When a crisis strikes a community, both individual and group wellbeing take a critical hit. As many leaders began managing their workforces remotely in response to COVID-19, it quickly became obvious that learning and development, both for individuals and organizations, would need ongoing support during the pandemic.
As the virus runs its course, people are facing disruption to their daily lives. Half of U.S. respondents to a massive SurveyMonkey survey said they are currently self-quarantining, which is up from 11 percent reported on March 15.
It’s a stressful and uncertain time for practically everyone. According to the same survey, 80 percent of Americans are concerned they or someone in their family will be infected with the virus, which is up from 57 percent reported March 15. Respondents also reported concern about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the national economy and personal financial wellbeing.
Over the past month, a number of companies in the L&D space have announced new offerings, support and resources to help individuals, as well as workplaces, cope with the challenges caused by the coronavirus. Many of these resources are being offered at no cost to consumers.
Learning and talent management software company Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., for example, announced a new online learning platform, open to the public, that is readily being updated with information and resources related to the coronavirus outbreak.
The initiative, called Cornerstone Cares, is a library of resource “playlists” based on themes that have been trending since the pandemic first began shuttering office doors. The first three playlists focused on false vs. factual information about the virus itself — including around protection and infection — as well as the topics of remote working and stress management, said Summer Salomonsen, Ed.D., head of Cornerstone Studios.
“As all the intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic kept building, as a team, we looked at our expertise and our resources and said, ‘there is a tremendous need in the community, both in the workplace and individual level, for access to meaningful content,’” she said. “We are a learning company. This is what we do.”
With the help of their content partners, Salomonsen said Cornerstone has been able to respond rapidly to the pandemic. They were able to launch the first three playlists March 17, and a fourth playlist, intended to support K-12 teachers making the transition to teaching in an online environment, was added not long after.
“As the world decided to flip this switch and send workers home, how can you make that mindset shift and do that effectively? It’s definitely doable, and it’s something that I’ve loved from a choice perspective,” Salomonsen said. “But it’s a tricky transition to do overnight. The goal was really to curate and consolidate the best of what we had in response to the need we saw.”
Massive open online course platform Udacity has created a few different offerings in response to the pandemic. On March 26, the company announced an expansion of its commitment to the White House’s Pledge to America’s Workers program.
By 2025, Udacity will grant scholarships to 100,000 American workers who have been laid off as a result of the pandemic. These scholarships will provide them with technical training and access to Udacity’s 40 nanodegree programs, which delve into topics such as data analysis, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital marketing, product management, autonomous vehicles and programming.
As they saw more and more of the companies they worked with being forced to lay people off, Udacity realized there was something they could do to help, said Kirk Werner, vice president of content for Udacity.
“[These scholarships] will allow companies to retrain their workers with skills for the future, the content that’s going to be what takes us out of our current crisis and gets us to a successful future,” Werner said.
In addition to these scholarships, Udacity is also offering a month of free access to one of its 40 Nanodegree programs to the general public and has created another free resource to support workforces that are learning how to function remotely, in partnership with Upwork.
“In this current crisis, everyone went remote, and there are people out there who aren’t trained on how to communicate and really build a team that works remotely, and how to support them,” Werner said.
Chicago-based career and life coaching company Ama La Vida is currently offering a free coaching service, the Job Search Starter, to anyone who has been let go from their job as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impacts.
When someone signs up for this service, prior to the coaching session, they send their résumé, LinkedIn profile information and a summary of key aspects they’ve struggled with in their job search to their coach. The coachee is encouraged to prioritize the session for their needs, said Nicole Wood, co-founder and CEO of Ama La Vida. The 20-minute coaching session is followed up with a toolkit of resources, including free webinars and blogs that will help guide them through the career transition process.
Since they started this offering, Wood said someone who has gone through the coaching service has already landed a new job. She said there has been such a huge need for this service that they have started what is now being called the COVID Coaching Coalition.
“We’ve asked a number of our competitors, essentially, and other industry experts, recruiters and career bloggers if they would be open to joining us in this effort,” Wood said. “We actually brought on seven other folks outside of just our team.”
To the general public, Ama La Vida is also offering a second free coaching session, called Healthy Headspace. There are people who haven’t lost their jobs but are still struggling in this new environment, Wood said, so these sessions are for those who want help processing their stress and anxiety. Between the two offerings, Wood said they have served close to 100 people so far.
At AT&T, the response to the pandemic has been organizationwide. The company announced April 14 that it is donating $1.2 million to seven small businesses in the U.S. so they can focus on scaling online learning platforms. Last month, AT&T also created a $10 million fund to support educators and students, with the first $1 million going toward supporting the online learning platform Khan Academy.
“It’s safe to say we’ve all been affected — the business, community, individuals, leaders relative to the L&D world,” said Jason Oliver, vice president of AT&T University Operations.
The company has also created additional resources for its own workforce. Oliver said that with the help of their own learning partners, AT&T was able to put up an online resource toolkit within 24 hours that gave all AT&T employees access to credible information about the pandemic, as well as tips for stress and health management and instruction on how to leverage technology so they can stay well-connected with others.
What a post-coronavirus pandemic world will look like still remains unclear. Many people may feel the urge or desire for a return to “normalcy,” which is common after disastrous events happen.
“We’re having a crisis event that forces people to focus more inward,” Werner said. “It also makes companies think about: How can I take care of the people [who] are part of our organization? One of the things they can do is provide more learning.”
In times like this, the partnership between organization and learning vendor is vital, Oliver said. Generally speaking, he added, those partnerships have been about scaling for the perfect learning delivery method; upskilling, reskilling and how to meet the needs of the learners.
“As we evolve out of this and into whatever is next, those relationships are arguably going to be more important,” Oliver said. “[The pandemic] is unfortunately the perfect storm for this.”