From the beginning of the pandemic, guidelines and restrictions forced hairstylists and beauty pros to be more adaptable than ever. And while many took to virtual learning so quickly, the fact remains that there are just as many who can’t wait to get back to live, in-person education.
“Stylists are absolutely itching to get back to face-to-face interaction again,” says Stephen Moody, North American education director for Wella Company. “Virtual will never replace hands-on learning but I think it will begin to supplement live education and make face-to-face classes more productive.”
Since digital education continues to be our new reality (at least for the time being), we checked in with leading education experts for their thoughts on education moving forward, and how a virtual/live education hybrid approach may be in our future.
The pandemic brought on a sudden need for virtual education since it was the only way to continue teaching and learning during the lockdowns. While most professionals adapted quickly, there were a variety of challenges to manage, including poor Internet connection and low engagement rates.
“There was no encyclopedia when it came to adjusting to virtual education at the start of the pandemic,” says Terry Ritcey, director of education and events for Redken Canada. “There was no guidance on how to maximize engagement or how to translate something live into this two-dimensional space, and while the learning curve was enormous, the pandemic taught us how to accelerate and adapt.”
And while the brand has had a longstanding goal to produce more digital education, Ritcey adds that they never suspected the approach would be forced. “We quickly realized that virtual learning doesn’t suit everybody and it’s not how everyone learns best. Even our best live educators were iffy about teaching [and consuming] digital education but luckily, we had some that caught on super fast and ran with it.”
“LIVE EDUCATION ALLOWS YOU TO FEEL THE ENERGY IN THE ROOM AND AUDIENCE INTERACTION. AS MUCH AS WE DO OUR BEST TO OFFER A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE VIRTUALLY, IT’S STILL NOT THE SAME AS BEING THERE IN THE MOMENT.” — TERRI SCHWENDEMANN, DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION AND CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT FOR OLIGO PROFESSIONNEL
For some, the thought of achieving the same energy and engagement levels in a virtual class as in a live class seemed impossible, but many brands eventually found their groove.
“We all thrive on live communication and interaction, so the adjustment wasn’t easy,” says Terri Schwendemann, director of education and creative development for Oligo Professionnel. “Our team brings their passion and excitement to every live class, which in a virtual environment is much different— particularly in a webinar platform where we cannot see or hear the attendees. We quickly learned the importance of having multiple team members active during our virtual classes to heighten the energy. They were also able to interact quickly with Q&As to encourage increased class participation.”
According to Susan Boccia, education manager for Schwarzkopf Professional Canada, virtual education presented some downfalls but the biggest one for their team was missing out on interpersonal interaction.
“We had to condense our education sessions, which in person would be full day seminars, to just an hour or so and I think stylists really missed that hands- on coaching that gets lost in a virtual class,” she says. “The upside was that by condensing our classes they were more concise, which appealed to our stylists— particularly the younger generations that just want quick snippets of information.”
John Moroney, global creative director for Kao Salon Division, says not being able to interact in-person with other stylists was difficult for their educators.
“We’re all used to that interaction and we thrive on it,” he says. “Every education seminar I’d ever been to in my career had always been hands-on or at least in-person. For creatives, it’s important to be face-to-face. It’s not just visual or auditory, it’s kinesthetic and that’s how we learn. Hairstylists were simply not used to sitting and watching something as a means of education, but their hunger for knowledge helped them adapt fairly quickly. It became greater than any challenges they faced.”
He adds that he thinks the shift from live to virtual may have been easier for hairstylists. “Our stylists are used
to being very education-intensive and they were ready to learn at home. The pivot on our part came from having to suddenly teach our educators to conduct a class virtually rather than in-person.”
The Future of Education
Although many stylists are longing to get back to live education and brands are aiming to fulfil that desire, focusing solely on virtual education for the past year has brought to light some of live education’s pain points. It’s also prompted brands to think of ways to incorporate both mediums in their curriculums moving forward.
“There has definitely been an increased demand for live education recently. This year of isolation has been difficult for all of us, so this comes as no surprise, especially considering that stylists are energetic, personable and active individuals who seek face-to- face connection,” says Schwendemann. “However, in listening to our customers and seeking their opinions, we believe that a combination of both live and virtual classes is a must. Recorded classes are important to accommodate busy schedules for offering necessary training to those who may not have access to the scheduled live class due to location or timing. Our goal is to support all education needs, with both live and virtual options.”
“WE’RE PEOPLE WHO DEAL WITH PEOPLE, AND AS AMAZING AS VIRTUAL EDUCATION IS AND WE’RE LUCKY TO HAVE THAT OPTION, HAIRSTYLISTS ARE ITCHING TO WORK WITH PEOPLE AND SEE THEIR EDUCATORS AND COLLEAGUES IN PERSON AGAIN.” — STEPHEN MOODY, NORTH AMERICAN EDUCATION DIRECTOR FOR WELLA COMPANY
While live education has proven to be less crucial when it comes to product knowledge or colour theory, for creative education and techniques, participating in hands-on work is critical. Because, as Boccia says, “There’s really nothing like live education.”
“Unless the stylist has a mannequin or model in front of them and they’re playing with colour or doing a haircut or styling technique at the same time, that type of education isn’t as feasible virtually,” she says. “I also think the interaction between humans—the contact from an educator’s point of view—is incomparable. Getting the feedback and reaction from the audience when you’re in front of a live classroom or on the stage at a live show is just not the same in front of a computer. It feels like one-way communication and it’s hard.”
While virtual education is key for reaching the largest number of stylists in the shortest amount of time, Moroney says that as much as it has its pros, live learning has cons, including travel time, expenses, scheduling conflicts and more.
“No matter the challenges or costs that live education poses, stylists are wanting to get back to it,” he says. “Hairstylists are fearless. As soon as they’re allowed back—safely and following protocols— they’re going to be there.”
While Moody agrees that virtual education is more convenient because it can be scheduled without impacting travel and time zones—along with the fact that it’s much more budget-friendly for students and teachers—he believes stylists are over it.
“I think stylists have watched all the YouTube and Instagram videos, attended all the virtual classes and Zoom sessions possible, and some have even started doing other things while watching them, like cook dinner or read emails. It’s causing a lot of disengagement,” he says. “There is absolutely no replacement for me standing next to a hairstylist and doing a consultation on someone with them—it’s this triangle conversation between the client, the hairstylist and me. Going through a two-hour, step-by-step haircut, colour or blow-dry with one-on- one direction just can’t be replaced.”
Get to the Point!
Moody says that most hairstylists prefer doing over listening and watching. Long before the pandemic arrived, he would discuss as much as possible with the stylists over the phone in advance of hands-on learning. In doing so, stylists would take much more away from a session, and they’d also reap the benefits of both virtual and live learning!
“We know that digital learning has its place and is here to stay in some capacity, but when it comes to virtual learning, we’re hearing a lot of ‘enough already,’” says Ritcey. “It’s tough because you can’t really exceed three hours, even with great engagement. Whereas in a live education class, you do a hands-on technique with a mannequin head where you’re painting colour on, and a day flies by and stylists love it. Something like hair colour education is difficult online—you need to see it, touch it, and smell it whereas something like business education is a bit more translatable to a digital platform. There can be room for both.”
No matter how stylists prefer to learn or grow their knowledge, education leaders agree that as long as they’re utilizing
the method that best suits them, that’s what matters.
“It’s important to never stop learning or investing time in your education,” says Schwendemann. “Even if I consider myself to know much in an area, I will continue to keep myself sharp by attending classes or learning and listening to others. Attending classes, surrounding ourselves with others within the industry and being informed keeps our passion alive and our creativity flowing.”
“If you stop learning, you might as well quit,” says Moroney. “I think the best thing about ongoing education is making mistakes and being in a safe environment where you can experiment and learn. Whether you’re cutting or colouring hair, you have to be in a place where you do it wrong a couple of times, so you learn to not do that again.”
According to Boccia, since the industry is always changing with products, clients wants/needs, technology and trends, it’s important to stay current. Stylists who don’t will be at risk of losing existing clients and minimize their potential for attracting new ones.
“Our confidence in being a well- rounded stylist or hair artist comes with continuing to learn and grow,” she says. “The day I stop learning is the day that I’ll probably need to rethink my career path or somehow remotivate myself.”
As a leader in education, Moody knows the importance of continuing to study throughout your career, keeping up with trends and always being prepared.
“There’s only one thing for sure in the hair business and it’s that today won’t be the same as yesterday,” he says. “If you look at the most successful hairstylists, there’s one common denominator and that’s their love for education.”
“Education is a lifeline,” says Ritcey. “Even business education is crucial, wherein you’re teaching somebody how to properly prebook guests. Every type of learning is valuable and meant to strengthen stylists and salon professionals, making sure they’re as profitable as they can be behind the chair and beyond.”
“EDUCATION IS LIKE THE PR OF OUR INDUSTRY—IT’S WHAT WINS THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE STYLISTS. IT CREATES A HUNGER AND DESIRE IN THEM TO CONSTANTLY BE LEARNING AND EXPERIENCING NEW THINGS.” — JOHN MORONEY, GLOBAL CREATIVE DIRECTOR, KAO SALON DIVISION