Needless to say, the 2020s thus far have looked dramatically different than the decade that just ended. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in historic changes impacting nearly every aspect of our lives — economic, professional, personal — and no industry has been excluded.

To keep training relevant in a time of social distancing, most organizations operating within the training industry have been devising ways to offer virtual training programs. This shift to virtual as the primary medium for training delivery is, perhaps, the most significant change in the training industry over the last decade (possibly ever), and it was solidified in only a matter of months.

Despite the urgent changes brought about by COVID-19, numerous more gradual changes have taken place in the training industry over the course of the last decade. Although the topic of industry-wide changes is too broad to cover comprehensively, this article will capture a few of the changes we’ve seen in the training industry since 2010.

1. Reinforcement and Sustainment

In the past, some saw training as a one-time event. While post-training reinforcement has always been recognized as an integral part of any learning initiative, the emphasis was usually on creating an experience rather than a long-term, continual effort. The rationale behind this approach was that the training experience would be provocative enough to motivate participants to use their learning afterward.

Since then, expectations of both participants and, especially, leaders have continued to evolve. Participants want more than just an experience — they want learning they can take back with them. And enlightened and informed leaders want tools to help them continually coach their employees on what they learned during training. To that end, training programs have come to emphasize the important role reinforcement plays in achieving the desired results.

The advent of more advanced technologies over the last decade has also played a role in the growing prominence of training reinforcement. Training doesn’t end after the training event itself. Instead, it continues weeks, months and even years after the initial learning occurs, via tools such as mobile apps, digital microlearning platforms, customer relationship management (CRM) platform integrations, and mini-lessons and webinars — all designed to help keep the learning top of mind, and easily implemented, well past the initial training.

2. Technology

Over the last decade, technology has become increasingly integrated into our daily lives, blurring the lines between work and home and making it possible to do our jobs whenever and wherever we want. Ten years ago, the norm was for training to span the course of several days, because it was easier for people to separate themselves from their jobs. Today, it’s a challenge for people to completely remove themselves from their jobs. As a result, training programs are being shortened and compressed to accommodate work schedules. To the dismay of training specialists, the reduction of training time has resulted in the “squeezing out” of the group discussion that is integral to learning.

The second major impact of technology on the training industry is its involvement in the training program itself. Not only are training organizations using technology to reinforce training, but the use of technology on more holistic terms has emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, organizations are conducting entire training programs in a virtual setting through online web conferencing tools and learning management systems (LMSs).

3. The Dynamic Between Facilitators and Participants

The “always-on” mentality and the pressing nature of work have become increasingly ubiquitous over the last decade due to digitization and technological innovation and have transformed the way participants engage with training. Now, many arrive to training with the perspective that it is an obstacle keeping them from doing their job. They prefer the facilitator to get straight to the point and tell them what they need to do and how to do it so they can return to work.

This expectation favors a non-conversational, one-way, lecture approach to training that, ironically, conflicts with the participants’ additional demands that the training program be engaging and worth their time. Training specialists know that learning is more impactful (and enjoyable) when it involves discussion, contextualization and application rather than a one-way presentation.

However, incorporating open discussion and contextualization into a training program requires more time than is typically allotted in a lecture-based course. This dynamic requires facilitators to be not only subject matter experts (SMEs) but interpersonal stars as well. Facilitators in the modern training environment need to manage the interaction between satisfying participants’ conflicting demands while motivating them at an individual level to deliver impactful training.

Although numerous changes have occurred over the last decade, what has not changed is the goal of training, which has always been, and always will be, to produce change in participants. How we achieve that goal looks a bit different today than it used to. Now, there is more emphasis on reinforcement and sustainment, and technologies have revolutionized the way participants perceive and engage with training. As we move deeper into the new decade, time will tell where the emphasis shifts and how training will continue to evolve.