s business challenges changed corporate training and the role of L&D professionals. 

The sudden expansion of remote learning 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic (or what many call “The Before Times”), most training was face-to-face. At the beginning of the pandemic, businesses immediately switched from in-person to virtual instructor-led training. Now that most mandates regarding social distancing and gathering in large groups are gone, and some employees are returning to the office at least part-time, in-person training has rebounded a bit. In the intervening years, however, organizations discovered the benefits of online training and eLearning and continue to use those solutions.  

The effect on L&D teams

Someone is working on a laptop showing a woman at a whiteboard teaching, using a graph of future projections. The woman has blonde hair and is turning to look at the person using the laptop.Training Industry research found that over half of L&D professionals repurposed their training programs in response to the pandemic. Some teams witnessed a large decrease in their training budgets, leading them to quickly cut overall spending and get creative with the limited resources available. Other teams saw their budgets increase and expanded their department to support the changing needs of the workforce. 

All L&D departments, no matter their budget changes, were forced by the rapid shift in the work environment to create innovative solutions to these new challenges. Training teams made changes practically overnight – changes many of them had wanted to initiate for years. Now that in-person training was no longer a viable option, eLearning and virtual instructor-led training solutions greatly expanded, ending the assumption that in-person training is always best. 

Pre-pandemic training 
  • 41 percent was in-person instructor-led 
  • 25 percent was virtual instructor-led 
  • 24 percent was eLearning 
  • 10 percent was something else 
Post-pandemic training 
  • 22 percent is in-person instructor-led 
  • 42 percent is virtual instructor-led 
  • 32 percent is eLearning 
  • 6 percent is other
Current year projection (2023)
  • 32 percent is in-person instructor-led 
  • 31 percent is virtual instructor-led 
  • 38 percent is eLearning 

One size does not fit all

A few years of forced remote training has removed some of the bias against virtual learning, allowing L&D to select what is the best approach for the needs of their companies and employees. They can be more intentional about why and when they use in-person training instead of always using it as the default. Blended training, using multiple modes of training delivery, is very popular. Depending on the preferred outcomes, training may look like this: 

  • Want to build relationships and trust? In-person is best, but if it’s not possible, use virtual instructor-led training. 
  • Need to start people on a leadership development path? Digital content and eLearns work well. 
  • Want to discuss how to apply training at work? Use a mix of collaborative learning and virtual sessions. 

The rise of the “learning journey” 

A chalkboard shows various symbols, including a lightbulb in the center, an open laptop, arrows, stick figures shaking hands, and a gear. There are also words: concept, target, idea, creative, team, and SEO.According to Training Industry, “A learning journey is a series of formal and informal training programs that ingrain new knowledge, build existing skills and boost professional development. Learning journeys include different learning experiences that occur over time. They involve personalized content and a variety of delivery methods that result in new knowledge skills, attitudes, and a positive behavioral change.” Obviously, such a learning journey requires more resources than a one-time, in-person course.  

In-person training requires a location, facilitator, food and drinks, and travel arrangements for the facilitator and attendees. Once the class is over, it’s done, and people move on. 

A true learning journey is much more complex. Successful programs require professionals experienced in communications, project management, data analysis, instructional design, and marketing. Each decision requires additional considerations: 

  • How many people will be attending? 
  • How many emails and other nudges will we send regarding multiple events across several modes of learning? 
  • How will we track the content while managing events and pushing out specifically-timed communications?


The change in training programs also affects who is attending training, not just how the training is created and deployed.  

In the past, a small L&D team could successfully run two to four live events each month, at most. In a good month, these trainings reached a small number of individuals due to limitations in classroom size, food budgets, and employee schedules. An organization of thousands of employees only trained a small fraction of their employees at one time. That amount decreases quickly if trainings are not stand-alone sessions, but part of a series where the same individuals are trained for months. 

Training teams asked themselves:  

  • Why should upskilling and other professional development be available only to a small percentage of employees? 
  • How can these trainings be delivered at scale, especially with limited resources?

That’s where collaborative online learning comes in. It addresses the need for human interaction through training that encourages sharing between peers. It also provides a variety of learning tools so that people with different learning preferences are all included: video recording assignments, polls, event management, and gamification, to name a few.  

A black chalkboard shows these words in boxes, organized in a circle: design, develop, analyze, evaluate. There are arrows pointing to the next box to imply that you keep going to the next one.

Challenges and opportunities 

Leaders must develop skills such as trust building, empathy, conflict navigation, and flexibility. The content is available, but organizations need to decide if they will build specialized training or purchase “off-the-shelf” solutions. 

Build it or buy it? 

To build such training, you must have experienced designers and developers, either in-house or contracted through a third party. They are experts at creating content specific to your organization, but you’ll need to be vigilant about maintenance and keeping the training up to date. 

If you buy the ready-made training, you’ll launch the program faster. These solutions often include additional resources. However, off-the-shelf training is often perceived as a large expense.  

Therefore, understanding what you need, what you already have, and your ultimate training goals is key to determining the right direction for your organization. Remember that it is not an either/or situation. You can purchase a ready-made training program and then add modules built specifically for your needs. 


A woman wearing black pants, grey sweater and light tan headscarf is sitting at a white table typing on a laptop.Shorter training time is also becoming more important. People across organizational charts feel they do not have time for building skills, given their workloads and demands. A recent survey shows that employees typically have less than 30 minutes a week to learn. Creating shorter trainings is vital to keeping individuals engaged in the program. 

The good news is that technology allows us to view trainings from anywhere. Your team no longer needs to sit at a computer to engage in training. Virtual trainings and eLearns are developed for mobile and desktop viewing, so individuals can complete them wherever they are. These trainings are often broken down into smaller chunks of information, using a variety of text, voice-overs, videos, scenarios, and assessments. Often the trainee may not continue to the next module until they successfully pass a quiz at the end of each section, ensuring that they learned enough to move on.  


This revolution in training is not perfect: we cannot cram a multi-day workshop into a simple explainer video or a one-hour live virtual session. Instead, L&D professionals must understand what CAN be done in those smaller trainings. How much of the multi-day training is essential for employees to properly do their jobs and help the company reach its business goals? Remember that real skill acquisition comes with practice. Planning time for that on-the-job practice must be part of the equation. 

Most training teams understand this and have made necessary adjustments to their programs. A July 2020 poll of L&D teams shows: 

  • 56 percent were recreating or repurposing training programs 
  • 33 percent made no changes to their training 
  • 37 percent delayed the rollout of new training programs 
  • 62 percent of those whose spending was affected by the pandemic said they were spending more than originally budgeted 

2020 v. 2023 

L&D teams are focusing less on quickly revamping their training solutions and more on the bigger picture. Let’s compare the 2020 top L&D challenges to those of 2023: 


  • Engagement 
  • Compliance 
  • A 100 percent remote workforce 
  • Cyber security


  • Hybrid work 
  • Learner fatigue 
  • Communication and engagement issues

While 97 percent of L&D teams say Covid-19 is no longer their top challenge, the pandemic did create a very different organizational structure, and training solutions must evolve to deliver on corresponding needs. One of the biggest challenges in 2023 is ensuring that training doesn’t add to employee burnout; it must be engaging while teaching soft skills and leadership skills necessary for business success. Training must also prove its impact on increasing overall talent and business strategy. 

Case study 

A hand is holding a magnifying glass against a blurry background.Online training, instructor-led or not, requires a different way of thinking than in-person training. Enabling groups of learners to engage in collaborative learning is vital to its success. It isn’t simply creating a PowerPoint presentation from an instructor’s plan – at least, it shouldn’t be, if you want effective training. 

Remote learning was becoming more and more popular before 2020, but the pandemic accelerated its rate of adoption. While some businesses had remote teams temporarily, others moved to a permanent remote workforce or a hybrid situation. This new work environment exponentially increased the demand for remote learning. 

Training Industry published a case study about Mandel, a company providing communications skills training, and how they quickly changed their training to meet the demands of the pandemic and post-pandemic world. Before Covid-19 hit, Mandel used virtual training for about 20 percent of their training. After the pandemic lockdowns canceled in-person training, the company switched to 100 percent online training in a matter of a few weeks. According to Diane Burgess-Faber, senior vice president and chief learning and design strategist at Mandel, “We were flipping classes like crazy.” 

One of the biggest remote learning demands for Mandel was in the healthcare industry. Not only did healthcare workers need to learn new procedures to deal with Covid-19, but qualified healthcare professionals needed vaccination training. Hundreds of individuals needed training in tracking the virus and handling the vaccination process and paperwork. 

At first, Mandel struggled to keep up with the sudden explosion in demand for remote learning. Their team was strong, but the volume was nearly impossible to sustain. Maintaining quality at that speed and volume is extremely difficult. To counter this, Mandel added one-on-one coaching sessions and discussion boards to eLearns, allowing instructors to work closely with learners.  


L&D teams must remember that online learning isn’t just about delivering quality content, but also providing context for learners to better understand how the training relates to their individual jobs. Employers invest in training to help their team work together successfully to reach company goals. Social media is full of stories about employees forced to return to the office. However, 80 percent of workers who were working from home have not returned to the office full-time, but are working in hybrid situations. When factoring only businesses that employ between 1000 and 5000 people, that number shoots up to 92 percent. 

Covid instantly accelerated the trend toward remote work and virtual training before companies were ready. Most businesses that survived the pandemic shutdowns have by now included some form of online training in their programs. That trend is likely to continue as they learn the benefits of remote and hybrid work, such as cost savings and increased productivity. (Note: The jury is still out regarding remote productivity v. in-office productivity. It seems to depend on the media outlet you read, their point of view, and which study they use as a source.) 

Pandemic-driven adaptations are sure to change how most people do business in the next five years. The key is understanding that work and training can happen anywhere, and if a company doesn’t go with the flow, it may have serious employee turnover challenges now and in the future. 

Do you need help modernizing your training to keep up with best practices! Contact MATC and ask us how our instructional designers can create cutting-edge training that won’t break the bank!

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It’s time to Upgrade Your Corporate Training: eLearning is Flexible, Cost-Effective, and Convenient

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Marshall, Dr. David. “How To Create a Learning Journey.” Training Industry. Winter 2023. Accessed 7/7/23.  

Zetlitz, Morten and Heivall, Anders. “7 Key Corporate Learning Trends in 2023.” 1/31/23. Accessed 6/30/23.  

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