In 2020, we learned first-hand about a type of diversity that tends to go undiscussed in the workplace: Work-style diversity. During our collective transition to remote work, we saw just how much our differences in home, family, personality, mental health, and stress management affect the way we work best. Businesses that practiced work-style inclusion saw the benefits of empowering people to work how, when, and where they work best. Easier to say than do, but the results are powerful.

Now that we’ve gotten that under our belts (more or less), many businesses are starting to tackle a similar challenge when it comes to remote learning. The business of upskilling our employees was already evolving before COVID, but the pandemic accelerated the transition to remote training as well.

Degreed’s State of Skills 2021, states “the global health and economic crisis has had three big impacts on the state of skills: It’s accelerating the need for new skills, reducing opportunities for upskilling and reskilling and it’s making the workforce more stressed and vulnerable.” But thoughresearch shows that employees would spend more time learning if their managers offered them online courses, the pandemic has exposed just how underprepared the world of in-class learning was to use online learning. Most online courses only have 5–15 percent completion rates.

Why? In part, that’s because the vast majority of online courses simply port in-person course material online, using technology as a delivery tool instead of a learning tool (students primarily read text and watch videos, so any additional work logging into and navigating the Learning Management System requires becomes another hurdle). And most online courses do not provide anywhere close to the guidance and interaction that a student can get from an in-person instructor.

So how should we be teaching and learning in this new normal? Especially if we want to teach in a way that allows for diversity and inclusivity?

To answer this, I recently talked to Brandon Jordan, one of the world’s most prestigious online learning designers. His reply: use technology to create online-first learning, rather than just delivering the same learning… online.

Here’s what that specifically requires:

Online Learning Must Be Designed For Inclusivity (Flexibility + Convenience)

Online learning opens doors for people worldwide with different cultural backgrounds, learning abilities, learning styles, and many other characteristics. So content must be flexible enough to cover them and make sure retention rates and learning outcomes have the same potential for everyone.

Good in-person instructors recognize when certain students need different things, but the larger the class size, the harder it is for a teacher to adapt. As such, most in-person learning ends up linear and less flexible. But technology allows us to create flexibility and convenience and personalization for every student. It takes more work to design education this way, though, which is why most online courses still follow a linear teaching style.

Online Learning Must Deliver Support and Clarity

With flexibility and convenience, however, comes a need for support. A great in-person instructor will tutor and support their students when they need it. But online courses generally provide little support — and much less customized support. Because students require different levels of support, this once again becomes a difficult job. But the right technology can combine flexibility with support in a way that scales beyond what any instructor can in a classroom.

Clarity means students understand what they are learning and why they are learning it. Plenty of online courses and masterclasses will discourage learners because of their low quality, or low return on their time investment. This results in a lack of motivation, risking an excellent opportunity to develop skills.

Online Education Must Innovate & Have Integrity

There are significant reasons why online classes raised so many complaints in 2020. They’re entirely different from in-person lessons. There’s no eye contact, less pressure to participate, and too many distractions at home. But the main reason is that most courses aren’t built to take advantage of what the Internet can do. Trying to give a class online following the same structure and tactics for an in-person lecture is frustrating for the same reason as being asked to fax something these days. We have tools to do things a better way.

Online teachers should always be aware of the responsibility towards knowledge and facts. Too much online learning is created with a sales-first mentality. (Look at the leading Learning Management Systems that advertise themselves to business gurus to create courses; their main messaging is about how teachers can make money, not how effectively students will learn.)

We’re this close to living in a world where education is not exclusive to those with means and opportunity. With a shift to online-first education in the way Jordan describes, we can make learning inclusive, flexible and open for everyone.