Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

When the news broke that a COVID-19 vaccine may be within reach, many professionals around the world breathed a sigh of relief and began counting the days until their work life could go back to normal. However, while we will hopefully soon have the option to go back to the office, there’s no turning back the clock on this year’s impact on work — which may not be a bad thing.

While remote work has presented new challenges for learning and development (L&D) professionals, it has also opened a window of opportunity to innovate, be creative and gain insight into how people learn. Many of the standard methods and practices in training professionals’ toolboxes became unusable this year, giving us an opportunity to rethink the whole process and create new experiences that take advantage of all we now understand about learning and engagement at work.

Here are a few ways 2020 shaped L&D and what training professionals want to see in the future of workplace training:

Learning Is a Higher Priority Than Ever

The global shift to remote work (and remote learning, shopping, socializing and more) has accelerated technology adoption at a dizzying pace. A McKinsey Global Survey reports that organizations have undergone several years’ worth of technological evolution in just a few months. With this much fast change, nearly any organization would find it challenging to keep up.

Even at the beginning of the pandemic, before many people began working from home, McKinsey reported that almost nine in 10 leaders had identified skill gaps or expected skill gaps in their organization. Now, professionals have had to learn new software, organization and time management skills for their remote work routines, as well as strategies for communicating effectively (both externally and internally) in a virtual environment.

This challenge has left many professionals valuing training like never before. Among the respondents to a recent Kahoot! survey of remote professionals, nearly half said that learning and development has become more important to their success at work since they began working remotely. On a macro level, McKinsey research affirms this trend, as the ability to fill technology skill gaps has been noted as a key factor in organizations’ success during the pandemic.

The Need Is Greater, but for Many, the Training Isn’t

While many professionals feel they need workplace training more than ever, nearly half of Kahoot! survey respondents do not feel that their organization stepped up and delivered better learning and development in 2020. Almost one in five reported that workplace learning became worse or stopped altogether, as many in-person training events were postponed or cancelled.

On the other hand, one-quarter of the survey respondents reported that their organization improved its training offering since the beginning of the pandemic, showing that virtual learning can be even more engaging and effective than in-person training — when done right.

In-Person or Virtual? Professionals Say: Both

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend toward virtual learning, with nearly all respondents (almost nine in 10) to the Kahoot! survey saying they believe virtual training will continue to be part of their organization’s learning and development offering. Over 40% said they would prefer to receive more virtual training in the future, even once they’re able to return to the office.

With the shift to working from home making virtual training a necessity, many professionals have discovered that online training — especially convenient, self-paced learning — works best for them. However, many professionals still see value in learning face to face with their colleagues. As a result, blended learning, combining online and location-based experiences, remains a popular way to receive training.

Strong Team Spirit in Distributed Teams Is Possible

As the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment began, many professionals and leaders wondered how they could keep up team spirit while employees couldn’t be together. Now, with months of remote work to reflect on, the results appear to be mixed. While most respondents to the Kahoot! survey reported that they are at least coping with working remotely, almost two-thirds said they feel their organization now has lower team spirit, and nearly three in 10 feel less engaged.

On the other hand, almost 25% said they feel more engaged while working remotely, and over one-third reported that team spirit is as strong as it’s ever been. These numbers suggest that with the right strategy and support, organizations can foster just as much connection and engagement among distributed teams as they can with employees who are together in an office.

Even when people do head back to the office, we will likely still have a much larger remote workforce than we did before COVID-19, and the digital systems that have connected us to each other and to our users will still be here. Learning how to tailor an engagement strategy for remote employees, and to balance in-person and virtual offerings, will be essential for organizations seeking to optimize their team’s resilience.

A Culture of Learning Is Key to Engagement

Most organization leaders understand that employee engagement in learning is important. Among L&D professionals globally, increasing learner engagement is one of their top priorities, according to LinkedIn’s 2020 “Workplace Learning Report.” However, the best way to achieve this engagement can be elusive, and efforts can be hit-or-miss. One clear factor that drives engagement is a strong organizational culture of learning. More than half of respondents to the Kahoot! survey said they feel more engaged at work when their organization has a strong learning culture.

At a time when organizations around the world are challenged just to maintain their pre-pandemic levels of engagement and many employees plan to continue working from home over the long term, building a culture of learning should be a key priority for any organization’s future-readiness strategy.

After 2020, learning at work will likely never be the same. But for all the ways this year has challenged us, we now have more insights and tools than ever to make learning great.