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From Where We Sit

Online learning in the COVID-19 era and beyond

Michael C. Gallego Michael C. Gallego

According to a recent Grant Thornton United Kingdom (UK) report on e-learning, around a quarter of all corporate training in the UK was conducted online. While this has been increasing steadily every year, a large proportion of training has remained face-to-face.

New platforms

The traditional use of online learning has centered around highly technical skills and compliance training, as well as content administration. However, for essential or soft skills training, such as leadership or sales, online learning has struggled to gain traction. 

In recent years, technological innovations have started to expand the types of training that can be effectively delivered online. While the concept of online learning platforms is not new, advancements such as mobile apps, gamification, 3D environments, social learning, data analytics, and artificial intelligence are enabling greatly improved learning experiences and effectiveness. Moreover, organizations and speakers are investing in online presentation and learning technologies like ring lights, dynamic microphones, doodles and document readers, and shared files for better collaboration with their participants.

Unprecedented change

The key barriers to increased adoption of online learning in a corporate environment have been user acceptance and the lack of a clear return on investment. Many large corporations have been cautious in adopting online learning. Instead, they retain existing learning management systems and overlay them with more innovative solutions to fill specific learning gaps. For small and medium enterprises, the lack of a solid business case for customized learning solutions has slowed adoption. Instead, they may prefer a lower cost, bundled product or service, incorporating a learning platform and content.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented challenge to organizations as workforces had to retrain and upskill rapidly. The relevance of learning content is critical: compliance activities, remote working, well-being, and cybersecurity topics have all remained popular.

For offline trainers, the situation has driven significant reductions in revenues and potential decreases in demand for offline-only offerings. The online learning sector, in sharp contrast, has proven to be amongst the more resilient industries. Usage among existing online users during the quarantine has peaked, and inquiries about new online training solutions and content have reached record highs. Providers will however need to maintain the quality of their program offerings.

The need for training will never go away

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic imposed immediate demands on working practices, but the impact on training for the workforce is expected to be long-lasting. Health and safety is top of the agenda, and new regulations and scrutinized compliance processes have brought governance to the fore. As employees return to the workplace, online learning providers expect demand for content in these areas to grow.

Trainers and online learning companies need to understand how COVID-19 has changed their market and respond accordingly. We have seen CEOs from learning organizations becoming more focused on preparing their business for an upswing in demand. Online learning content providers have noted an initial uptick in need, particularly for off-the-shelf content; bespoke has been harder hit. Platform providers noted an upswing in inquiries from corporates testing the market for their first learning management system or seeking a more sophisticated solution. Blended platform and content providers have benefited from cross-selling opportunities, particularly around content. Face-to-face training providers have reported an increase in discussions with clients to help them move to virtual and digital training.

The requirement for training in any format is unlikely to reduce. Both consumer and business-centric learning providers need to rethink how their services are consumed and delivered. This will bring changes to operating models and channels to market, and the training partners and solutions they select to support this change.

Failure to fully understand the changes in learning needs and new ways of working is likely to lead to many providers' solutions becoming outdated. Face-to-face providers will need to combine digital delivery with more traditional forms of learning. In contrast, content providers will need to partner with the right platforms and repurpose existing content for relevance.

For confident decision making, training and learning providers need to understand how their clients' businesses are changing, how training needs are evolving, and which channels and platforms can best support their value proposition.

Ultimately, learning providers are well placed to offer clients value in this period of significant workplace disruption. We expect growth to accelerate as a result of this crisis, namely due to increased penetration by small and medium enterprises, shifting face-to-face training to online, and improved technology capabilities at an affordable price point. Providers that are quick to adapt and focus on developing products that align with clients' needs will do well.

Mhycke C. Gallego is a partner of advisory services and head of knowledge management at P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 24 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @GrantThorntonPH; “like” us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton; and email your comments to or For more information, visit


As published in The Manila Times, dated 15 July 2020