Development in a socially distanced world: What have we learnt?

Jul 6, 2021 | Development

What we have learnt during the pandemic is driving development design in 2021 and beyond, explains Rebecca Fielding, Founder of Gradconsult and ISE Fellow.

2020 was finally the year we saw the accelerated, mass adoption of digital learning embedded into early careers.

But as life slowly starts to return to something resembling normality it’s time to ask what we have learnt, what has worked and what is here to stay in the design and delivery of future talent development programmes.


Blended learning

We have all adopted a blended learning approach to our student development programmes. From fully immersive MS Mesh to apps, menti to miro, videos to VR, a plethora of technology has been used to fully replace or supplement the more traditional classroom-based approach.

Blended learning has proven effective and impactful so we’re not going back. Amongst an abundance of learnings, two big things stand out for me.

The first is that it’s about the people not the platform. Whether it’s a £250K world-leading VR environment, £100K app or free to use platform is irrelevant. What really matters is that it is easy to use, accessible, relevant, participative and impactful for the learner.

Secondly, mobile-first matters. Mobile technology use is almost 100% within the under 25 demographic (ONS Data), with more people owning a smartphone than a laptop or computer. This is especially true for people from BAME and lower social economic backgrounds (

Having all become acutely aware of the impact of digital poverty and links to social mobility, many have shifted learning platforms and user design methodology to a mobile-first approach.


Community and belonging

Creating a sense of community and belonging in a socially distanced, primarily digitally delivered, development programme has been placed at the forefront of our programme design.

Employers have adopted a wide variety of mechanisms such pecha kucha, shared soundtracks and totemic swag. Shared language, experiences and carefully crafted memorable moments that matter help create a sense of meaningful connection and have been key.

Only time will tell how effective these methods have been, but one thing I think we have all learnt is how critical embedding community and belonging into our design process is, not only for organisational performance/retention but also for the new joiner experience.


Mental health and wellbeing

The pandemic has affected everyone in society differently, but students and young people have faced significant challenges. Overlay this with the normal mental health and wellbeing challenges of transitioning from education into employment and it’s no surprise that 61% of respondents in the recent ISE Development Survey reported an increase in demand for mental health support.

These topics were highly prominent at the ISE Development Conference. From on-demand talking therapy to psychology podcasts, blogs, apps and more, 2020 has seen this topic become a cornerstone of any early careers development programme now and for the future.

But like all good development professionals, after a year of seismic change and innovation, I am keen now to pause, reflect, listen, learn and evaluate.
As a wealth of real-time sentiment and more longitudinal impact/evaluation data starts to amass, now is the time for us to listen to our learners and leaders, hear from colleagues across the sector and continually seek to improve as we step into yet another uncertain year. One thing, however, is for certain – future talent development will never be the same again!

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This is an excerpt from the ISE Complete Guide to Student Recruitment and Development


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