Employee Learning and Development Trends 2021: The Future of Workplace Learning


As per Okakura Kakuza, a well-known Japanese scholar, “The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” This statement rightly summarizes what the world of work has experienced, without any prior warning, in 2020.

The year brought about a major paradigm shift in the workplace culture. Employees swiftly adjusted to the remote work modus operandi. The new reality changed the employee training and development landscape. This reality has proved to build a foundation for the coming years. As we approach the final days of 2020, let’s take a look at some of the workplace learning trends that we can expect to see in 2021 and the best practices to elevate your L&D initiatives in the coming years.

Trend 1: Normalizing Virtual Learning
Virtual learning has been picking up pace in the L&D ecosystem for many years. Owing to the current pandemic, the world of work has undergone a major shift. COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of a virtual learning culture across organizations. Experts suggest that this form of learning is expected to become a norm in the near future. Even after we see the end of the pandemic, much of the training resources will be provided to the employees virtually. This means that physical events will be replaced with webinars. Companies will constantly seek ways to develop and deliver digital content across various devices that align with business goals.

Course of action: Companies will need to highlight on Information Technology (IT) skills so that remote employees can troubleshoot any issues on their own. They will also need to consider mobile learning solutions in order to train and upskill the dispersed workforce.

Trend 2: Increasing Focus on Upskilling A report from McKinsey stated that “almost 90% of executives reported that they were currently experiencing a skills gap, or would be soon’’. Even before the health crisis struck, skilling and upskilling were a priority for many organizations. However, as the employees were expected to wear multiple hats in order to stay agile to adapt to the changing and ever so demanding workplace ecosystem, skilling and upskilling has become a business need. An increasing number of organizations have realized the skill gaps issue and have taken it upon themselves to fill it.

Course of action: Companies will need to cultivate a culture of continuous learning and not just continuous training. This would mean that employees can learn small nuggets of information of multi-functional skills which over time will build into an ocean of knowledge.

Trend 3: Prioritizing Remote Work Collaboration The pandemic brought a shift from ‘remote-accessible’ to ‘remote-first’ way of thinking in the collaboration ecosystem. With teams working remotely and collaborating in cross-department for cross-team projects, business leaders were forced to rapidly implement effective collaboration tools in 2020. Apart from the technology aspect, to make remote collaboration a success, employees will need to hone their skills of communication, social awareness, and listening. Employees will need to learn how to be good listeners and communicate effectively to put forth their ideas in order to have a healthy debate.

Course of action: For a lot of employees, this may be the first time that they are required to collaborate remotely. Instead of spelling out the processes of doing things, L&D leaders will need to articulate the impact of the work that employees do and then chart out the roadmap for them. Providing a clear picture of what is expected out of the employees in terms of behavioural outcomes, accountability, roles, and responsibilities while working with the cross-functional team can be highly beneficial. Including behavioural training in the career development path will encourage employees to learn new skills in order to help them execute critical team projects.

Trend 4: Focusing on Mental Health and Wellness Skills
For a long time, Learning and Development has focused on building mandatory technical skills required for employees to drive business growth. With the advent of COVID-19, a large number of professionals are dealing with uncertainty, compelling them to take a holistic approach towards their career and focus more on developing new skills to live a happier and fulfilling life. With this shift in the mindset, employees may well expect companies to provide them access to mental health courses. Organizations that will prioritize the wellbeing of their employees in 2021 can benefit greatly from it as money invested in wellness programs can reduce the healthcare costs.

Course of action: As a part of the learning program, L&D professionals can include one-on-one sessions with employees to check on their mental health, once a month, and discuss any issues that may hamper productivity. They can also consider including off-the-shelf courses on anxiety management, stress management, and resilience skills within an employee's learning roadmap.

In Conclusion We have learnt a valuable lesson about change and ways to navigate through it in 2020. One thing is for sure that traditional learning is a passé. L&D leaders need to take stock of the current trends, their impact on employee development, and commit to upskilling employees and promoting a culture of continuous learning.

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