Finding Positive Opportunity in Social Distancing
Jesse Wilkins

By: Jesse Wilkins on March 19th, 2020

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Finding Positive Opportunity in Social Distancing

Certified Information Professional (CIP)

It's no secret that I'm passionate about training and information management. I delivered the first AIIM public training course in the U.S. in January 2006. Since then, I've delivered more than 400 workshops, seminars, breakout sessions, and training courses relating to information management – almost all in person.

Enter the coronavirus and COVID-19. As cities, states/provinces, and entire countries seal their borders and prohibit large in-person gatherings, we've had to rethink...well, almost everything in our daily lives. Universities and schools have gone entirely virtual on very short notice, panic buying has made bathroom tissue and other paper products scarce indeed, and in business, organizations are having their staff work from home.

But, as we continue to restructure our lives in order to increase our time at home and limit our interactions in public, we're left with an opportunity to "sharpen the saw" by maintaining or improving our skills or learning new ones. This is one of Stephen Covey's "7 Habits for Highly Effective People"; Steve Pavlina expands on it here. It's also a personal belief of mine to make the most of any situation you find yourself in.

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Here are some of the reasons why I recommend that we all try to turn this truly negative thing into an opportunity to invest in ourselves.

  • We Have More Time: You just eliminated your commute and probably a number of tasks you used to perform to get ready to go into the office. That might be several hours a day freed up. And with learning on demand and how modular many educational events are, you can spread the learning over weeks or months, at a pace that works for you.

  • There's Always More to Learn: As I noted above, everyone needs to "sharpen the saw" from time to time. We just got back from the AIIM20 conference, and I learned a lot from the attendees and sessions. Even after nearly 25 years in the industry, I know how much I don't know and the importance of keeping my skills current and relevant. This is even more important today as organizations rethink how they deliver products and services remotely and the more foundational question of digital transformation.

  • Get Creative with Your Budget: Most organizations have some budget dedicated to training, conferences, etc. You might even have already been approved for a conference that's since been postponed or even canceled - including the travel budget to go there. This is an opportunity to make your training stretch even further. Even if your conference doesn't offer refunds, you should be able to get a full refund for your travel, which in turn frees up that money for training that doesn't require travel. And if your organization follows the "use it or lose it" approach to budgeting, you really need to think about ways to leverage that training money before the end of your fiscal year so that it's not wasted.

  • Find a Format that Suits Your Needs: As we just noted, for most people, your schedule is less harried than before because of the commute or lack thereof. And many educational opportunities are available in self-paced online or on-demand formats - we'll look at that next.

Distance Learning and Social Distancing

The good news in all this is that the capabilities for distance learning have been mature for some time. I earned my bachelor's degree in 2001, and even then, we had online learning and examinations. In the nearly 20 years since, we've made incredible strides in terms of how content can be delivered virtually, including live online sessions and even online proctored exams.

Today, most training courses are available in an online format, either self-paced or live online/virtual instructor-led. They tend to be more modular, to account for busy lifestyles and are often accessible from most tablets and smartphones.

  • Self-Paced: These courses allow you to work at your own pace whenever you have time and inclination. Some of these are more interactive than others and may feature demos or labs students can complete on their own, but there is limited interaction with other students or the instructor. These require a lot more self-discipline to complete.

  • Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT): These often include self-paced components such as background and conceptual information, but much of the value comes in the interaction with the instructor and other students. Participants can share their lessons learned and horror stories and ask questions of each other and the instructor in order to clarify or expand upon a topic.

Historically AIIM has offered training in both formats; in 2020, we're adding a third option, which is a hybrid of these two. Students will be able to take self-paced courses at their leisure, and then log into "office hours" where they can bring questions, share stories, etc. We believe this allows students to get the best of both worlds – the convenience of self-paced scheduling and access to their fellow students and an instructor/subject matter expert.

Similarly, many certification exams, including the CIP, offer an online proctored version. This is a very popular option for candidates who don't live near a testing center or whose schedules preclude their scheduling an exam during the hours their testing center is open. But this option makes even more sense now when we are all being encouraged to keep that social distance. And you'll know the computer is clean – or, well, not, since most individuals' computers are more germy than their bathrooms, but at least it will be *your* germs. (Seriously. Clean your computer!) 

You generally need to meet certain technical requirements, including a working webcam and microphone. And the online proctoring process is at least as rigorous as what you'd find in a test center. But it can be a very effective way to maintain the recommended social distancing while still furthering your professional development. I wrote more about the online exam process for CIP here

Stay Safe and Keep Learning

As I wrote in another recent blog post , I believe that every organization should look to reimagine how it does its work through the prism of virtual and online. Delivery and consumption of training is no exception. And while COVID-19 is the immediate catalyst for this, I think we're going to find a lot of organizations leveraging what they learn during this crisis to fundamentally reexamine their in-person, brick-and-mortar processes and get serious about digital transformation.


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