The limitations of e-learning in business continuity and resilience training and how microsimulations can help

Published: Thursday, 29 July 2021 08:15

E-learning is used by many organizations to help raise awareness of business continuity and resilience and to confirm compliance. However, it has its downsides and these have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Marcus Vaughan explains why microsimulations can be more effective.

Pop quiz hotshot. You just finished that business continuity eLearning module in record time. Did you:

  1. Skim read and take pot shots at the questions until you passed?
  2. Hit up Claudia on Teams to see if she had answers for questions 5 – 12?
  3. Get lucky?
  4. All of the above?

Resilience training has an engagement problem. As counterintuitive as it seems, crisis fatigue, recency bias, and the tyranny of distance (in a work from home setting) has put many people off devoting more time and resources to preparedness. With many ‘engagement rich’ training methods like tabletop exercises put on hold, or rolled out in a compressed format at executive level, many levels of operations are left wanting when it comes to building critical capability in this brave new world.

When forced to stretch resources to cover organizational training gaps, many practitioners turn to eLearning for its scalability and reportability.

Unfortunately, despite best intentions, this ultimately leads the organization to light the fuse of its very own resilience capability timebomb.

Whilst on paper everything looks fine, with each month that passes, a capability gap develops and broadens, becoming dangerously evident when a critical event materializes.  

Resilience, has been identified as the most important skill to develop for navigating 2021 by Learning and Development leaders worldwide (source: LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2021). Furthermore, 95 percent of leaders agree that their crisis management capabilities need improvement (Source: PwC Global Crisis Survey 2021).

So, before we steer our organizations down 2019’s ‘cover all’ path of resilience eLearning, let’s take a critical look at it as a training method in the true light of day, as well as explore a more engaging alternative.

Factors that fuel a re-think on e-learning for resilience include:

Best before March 11, 2020

Organizations have fundamentally changed since the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. That includes how our organizations respond to critical events. With many workplaces moving to more agile approaches of response and recovery, eLearning packages are often still referring to pre-COVID plans, structures, and strategies. This means that the expiry date of much training is simply out of date. The continued pace of change continues to expire eLearning content on a quarterly basis.

Click, click, click, boom

eLearning largely relies on reading as a medium for the training. Research suggests that reading, typically generates a 10 percent rate of knowledge retention in adults, which is only boosted to 20 percent when audio / visual is included. Despite best endeavours to engage, participants who are not naturally interested in resilience will potentially forget 80-90 percent of the information included in an eLearning module. If this is delivered only on an annual basis, there is a greater chance that the knowledge retention drops further. Whilst the eLearning package is complete and the compliance box ticked, the process falls a long way short of meeting the learning objective of building resilience capability. This leaves organizations exposed with a false sense of security only to be realised when incidents unfold at an operational level.

Hi, I’m new here. Wait, I’m on mute

For many organizations, onboarding was a monumental exercise in 2020 and 2021, with thousands of new starters entering a new environment operating in a new way. With reduced hours in the office, learning on the job changed and reliance on new starter learning packages became critical. Without engagement on resilience however, even the basics of escalating an incident such as a phishing email click, new workers create both a new exposure but also an opportunity.

Take a ticket, join the queue and ensure that business case is solid

Building capability for critical event management is of most value before the critical event unfolds. This means that there is always a degree of urgency to get capability from zero to one.  Unfortunately, via the eLearning medium, you’re likely in for a wait. Firstly, you will need to have the per head cost approved, then develop the content, have the content approved, then join a potentially very long queue at the L&D department to have the content developed in the LMS. Then your content will be scheduled into a free slot, in a busy calendar of learning priorities. That’s all well and good if it’s a five-year objective, it just doesn’t help next week’s phishing attack or telecommunications outage.  

Resilience, by its very nature builds when new approaches are considered and deployed to tackle a changed environment. Having supported organizations worldwide over the past 24 months navigate the various challenges of this new environment, we’ve developed a new alternative of engaging staff in resilience. It’s fast, scalable and puts theory into practice on day one through experiential learning.

In iluminr, we call these microsimulations.

Microsimulations are bite-sized scenario exercises focused on creating a quick yet memorable experience. Taking roughly 5 - 10 minutes to complete, the primary aim of a microsimulation is to build resilience across the organization by having participants respond to an aspect of a simulated incident or critical event.

This approach to capability development leverages experiential learning, prompting participants to action resilience practices through simple exercises, tailored to the function and level of resilience maturity. Topped and tailed with engagement from the resilience team or coordinator, microsimulations offer a new level of access to training that was historically only provided to the C-Suite via tabletop exercises.

With a reduced time requirement from participants, microsimulations have been designed to increase the regularity of engagement in resilience ultimately covering a range of scenario exercises, and increasing the muscle memory for response and recovery tools and processes.

This means a fundamental shift from ‘learning about resilience alongside response toolsets’ to ‘learning about resilience using the very toolsets used in response’. This shift not only forces participants to re-engage with toolsets such as a business continuity plan, but also supports resilience managers in getting valuable data back from participants to validate the currency of that toolset given the changed working conditions.

Microsimulations typically aim to meet at least one of following objectives:

  1. Build awareness and engagement of the organization’s resilience program
  2. Develop skills and team capability
  3. Create familiarization with toolsets for resilience
  4. Validate data associated with risk and resilience
  5. Meet regulatory or contractual compliance.

Microsimulations not only empower teams to build awareness with intuitive response tools, but resilience teams have the added benefit of having a complete record of the program from beginning to end. This empowers teams to not only plan the future of resilience capability development, but meet the ever present compliance requirements.

For more information on building a microsimulation program that levels up your organization’s resilience capability for the Brave New World, we’ve developed a complimentary Microsimulations Playbook that you can download for free here.

The author

Marcus Vaughan is Co-Founder and Chief Growth Officer at Catalyst Technologies.