What do experts say about digital learning trends in 2021?

Posted by Learnovate

Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 12 months has had a momentous impact on every aspect of our lives from the way we work, learn and upskill to the way we socialise and engage with our families, friends and communities. 

How we connect, communicate and collaborate has shifted irreparably and will remain substantially altered for many of us in the future. A direct consequence of this upheaval for organisations is a series of disruptive learning and development trends in business.

Looking ahead, it is essential that we are predicting the future needs of the sector and catering to those demands. A survey carried out by Learnovate asked industry professionals what research areas were a priority in the near future and the findings were interesting. The issues of most importance to respondents were developing and assessing soft skills, getting to grips with learning standards, measuring and enhancing employee engagement and promoting the wellbeing of the team.

Motivation was another big trend coming out of the survey – how do you keep online learners engaged effectively, especially in the current climate? 

It is crucial that we are continuously looking ahead to see what trends are coming down the track. To prepare ourselves for the next 12 months, some of which will be equally as disruptive as the 12 just gone, we asked two learning experts — Michelle McShortall and Janet Benson — for their opinions on where both the challenges and the opportunities lie in the learning world and what we can expect in 2021.

Michelle McShortall is Advisory Services Manager at Intuition, a global knowledge solutions company. As a learning professional with many decades experience across a wide variety of sectors, Michelle’s role in Intuition is to work with clients to apply evidence-informed learning strategies and create effective, efficient, and fun learning.

Janet Benson is Learning Lead at Learnovate and brings over 15 years of industry experience to her role. She has implemented a number of innovative learning solutions during her previous employment with multinationals and her role at Learnovate is to work with clients and members to apply best practices in relation to learning theory and learning design.

Here’s what they had to say. 

What learning and development trends might we expect to see in 2021?

Michelle McShortall: As the complexity and potential pitfalls of a two-tier workforce emerges, with some workers remaining distributed and remote, while others return to the office, the future is hybrid and L&D will seek to cater for different types of needs, while remaining inclusive and seamless. Systems that manage the workforce, matching people to specific tasks based on skills rather than roles, will become important and many technology players are headed in this direction.

The forgiveness honeymoon for poor quality virtual and elearning experiences – often as a result of rapid migration, will end. The uptick in people seeking reskilling will push many organisations into getting serious about improving learning offerings.

Continuous self-development offered on all devices in micro formats remains important. Work-life integration replaces work-life balance, bringing a new playlist of learning that targets soft skills like effective participation and teamwork in the digital workplace, creativity in distributed teams, and resilience, motivation and productivity. 

Janet Benson: I think that 2021 will see a definite move away from being reactive (as per 2020 and having to move online quickly, for example) to a more proactive and strategic approach to blended and online learning.

This is a good time for L&D organisations to take stock, to identify capability gaps and to upskill in relation to knowledge and skillsets as well as implementing suitable tools and approaches to address online learning needs.

I see a great deal of investment in online learning tools and tech from design and development software to communication and collaboration tools. Hopefully, the tool will fit the learning need and not the other way around!

What challenges lie ahead for L&D leaders?

Michelle McShortall: Recruitment will be a challenge for organisations and onboarding new personnel remotely will be demanding. Helping new hires connect to the right learning solutions in ways that integrate closely with their work will be important alongside clever ways to help them connect to organisational culture and develop successful work networks. 

Existing employees are concerned with being visible and may feel they must work longer and harder to make their mark. Balancing wellbeing needs of the workforce with the organisation’s goals and the challenge of the shifting marketplace will be delicate requiring coherent and targeted efforts to chart learner journeys. Deep connections and care for both workers and their families and communities will become a trend and organisations must help workers survive and thrive in diverse ecosystems. 

Janet Benson: Ensuring L&D teams have the right skillset to complete a range of L&D functions has been a challenge for a while now but I think it has ramped up recently. This includes the design and development of learning material to assessment and evaluation activities. In the past, there has been a trend towards HR personnel completing L&D type functions within an organisation, with a lack of focus or value being placed on the specific requirements and skillsets from an L&D role.

In order to move the L&D function forward, leaders need to understand the role of L&D within their organisation and ensure that their team meets the needs of the business.

What advice do you have for L&D leaders for 2021?

Michelle McShortall: Start with Goals: know where you want to get to. Push trust not control and chart a positive empowering learning path forward for your people. Brainstorm new tactics to keep everyone motivated. Talk to everyone and survey frequently, find out what people feel and then develop an improvement plan. 

Use data and analytics appropriately, upskill if you must, deliver personalised and adaptive learning experiences to employees. Intentionally choose tools and platforms for a hybrid workplace, matching them to your new workforce culture.

Finally, think long term. The pandemic will pass and you need to be ready to pivot again, readying your organisation for a brighter, and hopefully, not too distant future.

Janet Benson: I would say, while 2020 was challenging, perhaps instead of looking at the pain points, view the situation as an opportunity to build and grow.

Some companies had already engaged in digital transformation or were thinking about it. While it hasn’t been ideal to have this almost forced upon them, it is now a good time to see what works and what doesn’t in regard to an organisation’s online learning offering(s) and to start to make plans and strategic decisions for 2021 and beyond. 

Digital learning offers so much to an organisation and to an individual, from flexibility to scaling, and L&D leaders can start to look at how online learning can really benefit them, their employees, and the business overall.

Talk to us

If you want to find out how Learnovate can help you solve challenges in learning and technology, talk to Tom at tom.pollock@learnovatecentre.org or Linda at linda.waters@learnovatecentre.org +353 1 896 4910.