2020 was a uniquely challenging year, but it was also an opportunity to identify what learning and development (L&D) teams are doing well and where they can improve. This article outlines what to watch for in 2021 as well as training and development strategies and tactics to plan for the year ahead.

The New Role of L&D Teams

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in 2020, it’s that the learning and development team’s ability to focus on learner needs and to support corporate strategy and tactics is the key to success. Training and development planning for 2021 should focus on the ability to evolve L&D, with an emphasis on the skills and performance consulting that can support business goals.

When planning for 2021, L&D leaders should reframe their idea of what effective training is. When COVID-19 hit, many companies shifted their training from face-to-face to virtual live courses, hoping to do a one-to-one transition. Looking ahead, however, it’s clear that a transition needs to include a reevaluation of key training metrics and success measures. L&D teams should focus proposed solutions based on enterprise goals and strategies, ensure that all stakeholders have a voice in the process, and foster a culture of continuous learning.

What Has Changed

A lot changed last year, especially in the way people access and consume training. While some have considered these changes a short-term accommodation of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more likely a portent of the future — or even a correction of the present. When planning training and development for 2021, it’s important to consider the trends that have emerged during the pandemic.

First of all, most workforces have moved, and will continue to move, to a decentralized model. The companies that adhere to a traditional labor structure, with a workforce limited to a small geographic area, are likely to operate at a disadvantage. Collaboration and innovation are now possible regardless of the geographic location of the employee. L&D practitioners, leaders and vendors should consider how they can leverage this new take on employer/employee relationships, labor structures, geographic proximity and employment options to capitalize on a global pool of talent.

Training and development teams that don’t embrace this new workforce structure will quickly fall behind in the upcoming years. They’re faced with one, or a combination of, three major problems:

    • They employ large teams consisting mostly of specialists and a few project managers, each of whom is quickly overworked, creating bottlenecks and inefficient workflows.
    • They employ large teams made mostly of generalists, with few specialists or project managers. The quality of work suffers, because the generalists are only capable of producing the most superficial learning objects.
    • Business leaders seek the best possible talent, but if they are limited to a small geographic region, it can stunt the impact training has on business success.

Companies that have embraced the changes brought by 2020 will overtake and out-compete those who don’t in 2021. However, those changes do present new challenges to training and development: a distributed audience who are often inaccessible in face-to-face training modalities.

Factors to Consider in Training and Development Planning for 2021

To meet that challenge, here are considerations to keep in mind while planning training and development for 2021:

    • Make remote learning a core part of L&D strategy.
    • Focus on retraining in-person trainers so that they thrive in the virtual environment.
    • Invest in effective, learner-centric virtual platforms.
    • Embrace the increased demand for on-demand access to digital learning options, including a mix of instructor-led, blended and eLearning modalities.
    • Empower learner-curated content, including recommendations and reviews, outside a learning management system (LMS) and available to learners within their workflow.
    • Consider the audience’s device and connection needs.
    • Feature short, focused, action-oriented learning (formal and informal), and leverage scenario-based learning; gamified learning; and short, targeted videos.

Training and development in 2021 should also:

    • Meet the needs of the remote learner.
    • Address the rising demand for upskilling to close skills gaps.
    • Nudge learners toward spaced learning exercises that result in behavior change.
    • Offer performance support systems (with instant or just-in-time learning aids) that are searchable and easily accessed.
    • Factor in a budget of time and money for self-directed learning.
    • Provide long-term social learning opportunities that build relationships across the organization, regardless of location.
    • Address new challenges, including mental health, productivity, remote collaboration and leadership, strategy development and execution, and data literacy.
    • Demonstrate the business impact of training programs.
    • Use data to drive L&D strategies.
    • Understand employee needs, such as safety and diversity and inclusion.

2021 Training and Development Focus Areas

In particular, here are some areas to focus on in your 2021 training and development planning:

Adopt Agile Methodology

Using the Agile development methodology enables training and development teams to:

    • Iterate quickly and often, using tools like design documents, graphic storyboards and mockups to collect frequent feedback from stakeholders.
    • Ensure that the training and development process remains flexible, helping the solution evolve as the customer’s vision solidifies.

Integrate Social and Informal Learning Strategies

Learners in 2021 expect and need informal and social learning opportunities. Focus training and development planning in these areas:

Measure the Business Impact of Training

Identify an approach to measure and maximize the business impact of training. Ensure that training content and modalities support enterprise strategy and tactics, and collaborate with business stakeholders, making sure all training solutions solve a business problem. Use effective training needs analysis (TNA) to help ensure that the training solution will impact the desired behaviors. Make sure that the TNA includes measurable behavior modifications, and consider training metrics beyond hours and headcount.

2020 helped clarify the future of training and development. When conducting a training and development planning session for 2021, use these lessons as a guide for what to improve and what to embrace.

Want to learn how to measure the business impact of your training and development programs? Watch this interactive presentation for insights on measuring and maximizing the business impact of your training and development programs.