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.

2020 was the year that broke traditional corporate training. Organizations couldn’t gather employees in a conference room for instructor-led training (ILT), because they weren’t in the office. They were home, likely taking important calls in sweatpants and dress shirts. This scenario highlighted some of the glaring weaknesses in the corporate training model — namely, that there is a lot of work to be done to personalize and simplify the employee learning experience.

A 2019 PWC chief executive officer survey illustrated the dire state of corporate training when it found that 79% percent of CEOs worldwide are concerned that a “lack of essential skills” is a threat to their organization’s growth. Despite rising learning and development (L&D) budgets, top executives felt as though their employees were falling behind. However, an unlikely change agent came along this year and forced training professionals to reexamine the value of educational content and how they deliver it. Investment in online learning was already on the rise, but organizations’ remote work environments inspired many L&D teams to think smaller and tailor their strategies toward the individual.

In LinkedIn Learning’s “2020 Workplace Learning Report,” 49% of the learners surveyed “said that they don’t have time to learn at work,” even while 94% “said that they see the career benefits” of doing so. This issue is challenging to overcome, because the pandemic has placed a resource constraint on many businesses — meaning that people are working longer, harder hours and are reluctant to take on anything outside of their normal job activities. Forward-thinking L&D professionals are adapting to this environment by implementing microlearning and just-in-time training strategies.

The Power of Microlearning

Microlearning is essential for L&D professionals looking not only to reach remote employees with training content but also to personalize the experience. According to the LinkedIn report, over 75% of employees across generations seek a more personalized experience “based on their career goals and skills gaps.” Microlearning presents employees with short learning modules that they can consume anywhere and on any device.

Rather than tethering employees to their desks for hours at a time, microlearning empowers them to learn at their own pace, on their own time. Employees can complete short, interconnected modules in five to 10 minutes on their phones anywhere they have an internet connection. In fact, in a 2016 survey by Software Advice, 58% of employees said that they would use their company’s learning tools more if the courses were broken up into shorter pieces. To start using microlearning, L&D professionals can create a master list of core topics for each job role within their organization, break down that list into small sections and add supplementary content as the program progresses.

Learning in the Moment of Need

The absence of classroom training also paves the path for just-in-time learning in 2021. It’s easy to earn a passing score on a quiz in a classroom on material you just learned. What’s much harder is applying those same lessons five months later when the instructor is gone. For these instances, organizations need to provide their employees with specific information the moment they need it.

Let’s say that a member of your sales team is preparing to meet a client. She knows that the client wants to discuss a particular feature of the newest product that just rolled out and need a quick refresher. With just-in-time learning, the salesperson quickly identifies available training modules to bring her up to speed and make sure that her pitch is on point. Specific definitions, quick product guides … anything that gives employees the resources for success without requiring them to go through an entire module or course to find the answer is valuable, if not crucial.

Content distribution and access is critical in the “new normal.” With employees operating literally throughout the world, information must not only be available to employees 24/7 but also accessible in multiple formats, including video and audio. Remote employees are relying heavily on mobile devices to perform their day-to-day tasks. It’s important for L&D professionals to evaluate their learning platform(s) and think about how they can deliver content in a way that is exciting, tangible and useful.

What Isn’t New?

As we discuss what the pandemic has changed, it’s also important to understand what it hasn’t changed. Content design is still critical, particularly as corporations must not only continue training employees but also keep them engaged and productive. These communications shouldn’t come in the form of a boring email featuring huge chunks of content and interspersed bullets. Aesthetics matter.

Find a happy balance that gives employees just enough information that they need for a specific topic (save the over-the-top charts and graphs for another day) and content that injects a light sense of humor (where appropriate) to reduce boredom. If you want to provide more information, supplement your content with real-world industry scenarios or examples.

Adults generally look for learning from a variety of sources and media, from video to text. Consider this reality when rolling out any employee training content. L&D professionals wouldn’t want to read a wall of text in a training session, and we shouldn’t subject employees to it, either. If the situation allows for it, weave in videos and record screen-shares to diversify the learning experience and make it more interesting.

When employees make the connection between what they are learning and the tasks they will be performing, they can more naturally connect the action to the outcome. Businesses should align learning materials with real-life experiences and scenarios, whether documented in text with helpful visuals or demonstrated in a recorded role-play, to aid in retention.

The world has changed drastically, but employees’ need to continue their career journey, upskill and otherwise engage with their employers hasn’t ebbed. With employees dispersed like never before, training and educational content are the glue that will hold an organization together. The L&D professional’s role is more important than ever as employees face new challenges and technologies. Businesses that can support their teams during these trying times will be rewarded in 2021 and years to come.